Under the Dome

Sunday Dome: Session’s slow pace is about to pick up

Bills are piling up in legislative committees as the General Assembly approaches a key April 30 deadline. That’s the day most bills must be voted out of one chamber to have a chance of becoming law.

So far, the session has generated plenty of ideas. But if it seems like lawmaking is off to a slow start – it is.

Only 13 bills have become law. And many of those were local, technical or procedural, such as bills setting the State of the State address.

The trickle is changing. Committee meetings and House sessions are going longer, and legislators are jockeying to get their bills heard in committees. Thursday saw a nearly four-hour House session, and it might seem short compared with the rest of April’s expected grueling schedule.

House Speaker Tim Moore told legislators late last week to plan on staying for sessions “late into the evening several days next week to get our work done.”

Legislators typically don’t arrive back in Raleigh until 7 p.m. on Mondays, but this week committee meetings will begin at 3:30 p.m.

The slow start included February snow days that limited meetings for two weeks. Then, both chambers took a “spring break” for the first full week of April.

The Senate has intentionally moved slower this year, said Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca. He’s the main traffic cop for legislation in that chamber.

Senators started this session intending to be more deliberative, said Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican.

But the pace will pick up, he said.

Some major bills have passed one chamber quickly, but slowed in the other. House leaders haven’t yet discussed a Senate bill that would let magistrates opt out of performing marriages – a proposal Democrats say would lead to discrimination against same-sex couples.

And Senate leaders have essentially shelved the House economic development proposal, which included incentives money that Gov. Pat McCrory said is needed immediately to lure jobs. The Senate instead rolled out its own plan but hasn’t voted on it yet.

All that could mean legislators will stay in Raleigh for months to come.

Moore has said the April break could be the only chance for legislators to vacation with their kids, because the session might last through the summer.

And last week, Rep. William Brisson, a Bladen County Democrat, had an even more dire prediction: “We’re going to be here until October.” House members met his comments with groans.

The April 30 crossover date – on the heels of the House bill filing deadline – has contributed to what is expected to become a frenzy.

There will still be plenty of ways for bills that don’t meet the deadline to get passed into law. They can be attached to other bills, be substituted for bills that have met crossover, or end up in the budget.

And bills dealing with money – spending it or raising it – don’t have to meet crossover. So the Senate doesn’t have to move some of the big tax change bills it’s considering until after April.

Even with the exceptions, crossover serves to cull bills that aren’t going to make it, said Senate leader Phil Berger. The deadline serves to focus attention on proposals that have gained majority support from one of the chambers, he said.

“It’s a management tool,” said Berger, an Eden Republican. “A way to narrow your focus.”

As always, it’s tough to predict how long legislative sessions will last.

Apodaca said it’s not the routine bills that will determine the length of this session – it’s budget negotiations and Medicaid reform.

Flashback to 2014. It was the budget fight, a debate over Medicaid and last year’s wild card issue – coal ash – that kept legislators dragging into Raleigh for votes well into the summer.

Lynn Bonner and Colin Campbell

So far, by the numbers

The House

941: Bills filed by Thursday filing deadline.

1,014: Bills filed in House in 2013.

233: Total votes taken in 2015.

The Senate

711: Bills filed in Senate this session.

725: Bills filed in Senate in 2013.

110: Total votes taken in 2015.

Ratified into law

13: Bills made law this session.

38: Bills made law by April 17, 2013.

48: Bills made law by April 17, 2011.

Bills now ratified

Passed House and Senate

HB2: Adjourn organizational session

HB41: Revenue laws, technical changes

HB140: Lineman Appreciation Day in N.C.

HB157: Join interstate mining compact

HB364: Clarify executive orders and appointments

SB4: Set State of the State speech

SB14: DPI funds and other technical changes

SB20: Gas tax changes

SB78: Off-duty correctional officers carry conceal weapon

SB109: Set State of the Judiciary

SB181: Change Wake County commissioner districts

SB305: Allow municipal power agency asset sale

SB334: Set election for state Board of Community Colleges

Working together

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have cast a total of about 340 combined votes in session so far this year. Many of those votes are unanimous and routine – or close to it. Dome analyzed the votes to see who, so far, has voted against the Republican majority the most.

Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat, has cast the most votes against the majority in the House. She’s done that 29 percent of the time. Next were Democrats Susan Fisher of Asheville and Paul Luebke of Durham.

In the Senate, Paul Lowe, a Winston-Salem Democrat, has voted against the majority 28 percent of the time. That’s the most. Next were Democratic leader Dan Blue of Raleigh and Greensboro Democrat Gladys Robinson.