Under the Dome

Dome: Jam-packed action expected in legislature for Crossover Week

mcornatzer@newsobserver.com, lbonner@newsobserver.comMay 12, 2013 

Welcome to Crossover Week on Jones Street. Think the action’s been fast so far? Well, hold onto our elephant ears, this week lawmakers will be shoveling as many bills as possible through committee and out to their floors for a vote to meet a Thursday deadline dubbed crossover.

The House and Senate rules say that bills that don’t raise or spend money or propose amendments to the state constitution must pass either the House or Senate by Thursday to be considered during the session.

Of course, rules are made to be circumvented, so there are many ways to keep legislation alive. Dome’s favorite: Strip a bill that has already crossed over of its language and insert your bill of choice.

Voucher bill aired Tuesday

Speaking of fun, one of the bills that will be pushed this week is allows parents to spend taxpayer money on K-12 private school tuition.

Rep. Marcus Brandon, a High Point Democrat and one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said there have been some changes to the original bill.

The bill as filed would have offered vouchers worth $4,200 a year. In the second year, children from families with incomes of 300 percent of the federal poverty level or below would qualify. This year, that income translates to $58,590 for a family of three.

Brandon said the revision tightens the income guidelines and will have 50 percent of the money each year reserved for children from families at 185 percent of the federal poverty level or below. That’s the level at which kids in a family would qualify for free or reduced lunch in public schools.

“It’s a drastic improvement over what everybody first saw,” Brandon said. The bill also lowers the income ceiling, he said. “You can’t make more than $45,000 and get it.”

The House Education Committee is set to hear the bill Tuesday.

Voters may decide TABOR’s fate

Lawmakers could also hear more this week about a “Taxpayer Bill of Rights,” aka TABOR, which would have voters decide whether to limit government spending in the state Constitution.

Here’s how Patrick Gannon of The Insider explains it: “The measure would establish a General Fund spending limit based on the previous year’s limit increased by a formula that takes into account inflation and population increases. The governor and General Assembly then could not spend more than that limit without a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, according to a bill summary. Any revenue collected above the spending limit would go into an emergency fund, which could be spent by the state budget director in the event of a shortfall. The bill also would allow for the return of money to taxpayers if the fund exceeds a certain amount.”

The bill’s sponsor is Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, who says it’s needed to keep the state from overspending in good economic times.

During a hearing last week in the House Government Committee, Deputy State Treasurer Vance Holloman told lawmakers that the amendment could result in the lowering of the state’s bond rating.

The bill goes next to the Finance Committee, and it must be approved by a three-fifths majority of the House and Senate and majority of voters in a referendum.

If at first you don’t succeed

Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules

One more reason you can’t leave them alone for a minute: Gannon reports that Democrats on the House Government Committee were puzzled on Thursday to see they were considering a bill that had been voted down in a different committee the previous day. Even House Rules chairman, Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said he couldn’t immediately recall another time during his tenure as rules chairman that it had been done.

The bill, which would abolish the Courts Commission, was rejected by the House Judiciary subcommittee.

Moore told Gannon it had been done at the request of the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly.

The Courts Commission oversees judicial functions in the state. House Bill 820 has the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on Justice and Public Safety take over that oversight. It also allows the governor to appoint district court judges without considering recommendations from the judicial district bar in the area where the vacancy exists. Currently, the governor makes those appointments from nominations submitted by the district bar.

Gannon reports: “Democrats on the committee expressed concern about putting the courts system under the oversight of the legislative branch, as well as giving the governor the discretion to appoint anyone to fill district court vacancies without input from local attorneys. Kim Crouch, a lobbyist for the N.C. Bar Association, said the measure was ‘politicizing the process.’ ... Moore, the Rules chairman, said he supports giving the elected governor the discretion to appoint judges over a non-elected group.

“Rep. Duane Hall, D-Wake, an attorney, said he believed allowing lawmakers to oversee the courts represented a ‘clear separation of powers problem.’ Mildred Spearman, a legislative liaison for the Administrative Office of the Courts, told the committee she believed those concerns were ‘very valid.’ Burr responded that lawmakers already oversee most state agencies. ‘This is the responsibility of the legislature,’ he said.”

The bill may go to the House floor next.

Staff writers Mary Cornatzer and Lynn Bonner

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