The House, having passed its budget a few weeks ago, is now waiting on the Senate to pass its budget so that negotiations between the two chambers can begin. [Editor’s Note: Click here for a comprehensive report comparing the House and Senate versions of the proposed budget, as prepared by the non-partisan Fiscal Research staff.]
House Members are already getting communications from constituents and lobbyists about bad and good provisions in the Senate budget, even though few House Members have seen the draft Senate budget. More importantly, since the Senate hasn’t approved its budget, I find myself totally disinterested about anything in the Senate budget until it has actually passed.
For example, yesterday a lobbyist contacted me all in a dither about a provision that would effectively eliminate a program that the lobbyist viewed as vital to the health of the nation. I told the lobbyist I had no idea what was in the Senate’s budget. Today, that lobbyist told me that the issue was going to be fixed in the Senate Appropriations Committee — in other words, “never mind.”
My unsolicited advice to lobbyists and constituents is to breathe deeply and remember that adopting the budget is a process. The final budget is not likely to be adopted in a few days or even a few weeks, so it is better to not get everyone all agitated about something that will probably work its way out. My expectation is that the Senate will complete work on its budget this week.
After that, you can get agitated and try to get me agitated, too.
House leadership decided to move the gun bill, House Bill 562 [Amend Firearm Laws], to the House floor today. With one side unwilling to compromise and the other side likely to have the votes to amend the bill, it didn’t appear to be any point to continuing to delay the floor debate on the bill.
While there are many potential issues with the bill, the issue that has gotten the most attention is a provision relating to the pistol purchase permit requirement (Section 10 of the bill), basically moving responsibility for doing background checks from local sheriffs to that National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). In a nutshell, the NC Sheriffs’ Association opposes the provision while the National Rifle Association (NRA) and GrassrootsNC, a right-of-the-NRA gun rights group, support the provision.
Another provision (Section 16 of the bill) divided health care professionals (particularly physicians) from the same pro-gun groups. That provision originally would have prohibited physicians from asking patients about gun ownership, but the latest draft of the bill softens that somewhat by allowing a health care provider to ask written questions about gun ownership or possession. Health care providers were quick to point out that someone suspected of having a mental health condition ought to be asked about gun ownership or possession, and pediatricians noted that more kids were killed by guns than all childhood diseases. As the bill worked its way through the legislative process, Section 16 has been softened somewhat. Health care providers can now ask questions but the patient has to be provided a notice that he or she is not required to answer those questions.
My irritation with the gun issue is with those who apparently view Second Amendment rights as more important than any other constitutional rights. This played out in my freshman year when gun advocates wanted to allow anyone to take their gun on anyone else’s private property. Evidently, those advocates felt one person’s 2nd Amendment rights trumped everyone else’s 5th Amendment (private property) rights.
I’m expecting that Democrats will enjoy seeing Republicans fight over gun issues today. In fact, my expectation would be that they may offer some amendments to make voting particularly hard for Republicans. Republicans will find it hard to vote against the NRA and GrassrootsNC when they are being told to expect primary challenges if they vote against guns — at least, that is GrassrootsNC’s threat.
In an interesting coincidence, while the House is taking up its gun bill, it is also debating a bill involving deer, Senate Bill 513 [NC Farm Act of 2015]. This year’s version of the farm bill involves everything from the disposal of agricultural plastics to transport of oversized hay bales to rules governing the driving of certain agricultural vehicles on highways. However, the provision of the bill that has gotten the most attention is one that basically allows for deer farming and transfers the regulation of any such deer farms from the Wildlife Resources Commission to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The issue revolves around the issue of chronic wasting disease, which afflicts deer and elk in a number of states, although not in North Carolina.
For weeks now, hunter and wildlife groups have been lobbying against a provision in the bill that would legalize captive cervids (i.e. deer), while deer farmers and some segments of the agricultural community have been lobbying to legalize and regulate deer farming, even though by all accounts it is already going on in the state. Supporters of the provision point to an absolute prohibition against importing deer from other states, at least until a test is available to determine whether a captive cervid is disease-free, as protecting wild deer in the state. Opponents argue that once deer farming is allowed then interstate transport of deer will inevitably occur causing the spread of the chronic wasting disease. I’ve even heard that after legalizing deer farming it wouldn’t be long until we’re bear or opossum farming.
While in recent weeks, we’ve debated gun hunting of deer on Sundays, this week the guns discussion and the deer discussion were completely separate, giving one a good sense of the diverse range of topics that come up each week.