When the state House ended a 12-hour session at 2:26 a.m. Thursday, Speaker Tim Moore’s gavel sounded the apparent death for hundreds of bills filed this legislative session.
Thursday marked the “crossover” deadline – an agreed date by which all non-budget bills must have passed either the House or Senate to remain alive for the rest of the session.
“A late night,” the speaker tweeted moments after adjournment, “but a productive one.”
And one of disappointment for both Democrats and Republicans who left Raleigh for the weekend with dimmed hopes about proposals they’d spent weeks or months developing. House and Senate leaders say the deadline is a practical one, necessary to generate a focus on what will move and what won’t.
Of more than 1,500 bills filed so far, only 11 have been written into law.
Among the bills that didn’t clear the crossover hurdle were a push to establish a system for nonpartisan redistricting, another to extend lawmakers’ terms to four years and one that would have seen North Carolina call for a constitutional convention.
A few bills, however, got a last-minute reprieve when money was added to them. A proposal to loosen the state’s gun laws, for example, had a $20,000 budget provision added late Wednesday night, allowing it to survive the deadline.
The same method saved a bill that would address the cleanup process for contaminated land. The House Environment Committee added a financial element in a hastily called meeting around Chairwoman Pat McElraft’s desk just before dinnertime.
The crossover deadline is designed, in part, to shift the legislature’s focus to the session’s main event: the state budget. It effectively marks the midpoint in the odd-year “long” session, which is expected to continue for several months. There is no set adjournment deadline.
‘Nothing is dead’
Already, appropriations meetings are scheduled to fire up next week, and House Republicans say they hope to send a budget proposal to the Senate by mid May.
The budget is one of several avenues for legislators to revive dead bills. Legislation that didn’t survive crossover sometimes gets tacked into the budget, unnoticed amid hundreds of pages of spending. Or, seemingly dead ideas can be attached to unrelated bills.
“Nothing is dead,” said Rep. George Cleveland, a Jacksonville Republican who’s been in the legislature for 10 years. “I believe the rules allow anything.”
Cleveland said he’s still hopeful about his plan to put partisan labels on school board races statewide. That bill passed the Elections Committee several weeks ago but then got sent to the Rules Committee instead of the House floor.
He said he’s not sure why the proposal stalled. “I got tied up with so many other things” in the busy crossover week, he said. “It’s something that has a chance of being resurrected.”
Other bills, however, have been withdrawn by their sponsors or the Republican leaders.
Moore said last week that he won’t move divisive “religious freedom” legislation this session after business leaders registered concerns. A last-minute push by advocates to have a vote didn’t succeed. An identical bill in the Senate didn’t get a hearing before the crossover deadline.
Three Senate Republicans this week dropped an effort to revoke Raleigh’s pending purchase of the Dorothea Dix property for a park. And after dozens of angry moms descended on the legislature, Sen. Jeff Tarte killed his effort to make vaccines mandatory for children.
While those high-profile bills went down, plenty of Senate and House proposals are alive and awaiting hearings in the chambers. More than 500 have passed one or the other.
The final months of the session can be full of surprises. Sometimes, proposed legislation doesn’t make its first appearance until it shows up in an unrelated bill.
“One thing I’ve learned with this stuff: You take it day by day and deal with what you’ve got in front of you that particular day,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, a Jacksonville Republican.
For now, though, both chambers will rest up with a four-day weekend after the crossover rush. No votes are scheduled until Tuesday.
“I got myself a nap before I left Raleigh,” Cleveland said Thursday afternoon, adding that he was looking to take another.
Bills killed by the deadline
Religious freedom: Conservative legislators proposed a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” similar to one that passed in Indiana. But after opponents argued that the bill would allow discrimination against gay couples, House Speaker Tim Moore announced that the measure is dead this session.
Nonpartisan redistricting: A bipartisan plan to create an independent commission to draw legislative and congressional districts drew 27 House co-sponsors when it was filed in February. It was sent to the Rules Committee and never heard again.
Medical marijuana: A House committee unanimously rejected a proposal to legalize medical marijuana after an emotional hearing in March. Advocates for the drug then lobbied for a separate bill allowing marijuana only for terminally ill patients, but it never got a committee hearing.
Motorcycle helmets: The House Rules Committee killed a repeal of the state’s mandatory helmet law for motorcycle riders on Wednesday night. The bill sponsor said riders deserved the freedom to decide, but several insurance and doctors’ groups opposed the change.
‘Convention of the States’: Some Republicans wanted North Carolina to call for a constitutional convention to limit the power of the federal government. A House judiciary committee gave the proposal a one-hour hearing but never voted on it.
Second primaries: A bipartisan group in the House sought to eliminate second primaries, which cost the state millions of dollars and typically have low turnouts. The Elections Committee didn’t take up the bill.
Racial profiling: Democratic Rep. Rodney Moore of Charlotte held a news conference earlier this week on his bill to prohibit racial profiling and mandate more training and oversight for local police departments. The extra push didn’t get the proposal a committee hearing.
Professor quotas: Republican Sen. Tom McInnis wanted to mandate the number of classes UNC faculty teach, forcing some professors to nearly double their courseloads. Facing outcry, McInnis agreed to launch a study of the issue instead.
Debt collection: A bill adding new regulations to curb debt collectors had a powerful sponsor – Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown – and it cleared the Senate Judiciary I committee this week. But time ran out before the bill got a second vote in the Finance Committee.
By the numbers
House bills passed
Senate bills passed
Bills passed this week
Bills now law