Even though they spent 12 hours debating it the day before, state House lawmakers on Wednesday still had three hours of talking left in them before they gave final approval to a $19.3 billion budget.
Dozens of legislators took turns speaking, some in broad strokes condemning or praising the budget, others focused on pet peeves. At the start of the session emotions were running high for some House members smarting from Tuesday night's periodic flare-ups. But as the afternoon wore on, the tone of the debate settled into a slow march toward a predictable outcome.
The budget was passed with the same five conservative Democrats crossing party lines to vote with Republicans in a 72-47 tally: Reps. William Brisson of Bladen County, James Crawford of Oxford, Bill Owens of Elizabeth City, Dewey Hill of Brunswick County, and Timothy Spear of Dare County.
That margin would guarantee the House has enough votes to override a veto. But Gov. Bev Perdue on Wednesday said she wasn't worried about that.
"They will be with me when the going gets tough. You can take that to the bank," said Perdue, appearing at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School to drum up opposition to the budget's cuts in education.
During Wednesday's floor debate, the spending plan was described as both "the biggest tax relief in the history of the state" and an "abomination" that will result in irreparable harm because it cuts so deeply.
Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Republican from Cary, said the budget would promote needed private enterprise, as evidenced by the lack of construction in Raleigh.
"We had at times in the mid-'80s seven or eight sky cranes out here," Dollar said. "It was a sign we were healthy and growing. If you look on the skyline today you can see three or four cranes - each of them public projects. What we really need are those capital investment jobs that come from the private sector."
Rep. Deborah Ross, a Democrat from Raleigh, said this budget won't do that.
"When you cut that many jobs in one year, nobody's going to be buying a house, nobody's going to be renting new condos downtown, nobody's going to be shopping at businesses, nobody's going to be eating at the restaurants, nobody's going to be able to promote that economic engine that would produce those cranes," Ross said.
Senate budget subcommittees will begin discussing the House budget next week and expect to have a final vote on its own version by June 1.
Abortion bill in committee
Members of a House judiciary committee Wednesday had their first look at legislation aimed at discouraging women from getting abortions.
The bill, "Woman's Right to Know Act," would present those seeking abortions with a long list of options, medical consequences, pictures of fetal development and other materials. It would impose a 24-hour waiting period.
Most significantly, at least four hours before the operation doctors performing abortions would have to conduct an ultrasound and explain to the patient what is on the screen. Doctors would also have to offer the patient the opportunity to listen to the fetal heart. The ultrasound screen would have to be within the woman's eyesight, but the law wouldn't force a woman to watch or listen.
"These ultrasound images provide a window into the womb," Monsignor David Brockman, vicar general of the Catholic diocese of Raleigh, told the committee.
Several speakers on both sides of the issue addressed the committee.
Dr. David Grimes, a clinical professor at the UNC School of Medicine who has performed abortions, called the ultrasound provision "totally gratuitous." He said the bill "implies a vast conspiracy among us doctors to withhold information."
Sarah Preston, policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said the proposal would especially harm poor women in rural areas. Barbara Holt, president of N.C. Right to Life, said the bill wouldn't prevent abortion but would give women information so they could make informed decisions.
The bill's sponsors are Republican representatives Ruth Samuelson of Charlotte and Pat McElraft of Emerald Isle. The House committee could vote on the bill next week.
Compiled by staff writers Craig Jarvis and Rob Christensen
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