With three days left in the session, just about everybody is grumpy. Legislators expected to be home months ago, and can’t wait for the session to be over. Lobbyists expected legislators would be gone, and they’d have an easier routine dealing with some interim committees that might meet. Staff haven’t had a rest, and some are no doubt wondering why they took this job.
Aside from being tired, people are grumpy because of the frenzy of activity just before the session ends. As the session comes to an end, every bad idea and a number of good ideas suddenly get circulated. There are only a handful of bills that are certain to pass, and those bills are treated like Christmas trees with new provisions being added to bills like ornaments added to a tree. Sometimes the provisions have nothing to do with the underlying bill; sometimes the provisions have never even seen the light of day until some lobbyist talks some legislator into amending a bill.
The other day, the Speaker came out of a room and we had a quick conversation, but as he moved away it seemed like a dozen lobbyists moved to intercept him. Serving on a conference committee can also bring one lots of attention, particularly on a bill like House Bill 765 [Regulatory Reform Act of 2015] that has 50+ pages of must-pass provisions dealing with all sorts of arcane laws and rules. The other must-pass bill is the Senate Bill 513 [NC Farm Act of 2015], and legislators and lobbyists seem to view it as a logical place to add provisions that haven’t otherwise made it into other bills.
Another opportunity to add provisions are the technical correction bills. Typically one is used to make technical corrections in policy bills and one is used to make technical corrections in the budget. It is not surprising that sometimes mistakes get made in the rush to pass a bill. A number can get transposed or a few words get dropped. The technical corrections bills are supposed to be used only to correct mistakes, but one person’s technical correction can be viewed by another person as completely changing the law.
So there are a lot of opportunities for mischief in the waning days of the legislative session. There are also a number of games being played. Last week, I was asked to attend a meeting on an issue on which I’ve been very active. The idea was to strip out a House bill that was over in the Senate, pass a completely different bill and send it over the House for concurrence — an up or down vote with no chance for amendment. I vehemently objected to the bill and indicated that I was prepared to wage a floor fight. After further vetting with the House Republican Caucus (all Republican House Members), the bill went away. However, it consumed a better part of a whole day.
Another example of this is when the Senate amended House Bill 20 [Reegan’s Rule/Childood Diabetes Screening] dealing with diabetes to include reform of the certificate of need (CON) process for a small coastal hospital and repeal of COPA (Certificate of Public Advantage) relating to Mission Health in Asheville. I initially objected to the COPA provision since it was opposed by Park Ridge Health in my district and had never been heard by a committee. But if the repeal date were pushed back, I said I’d be okay with the bill. However, other House Members now have concerns about the CON provision and also have concerns that the bill could suddenly become a vehicle for moving a broader CON reform. At this point, the bill’s fate is unclear.
Perhaps one of the most contentious bills of the session is House Bill 373 [Presidential Primary], an election bill that has gone from being a bill about paper ballots to a broader election bill that moves the presidential primary to March 15, 2016, and make other campaign finance law changes. Last week, the bill didn’t seem that controversial, but last night the state GOP put out a message attacking one portion of the bill that dealt with “affiliated party committees.”
The party’s leadership was upset that the law was now going to allow the political party caucuses of both the North Carolina House of Representatives and Senate to establish affiliate party committees. What that means as a practical matter is that the legislators, both Democratic and Republican, could run their campaigns through their own committee rather than the party apparatus.
Democrats had a problem in the last election cycle when their party chairman got in trouble, and the party had almost no money. What I understand Democratic legislators did to avoid having money they raised for their campaigns being used by the Democratic Party was to put those monies into various Members’ campaign accounts (and perhaps other places). Well, in this election cycle, Republican legislators have similar concerns about the Republican Party using other caucuses’ monies, and House and Senate Republicans don’t want to take the risk of putting monies with the party that might then be used for party purposes but not for the campaigns of those legislators.
Obviously, this whole debate is very much a political and a Raleigh debate, and most folks have little interest in this “inside-the-beltline” sort of drama. In the end, the Senate easily passed HB373 by a vote of 43-30, largely along party lines, and the House barely passed the bill by a vote of 52-49. Seven Democrats voted for the bill, while nineteen Republicans voted against the bill. In other words, the bill wouldn’t have passed without Democratic support. I voted for the bill, but only after receiving assurances that in a technical corrections bill we could potentially address any issues relating to how these affiliated committees, for example, a NC House Republican Campaign Committee, would be governed.
Much work is still to be done over the remaining two or three days. The conference report on HB765 [Regulatory Reform Act of 2015] is likely on the calendar for Monday along with HB513 [NC Farm Act of 2015]. To speed passage of the farm bill, since it needs Senate action, a quick vote was taken today, and it passed by a vote of 86-13 on its Second Reading. Full debate will occur on the Third Reading next week.