The House finished its marathon “crossover” on Thursday, April 30 at 2:30am, as members attempted to pass their bills to make them eligible to be considered during the remainder of the session.
Other than finance or spending bills, House bills that didn’t “cross over” to the Senate are now largely incapable of passing this year. Those bills that did crossover become “two-year bills,” meaning that if they are passed by the House this year, they will then have to be taken up in the “Short Session” in 2016.
Coming into the week, I had three bills that I was trying to push forward to make them eligible to become law this year. Those bills were House Bill 532 [Hard Apple Cider/Growlers], House Bill 554 [Protect Public from Wild Dangerous Animals], and House Bill 706 [Building Code/Open Air Cabins]. Another bill, House Bill 625 [Brewery Law Revisions], got blocked from consideration when the Alcoholic Beverage Control Committee decided that it would not meet to take up the proposed legislation.
The Hard Apple Cider/Growlers bill was able to circumvent the ABC committee by getting referred to another committee to be reported out favorably, but the North Carolina Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association put a lot of pressure on House leaders to not take up the bill that was aimed at helping craft brewers. This was a disappointing development, but not surprising given that the brewery law revisions bill would have chipped away at the monopoly that the wholesalers have over the distribution of beer.
The Hard Apple Cider/Growlers bill simply allowed the sale of hard apple cider in large, refillable containers, just like for beer. Hard apple cider is an anomaly under the state’s alcoholic beverage laws, since it is classified as a “fortified wine” by the ABC Commission — but it is distributed more like a beer. The Hard Apple Cider/Growler bill received broad support, passing 109-6.
Similarly, the building code bill was very popular, as reflected in the unanimous support of the House. If the bill becomes law, summer camp cabins will not have to be built like Holiday Inn rooms with sprinklers, exit lighting and similar requirements. Over the years, the state building code has struggled as how to classify summer camp cabins, and by default they were being treated like motel rooms.
Well, if a summer camp builds a cabin to the specifications for a motel room, the structure is really no longer a rustic cabin. Perhaps the largest grouping of summer camps in North Carolina are located in Transylvania and Henderson counties, so it made sense that Representative Chris Whitmire (R-Transylvania) and I would work to change the building code to allow the summer camps to build the types of cabins they’ve been using for nearly 100 years.
The Dangerous Wild Animals bill was a bill that wasn’t viewed as a bill that was clearly going to make crossover. People from around the state communicated with our office and with their legislators about the bill, with some people wanting to see the House pass the bill now and others arguing that the bill either wasn’t needed or that it needed further study. In the end, the House passed the bill by a vote of 79-33, with Democrats largely supporting the bill and Republicans split over it.
If it becomes law, House Bill 544 will make it unlawful to possess, sell, transfer or breed a dangerous wild animal. Dangerous wild animals are defined to include big cats (lions, panthers, leopards, cheetahs and mountain lions), wolves, bears, and some primates, mostly the big ones like gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans. All but six states have exotic animal laws, but North Carolina is one of those six states that doesn’t. The bill seeks to protect the public’s health and safety, and it was designed primarily to prevent people from keeping certain animals as pets and insuring that institutions meet certain standards if they do keep them.
As one would expect, zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, circuses, research institutions and a wide range of organizations that have certifications or licenses are exempt from this law. Moreover, people who already own these animals also can be grandfathered in if they meet certain conditions.
Over the past several weeks, the disagreements were primarily over the exemptions in the bill and what animals would be covered. Ultimately, the bill broadly exempted all sorts of institutions and private zoos and also limited the primates (monkeys, primarily) that were covered by the bill.
Of all of the bills that I’ve handled over the past four years, this legislation was probably the hardest. It was also the bill that produced the most laughs. It was hard because of the subject matter. Any legislation involving animals brings out all sorts of people, and this bill had animal welfare people and animal rights people fighting with each other.
The laughs came because we were mostly talking about monkeys and snakes when the bill was finally taken up by the House in the wee hours of the morning. We’d been in almost continuous debate and votes for the last day and at the very end we were debating whether some type of monkey should be classified as a dangerous wild animal. Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) told me in a 3am e-mail message that the debate was hilarious, and he was still laughing about it. Part of the humor was the subject matter, but part of it was also the late hour and how tired everyone was.
Among the hardest bills to pass are bills involving animals or alcohol. Amazingly, with the crossover deadline approaching, my animal bill and one of my alcoholic beverage bills both survived. Again, animal bills are tough because of the great diversity of views on anything relating to animals.
Bills involving alcohol are difficult because the issue of how to regulate alcohol has always been difficult. Remember, it took two amendments to the U.S. Constitution to settle the issue, and the state’s alcoholic beverage laws are a mixture of sometimes contradictory provisions built up over the years. The whole alcoholic beverages code needs to be rewritten, but no one has the patience to take on that task.
With crossover behind us, the House next turns to the budget. Revenue numbers are expected to be in next week, and almost all of my attention will turn to budget-related issues. It will take a few days to catalogue all of the bills that made crossover, but my task will be to push my bills that are now in the Senate while analyzing the Senate bills now up for consideration in the House. At the same time, over the next three weeks, the House will cobble together its budget and send it to the Senate for their consideration.