In less than two weeks, the General Assembly will be back in session for the so-called “Short Session.” The Short Session occurs during the second year of the two year legislative session, and it is intended to be relatively short — typically two or three months.
The primary purpose of the short session is to make revisions and refinements to the already adopted two-year budget. The session is also when the legislature completes work on legislation that may have only made it part way through the process. For example, my autism bill passed the House but the Senate did not take action on it. That bill is “eligible” to be considered during the Short Session.
The concept of bills being “eligible for consideration” is an important one to understand. In the Short Session, legislators can’t generally introduce new bills that would have general application across the state.
There are four classes of bills that can be heard during the upcoming session (1) Bills that passed either the House or the Senate and are awaiting action in the other chamber; (2) Local bills that all of the local legislators agree on; (2) Bills proposed by legislative committees that met since the General Assembly adjourned in July 2013, and (4) Bills that include a state appropriation (a spending provision).
On the General Assembly’s website, you can see all of the Bills Eligible for Consideration during the 2014 Session. Two of my bills, House Bill 8 [Eminent Domain] and House Bill 498 [Autism Health Insurance Coverage], have passed the House and are awaiting action in the Senate. Both of those bills are eligible for consideration during Short Session.
What is interesting is that there are bills like HB756 [Reform Recreational Use Statute] or HB89 [DENR Support for Regional Water Supply System], that became law by being added to other bills last session, but those bills are eligible to be heard in the Senate since they passed the House. Those bills become “vehicles” for moving legislation that might not otherwise be eligible to be heard.
For example, there is no bill that is currently eligible for addressing the coal ash issue — an issue that became prominent after the last session. It is possible that the Senate could strip out the language in one of the above-reference bills, replace it with language relating to coal ash, pass the bill, and send the bill back to the House for “concurrence.”
The House then would have an up or down vote on whether to concur in the completely new coal ash language that the Senate put in the bill. “Up or down vote” means that no amendments are allowed. If the House concurs with the Senate, the bill becomes law when the Governor signs it. If the House didn’t concur, then a conference committee would be appointed to try to reach a compromise on the bill forwarded to the House by the Senate.
As you might expect, the Short Session is a time when one has to be very vigilant. A bill that is eligible for consideration may quickly morph into something very different than the original bill.
With that said, most of the Short Session will likely be taken up with changes to the budget and relatively minor bills, usually local bills only applicable to a few jurisdictions. For example, with Henderson County and the City of Asheville recently reaching an agreement regarding the so-called “Bent Creek property” in south Buncombe County, I anticipate introducing a bill to resolve one small legal issue. I believe all of the local legislators in both Henderson and Buncombe counties agree on the need for the bill, so that a local bill introduced by me relating to the Bent Creek property will be eligible for consideration in the upcoming session.
Some important bills will become eligible because they will be introduced by committees working during the period since we adjourned in July 2013. For example, a study committee has been looking at the issue of “drones,” specifically whether they can be legally flown and under what conditions. That study committee has recommended legislation, and on the first day of the upcoming session, the study committee’s drone bill will be introduce, maybe in both the Senate and House, and that bill may be considered in the Short Session.
With the Short Session about to start, I’ll be giving you weekly reports. Next week, I’ll outline the legislation that I think is more likely than not to be heard in the upcoming session.
Click here for more information regarding the lawmaking process in North Carolina.