Under the Dome

Judicial redistricting, money for filmmakers could be on NC legislature’s agenda

A man walks alongside the the big state seal that is at the entrance to the Legislative Building in Raleigh, NC on Jan. 23, 2013.
A man walks alongside the the big state seal that is at the entrance to the Legislative Building in Raleigh, NC on Jan. 23, 2013. cseward@newsobserver.com

General Assembly members are being told to expect session to last up to three days when they return to Raleigh next week. The session, which begins at 12 p.m. on Oct. 4, is the third time lawmakers will be called back since they adjourned the traditional "long session" in June.

In an email sent out by House Speaker Tim Moore earlier this week, members were told to expect to be in session on Wednesday, Thursday and "possibly Friday." The email, first published by N.C. Policy Watch, also includes a short list of things that could come up for votes. A spokesman for Moore confirmed the email N.C. Policy Watch published was what Moore sent to his colleagues.

A similar – albeit shorter – email was sent to state senators from a member of Senate leader Phil Berger's staff. The email mirrored the House's, noting that session should last three days, and that Senate members should expect to have votes on all three days. The Senate email did not include a list of topics to be covered. A spokesperson for Sen. Dan Blue, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said veto overrides will be considered, and if the House passes judicial redistricting, the Senate would consider the bill.

Some of the topics contained in the House email include overrides of Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes on two bills – Senate Bill 16 and House Bill 56. Moore didn't mention two other veto overrides that remain on the legislature's calendar, a sign that votes could be delayed again on the controversial "garbage juice" landfill spray bill and the bill allowing nonprofits to hold "game nights" featuring gambling.

What is missing from the short list are constitutional amendments. Several lawmakers had previously said the October session would include constitutional amendments. Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, said the General Assembly had anticipated taking up constitutional amendments, but because of the legislative redistricting schedule, those have been put aside for a "future session," most likely in 2018.

SB 16, titled "Business Regulatory Reform Act of 2017," is a 16-page grab bag of deregulation provisions. It loosens water quality rules and imposes limitations on local governments power over landfill permits, changes that the Democratic governor called dangerous in his veto message.

HB56 includes funding to address GenX water contamination, the repeal of the Outer Banks plastic bag ban, and a provision stripping local governments' power to mandate that trash from their residents be directed to landfill and solid waste facilities in the same county.

A third regulatory bill, House Bill 162, titled "Amend Administrative Procedure Laws," could finally get a vote after stalling in the House during the early August session after a conference report passed the Senate. The memo promises an "up or down vote" on the bill, which has drawn opposition from Democrats over a provision that would ban state agencies from making regulations that would cost more than $100 million over five years to companies and people affected, and give the legislature a chance to review any regulations with total costs over $10 million.

One of the remaining vetoes, House Bill 205, which changes requirements for legal notices to be published in newspapers, could be addressed with a different approach. Moore's agenda includes "Greensboro / Guilford public notice local bill," indicating that the legal notice change could be included in a local bill specific to Guilford County – an end run around Cooper’s veto.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Henderson County Republican and a sponsor of a statewide bill addressing legal notices, said Wednesday that "the thought is 'Lets run the local bill as a local bill and take care of it.'" The bill vetoed by Cooper includes an unrelated provision on workers compensation, and "it's not clear that the votes are there" for a successful House override, McGrady said. Governors do not get the opportunity to sign or veto local bills.

Moore's memo lists "film credit expiration fix" as one of the items to consider. While the state's film grant program is funded in both years of the current budget, the 2014 law creating the program includes an expiration date of July 1, 2020. "Certainly addressing the sunset date would be advantageous to our project recruitment efforts, particularly with regards to the recruitment of television series," N.C. Film Office director Guy Gaster said in an email.

Other items include judicial redistricting, which cleared committee votes on Wednesday, budget technical corrections, conference reports, and appointment bills. The list also included items labeled "AG criminal appeals fix" and "DWI / Statute of Limitations fix," but a spokeswoman for Attorney General Josh Stein said the items weren't requested by Stein's office.

Laura Brewer said the Department of Justice had earlier this year requested six more criminal appellate attorneys to "help protect the state and keep criminals behind bars," but she said the request was made before the legislature cut $10 million from the department's budget. "The Attorney General has repeatedly asked the General Assembly to prioritize public safety and restore this cut," she said. "We hope that is what the legislature does."

Moore's memo also noted they could take up a "Brawley Mecklenburg local bill."

Rep. Bill Brawley, a Mecklenburg County Republican, plans to make another attempt next week at passing legislation that would allow two Mecklenburg County towns to operate their own charter schools.

Brawley provided a copy of his proposal – House Bill 514 – to the N.C. Insider on Thursday. The bill passed the House in April on a 78-39 vote, but the Senate then sent it to the Rules Committee and took no action.

HB 514 would allow the towns of Mint Hill and Matthews to apply for state approval to open charter schools. The schools could offer priority enrollment to children who live inside town limits, and the towns could use property tax revenue to fund the schools. The town councils could serve as the schools' governing boards, or they could appoint boards.

Local leaders in Matthews and Mint Hill requested the legislation, and the possibility of town-run schools stemmed from concerns about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district's student assignment plan. Some worried the assignments would force students to attend schools outside their towns.

Lewis said the leadership is "very much committed to a three-day" session, and that anything that can't be accomplished during those three days will be put off for a later date.

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