Just as a year has distinctive seasons, the legislative session has its own seasons. The first season starts with the convening of the legislature. There is some pomp and circumstance and typically things go slowly in the beginning. Legislators get to know each other, begin to draft legislation, and things get organized — with the assignment of offices, seating, and committees. The pace picks up over the next few months as numerous bills are filed and committees start working. Most of the bills must make the crossover deadline or suffer almost certain death.
After crossover, the second season begins as the two chambers pivot to the budget — the one thing they actually must do each session. The budget creation process rotates between the chambers, and this year the Senate started the process. So crossover occurred, and the Senate went into high gear. Meanwhile, the House caught its breath, awaiting the proposed Senate budget. Late last week, in the wee hours of Friday morning, the Senate passed its budget, so this week the House pivots to the budget.
As a budget chair, my primary focus, in the coming weeks, will be helping to craft the House budget. Once that passes, both the House and the Senate will have to reconcile the differences between their two budgets with the hope being that can all be completed by late June. Of course, Governor Cooper gets to sign or veto the budget, so the focus will be on reaching as much consensus as possible between the two chambers.
While the House works on its budget, the Senate will turn to moving legislation — either House bills that made crossover and are now with the Senate or Senate bills not subject to crossover. Moreover, the House doesn’t have the luxury of just working on the budget; it also must take up Senate bills that made crossover and a number of bills not subject to crossover.
The second season is like a long, hot summer. After the House budget passes, the focus will be on reconciling the two budgets, and this is, more often than not, a difficult process. The House and Senate will also try to move some number of those bills that are still alive. Each chamber will have its own priorities, and, to someone looking at the process from the outside, it might appear that the chambers are playing poker — with both chambers’ leaders sometimes just playing straight and sometimes bluffing. In the ideal world, this season ends with the passage of a budget, passage of some number of the bills, and adjournment.
With the legislature adjourned until next year (absent a Special Session), the next season is one in which the legislature’s work is done by its committees. Some committees work on specific legislation for the upcoming session, and some provide oversight for the state departments and state funded programs. Unlike when the legislature is in session, a typical legislator only comes to Raleigh a few days a month.
By mid-November, committees are shutting down, and there is a season of dormancy. This season seems to be shortest.
Like the real seasons, things don’t always play out perfectly. Just as we may have an unseasonably warm winter, the dormant season at the legislature may not occur. Last year, there was no winter dormancy because several special sessions were called to deal with disaster relief, balance of power issues between the legislature and its incoming governor, and the unsuccessful effort to repeal House Bill 2.
My problem is, while I’m supposed to be focused on the budget, the legislative process doesn’t stop. For example, I may have three bills on the House floor next week: House Bill 280 [Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act], House Bill 491 [Henderson County Fire Tax Districts], and House Bill 616 [NC Public Benefit Corporations Act]. HB491 is not a heavy lift; it passed the House on Second Reading by an almost unanimous vote and only has to be voted on once more before heading to the Senate.
HB280 is a major bill. It raises the age to include youthful offenders of 16- and 17-years old adjudicated in the juvenile court system for all crimes except Class A through E felonies and traffic offenses. The prospects for the bill were improved last week when two House committees gave overwhelmingly support for it. With the Senate including most of the bill in its budget (without funding), it seems there is a good chance that North Carolina will soon stop treating 16- and 17-year olds as adults in the criminal justice system.
HB616 isn’t a major bill, but it is a tough one because of its history. The bill creates a new type of corporation — a for-profit corporation that can do non-profit work without fear of shareholder reprisal if it doesn’t maximize profits. A Benefit Corporation, or “B Corp,” is a type of corporation that is now recognized in over 30 states, but not North Carolina, although B Corps incorporated in other states do business in North Carolina. Close to Henderson County is New Belgium’s eastern brewery in Asheville. New Belgium is a B Corp, a for-profit corporation that has non-profit programs. For example, a for-profit corporation probably would have balked at the clean-up of the brewery site along the French Broad River, but New Belgium redeveloped this much more costly site, and its decision was consistent with its non-profit objectives. [See New Belgium’s website for an explanation of its work for the public good]
The legislative history is that a similar bill failed in the House four years ago. HB616 is a very different bill, but some Members remember the controversy surrounding the bill the first time around. HB616 received a favorable recommendation from House Judiciary Committee I, but it will be before the House Finance Committee on Tuesday. If it gets a favorable recommendation from that committee, it likely will come to the floor this week.
My other concern is with another bill coming before the House Finance Committee: HB581 [Revisions to Outdoor Advertising Laws]. My expectation is that this bill will morph into something different since there are four, related bills [HB578, HB579, HB580, and H B81], all of which have the same titles and all of which are proposed by the billboard industry. I have a lot of history with billboard bills, and in my opinion, these bills amount to nothing more than corporate welfare for the billboard industry.
Anyway, with the House beginning its budget process and my preoccupation with the Raise-the Age and B Corp bills and a possible billboard bill, this week promises to be a hectic one. I just want to survive it. The weather is heating up outside as we approach summer, and the legislative session is heating up as legislators foresee the end of our most active season.