With eight months behind them and only a few days left to go, state lawmakers are charging toward the end of a long session.
Only a few bills remain in serious play at this stage, but some of them are proving difficult to handle. Republican House members spent more time meeting behind closed doors to work out their differences than they did in public on Thursday.
Some GOP representatives were frustrated that important legislation – such as moving the state’s primary elections from May to March – were only now being debated in the final days. The primary elections bill passed by a mere three votes amid Republican dissension.
“They’re as much frustrated over the process as anything else,” said Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Dunn who is a key member of the House leadership.
Lewis said the General Assembly has been busy with other even bigger issues. Strong disagreements over a farm bill emerged in recent days. The bill cleared the Senate four months ago. Lewis said eight hours had been spent on that bill alone this week.
“We had a budget, a tax package, economic incentives,” Lewis said, “yet all the oxygen was sucked out by this farm bill over and over and over again.”
An unexpected uproar over something that suddenly appears in a bill is part of the chaotic mix in the final days of any legislative session. That’s what drew dozens of lobbyists and others to set up camp in Lewis’ House Rules Committee room for about seven hours on Thursday, waiting to see what would happen to about a dozen bills that were on the calendar.
Among them was Gordon Myers, executive director of the N.C. Wildlife Commission, whose agency stood to lose control over the state’s deer farms under the Farm Act of 2015, which was introduced in March. Rumors were rampant Thursday morning that the deer provision would be taken out of the bill.
“I’ll believe it when I see it” was Myers’ only reaction before the provision was finally deleted.
Legislators were also showing signs of wear and tear. At one point in a discussion over a bill about occupancy taxes, Rep. Julia Howard, a Republican from Mocksville, asked, “Some of us are a little confused. Are you asking us to vote yes or no, or are we voting on a conference report?”
When asked to explain a complex, 37-page revenue law bill, Rep. Bill Brawley, a Matthews Republican, stumbled and admitted “a significant part of this bill – well, it was new to me.” Brawley echoed the sentiment of other legislators questioning other bills when he said another provision taken out of the bill should have been discussed more publicly and thoroughly – “and not just added to the last train” out of town.
One thing the House didn’t get to Thursday was the adjournment resolution ending this year’s session on Tuesday. The Senate approved it on Thursday.
The House has scheduled a Rules Committee meeting for Monday morning to push through most of the rest of the bills for floor votes. On Monday night, the House will vote on bills related to bonds, abortion, deregulation and charter schools.