The following editorial appeared in the July 21, 2019 edition of the Hendersonville Times-News.
How sausage gets made
There’s an old saying: “Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.” But there’s a lot to be learned about the sometimes messy goings-on in Raleigh from N.C. Rep. Chuck McGrady’s newsletters to constituents.
How does a bill become law? What’s the status of disaster relief for farmers in Henderson County and elsewhere affected by last year’s historic flooding? And what happens to legislation when the governor vetoes the state budget in an impasse with lawmakers over expanding Medicaid?
McGrady answers these questions and many others in painstakingly detailed insider accounts he emails to anyone who requests them.
Many legislators use their newsletters, websites and social media to update constituents, spell out positions and tout accomplishments. McGrady, a former summer camp owner, attorney and environmental and civic leader, goes a step further to educate his readers on the legislative process.
In his July 15 newsletter, “More Than One Way to Pass A Law,” he explains how bills become laws “in less straightforward and transparent ways” than the “textbook process” of being introduced, heard in committee and then modified between House and Senate.
“As we approach the end of the legislature’s Long Session, veteran legislators employ different methods of moving their bills to the governor’s desk,” he writes. “While one feels good about passing a free-standing bill that carries one’s name and the bill number as introduced, if a legislator is focused on having something becoming law, one should forget about public credit for passage of a numbered bill, and just move the bill or provision in whatever way is most likely to achieve success.”
He explains several of these alternative methods, including attaching provisions to another lawmaker’s legislation.
For instance, McGrady introduced a bill, passed by both chambers and expected to be signed by the governor, to allow Henderson County to join the Metropolitan Sewerage District of Buncombe County and lower sewer rates. Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, attached a provision to study wildlife enhancement, invasive species control and natural habitat restoration on state property. Rabon is the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, “the gatekeeper for all legislation in the Senate.”
“I was certainly willing to provide a vehicle for Sen. Rabon to move a provision that I supported in the budget and was important to him,” McGrady writes.
McGrady also updates the status of other bills important to Henderson County and the state. For instance, a bill to provide disaster relief to Henderson and adjoining counties affected by last year’s flooding was in the budget the governor vetoed. However, it was included in a supplemental appropriations bill intended to provide funding for “critical or time-sensitive items.” This is one way legislators keep money and laws flowing despite a budget impasse with the governor.
In providing constituents with detail, context and education on the process, McGrady sets a high bar for keeping the public informed — for other legislators, and for whoever succeeds him representing District 117 when he steps down later this year.