Having overridden Governor Cooper’s veto of the budget, the General Assembly concluded its work just past 2:00 am on June 30, and headed home. The legislature had rocked along at a fairly slow pace until the last few weeks, but then completed its work in a series of long days and nights. More legislation was considered during the last few weeks than was taken up during the first five months of the session.
Much of the legislation considered late in the session was “omnibus” legislation, meaning bills dealing with one subject that affects numerous local governments like Senate Bill 552 [Omnibus Occupancy Taxes] and SB289 [Various Deannexations], or bills dealing broadly with the same subject like HB30 [Various Special Registration Plates] or HB800 [Various Changes to Charter School Laws]. At the end of the session, there is also a number of technical corrections bills, like HB115 [Retirement Technical Corrections Act of 2017] or HB229 [GSC Technical Corrections 2017].
The most important of the technical corrections bills is the technical corrections bill for the budget. In a budget that is 438 pages long, mistakes are made, often by transposing numbers or inadvertently providing incorrect references to code sections. However, these so-called “technical corrections bills” often include more than just technical corrections. Since they are “must pass” bills, they can become like Christmas trees, attracting legislative ornaments. The budget technical corrections bill, HB528 [Budget Technical Corrections], contains numerous “notwithstanding” provisions in which the bill makes exceptions from previously passed laws including, the 2017 budget, SB257 [Appropriations Act of 2017].
Looking at a technical corrections bill is somewhat like trying to solve a crossword puzzle, one knows there are non-technical corrections in these bills and must quickly read a long bill (19 pages for this year’s budget technical corrections bill) to see what is not a technical correction and whether one agrees with it. This year, the budget technical corrections bill has provisions related to a prosecutorial district that was being combined after the indictment of a district attorney. The provisions [Section 5.6 (a) and Section 5/6 (b)] weren’t technical but they were ones to which legislators didn’t object.
The high point of my week was the defeat of the billboard bill, HB581 [Revisions to Outdoor Advertising Laws] on a vote of 48-67 in the House. In each of my House terms, the billboard lobby has put forward legislation to give billboard companies special treatment when billboards were condemned for road-widening and to preempt local regulation of billboards. The various bills also allow the cutting of trees to improve sight-lines for the billboards. This year’s bill that emerged from the committee process would have allowed billboards to be moved to federal highways where no billboards currently are allowed. Billboard companies would have been able to double-stack billboards or upgrade to electronic billboards, largely free of any regulation.
I played a cat-and-mouse game with the primary sponsor of the billboard legislation, Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett). Rep. Lewis chairs the Rules Committee, so he can assign bills to committees and schedule them for floor debate when it is to his advantage. Initially, he introduced four billboard bills, HB578, H579, HB580 and HB581, all with the same title but doing different things. His explanation was one bill would have been too long, so he broke the bill into different parts. Since his bills were not subject to the crossover deadline, he didn’t try to quickly move them. Knowing I was his primary opposition, he explained he wanted to be fair and didn’t move his bills during the weeks that I was otherwise occupied with the budget. However, he was adroit in moving his bills to committees on which I didn’t serve. Thus, my only opportunity to amend the bill was on the floor of the House.
Working with the League of Municipalities, ScenicNC, and the Sierra Club, a group of legislators and I introduced nearly a dozen amendments to HB581. However, when one of the first amendments was put forward, Rep. Lewis objected, citing a never-used House Rule which required that any amendment be given to the Rules Chair when it was filed with the House Clerk. His objection was sustained, and several amendments were not allowed to be put forward on Second Reading of the bill. Since I was going to object to immediately moving to Third Reading on the bill, barring the amendments on Second Reading was only going to be a momentary setback. However, use of an obscure rule to limit amendments didn’t work since the bill was defeated on Second Reading.
House Rule 43(c) dates back to a time when all amendments were communicated in paper form. Currently, amendments are posted electronically on a Dashboard and there is no circulation of paper amendments to Members. In other words, the amendments were available to Rep. Lewis when filed as they were to every other Member. Rep. Lewis was certainly within his rights to object to amendments that he hadn’t been shown when they were filed with the House Clerk. However, everyone recognized the move for what it was — just a procedural tactic to thwart discussion of changes to the bill — and the procedural tactic apparently backfired.
No doubt the billboard industry will be back with some bill to give it special privileges of some sort. For me, such bills constitute corporate welfare, and I’ll continue to fight them.
Dating back to late last year following Hurricane Matthew in eastern North Carolina and the forest fires in western North Carolina, I’ve worked on disaster relief bills. During a Special Session in December, the legislature allocated about $200 million in disaster relief, and an additional $100 million was put in a reserve in the 2017 budget. Before the legislature adjourned, it needed to appropriate the monies put in the reserve. SB338 [Disaster Recovery Act of 2017] does that. It allocates $25 million for housing, $30 million for infrastructure repairs, $20 million for agricultural losses, $22.3 million for the State match for federal disaster assistance programs, and $2.7 million for community college enrollment losses related to Hurricane Matthew. Except for $1 million related to the drought in western North Carolina, all of the monies in SB338 were related to Hurricane Matthew. SB338 was adopted unanimously by the House and Senate, and is awaiting expected approval by Governor Cooper.
SB155 [ABC Omnibus Legislation] was the culmination of months of work on a wide range of alcoholic beverage legislation. Essentially, the bill that passed was three different bills combined. HB500 [ABC Omnibus Legislation] was my craft brewing bill. HB480 [ABC Permits/Tax Compliance & Reports] was a tax compliance bill aimed at craft brewers, the concern being that some craft brewers argued they were close to hitting a self-distribution cap but tax reports didn’t reflect that. The original SB155 was about distilled spirits, but it became known as the “Brunch Bill,” since it allowed restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages before noon on Sunday. It also allowed the sale of alcoholic beverages in retail establishments, for example, Ingles, on Sunday mornings.
The House having passed HB500 and HB480, and the Senate having passed SB155, allowed the chairs of the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction of alcoholic beverage legislation to combine the bills. Since House ABC Committee Co-Chair Rep. Jamie Boles (R-Moore) opposed the provision in the Senate bill relating to Sunday sales, a proposed committee substitute was put forward that didn’t include the retail sale of alcoholic beverages in grocery stores, but by amendment, the provision was added back in by the House ABC Committee. Another attempt to strip that provision from the bill was defeated by a vote of 41 to 72 on the House floor.
H480 had language on tax reporting that I opposed. As House ABC Committee Co-Chair, my view was that HB480 was the beer and wine wholesalers’ effort to go on offense against craft brewers in reaction to the original HB500, and I successfully negotiated some changes to the tax reporting provisions in the proposed committee substitute. In the end, the combined bill garnered broad support in both the House and Senate, passing 73 to 40 and 37-9 respectively. Governor Cooper signed the bill shortly after he received it, and local governments are already moving to pass ordinances allowing alcoholic beverages to be sold before noon on Sundays.
What many people don’t understand is why it is hard to enact laws related to alcoholic beverages. In the not-so recent past, consumption of alcoholic beverages was a controversial issue. However, that is changing and those changes are reflected in Henderson County. Sierra Nevada Brewing, Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards, Burntshirt Vineyards, Bold Rock Hard Cider, Southern Appalachian Brewery, Flat Rock Cider Works, Sanctuary Brewing Company, Blue Ghost Brewing Company, and Basic Brewery have changed the face of alcoholic beverage consumption for many Henderson County residents.
Among my disappointments during the last week was the passage of an energy bill that included a moratorium on issuing any permits for wind facilities while the State mapped flight paths of military aircraft. HB589 [Competitive Energy Solutions for NC] was a compromise bill that overhauled energy policy in North Carolina, although it predominately dealt with solar power. The House had strongly backed its bill, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown (R-Onslow) refused to allow the bill to proceed without adding a wind moratorium. His original proposal was a four year moratorium, but the bill that passed the House on a vote of 66 to 41 in the last hours of the session included an 18 month moratorium. I voted against the bill since I felt no moratorium was necessary and that there was no need for mapping of military flight paths by the State since the military had already mapped their flight paths and wasn’t going to give credence to the State’s maps. My view is the moratorium was just the latest effort to thwart the wind facilities.
Another low point for me was the defeat of HB616 [NC Public Benefit Corporation Act]. The bill would have recognized a new type of corporation, a benefit corporation, in North Carolina. Over thirty states provide for these new types of for-profit corporations, and B Corps already do business in North Carolina under the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, for example, New Belgium Brewing, a B Corp organized under the laws of Colorado.
Despite the fact that B Corp legislation most recently passed in Kansas and Texas, two decidedly conservative states, HB616 lost on a vote of 54 to 60 with most Democrats supporting the bill and most Republicans opposing it. Going into the floor debate, I knew it would be close, but just like a few years ago, some colleagues took to email to trash the bill as it came to the floor–this time citing among other things a Huffington Post article entitled “Benefit Corporations Aim To Help Capitalism Save Itself.” Several legislators who supported the bill in committee or who told me they supported the bill ended up voting against it. My assumption is that in a few years North Carolina will become the 49th or 50th state to adopt B Corp legislation, but meanwhile NC entrepreneurs may go to South Carolina, Virginia or Tennessee if they want to form a B Corp to operate in North Carolina.
At the end of the session, both chambers pass an adjournment resolution that sets forth when the legislature will come back in session. In normal years, the legislature adjourns to a date early in the next year. However, that is not what the legislature did this year. In SJR 686 [Adjournment Resolution], the legislature adjourned until August 3, 2017, a date just past when the governor must sign or veto legislation passed in the waning days of the Long Session. The resolution limits what bills can be considered on or after August 3, but it notably included a reference to bills providing for impeachment, an apparent reference to HB925 [Creation of House Select Investigatory Committee] which was introduced late in the session relating to NC Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.
After the session beginning August 3, the adjournment resolution provides for another session beginning September 6, 2017, with references to redistricting, both for state court districts and local government districts. Next, it specifically references the possibility of redistricting of legislative districts prior to November 15, 2017. Evidently, that anticipates pending federal litigation that will require legislative redistricting.
This year is going to be like my first term, when Republicans controlled the legislature, but the Governor was a Democrat, former Gov. Beverly Perdue. That year, the legislature stayed in session throughout most of the year, only adjourning after Thanksgiving. This year, with Republicans still controlling the legislature but with another Democratic Governor, Gov. Roy Cooper, the legislature has adjourned to certain days later in the year so that it can take up any bills vetoed by Gov. Cooper or consider unfinished work, redistricting, or even an impeachment.
The bottom line is that we’ve adjourned the Long Session, but we’re coming back on two or more dates in the coming months. Usually, I quip to friends upon adjournment that the State of North Carolina is safe again since the legislature has gone home for the year. This year, however, we’re just going home for a month, reconvening in early August and then again in early September to allow the legislature to take up a range of legislation. Surely some newly elected legislators are beginning to wonder whether being a legislator is a full-time or a part-time job. In theory, it is a part-time job, but increasingly between extended sessions or special sessions, it feels like a full-time job.