CrossoverAn Overview. The crossover deadline passed last Thursday, and some folks were mildly surprised that we got out of town in the late afternoon. In some years past, we’ve stayed until the wee hours of the morning. Crossover is a self-imposed deadline that the legislature establishes for when non-budget bills have to clear either the House or the Senate.
The Raleigh paper reported that the House and Senate approved nearly 200 bills during the crossover week; in an average week, we don’t clear anything near that number of bills. Last week, on Tuesday and Wednesday, there were supplemental calendars published periodically and we stopped at various points to allow committees to meet and make recommendations on bills. It wasn’t quite the marathon that it was last session, but it still left me pretty tired.
Many of the bills passing during the crossover week were local bills, affecting only one county or one municipality, but there were some notable exceptions. For example, the House passed a bill, HB716 — Clarify Law/Prohibit Sex-Selection Abortion — which will prohibit health plans on North Carolina’s health insurance exchanges (created under the federal health care law) from offering abortion coverage.
McGrady Bills. For me, crossover week was disappointing because several of my bills got to the floor but were not passed. Two bills relating to “electronic notice” were defeated on the House floor in the face of withering opposition from the North Carolina Press Association. HB504 — Local Electronic Notice — was a bill to allow counties and municipalities to publish their legal notices electronically rather than by ads in newspapers. Henderson County (along with the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners and the League of Municipalities sought the legislation because they felt that publishing ads in newspapers isn’t working and is a waste of taxpayer money.
What was interesting is that the newspapers started badgering local officials to oppose the bill, even though there was nothing in the bill that was mandatory — in other words, a county or town could still publish in newspapers or electronically. Publicly, the fight was all about providing notice and the media serving as a check on government power. Privately, the fight was just about money — with even the Hendersonville Lightning‘s publisher, Bill Moss, making a pitch for why government needed to pay papers for ads to support small businesses like his.
Unfortunately, in the effort to kill HB504 and a similar Senate bill, the press association also managed to kill House Bill 755 — DENR Electronic Notice — a bill to run a pilot program involving electronic notice on a very small range of notices published by the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources. It seems that the Press Association doesn’t want to experiment with any type of notice that might erode the papers’ monopoly.
House Bill 440, my bill to create a new type of corporation, a “Benefit Corporation,” was also narrowly defeated on the House floor by a vote of 52-60. A benefit corporation is a for-profit corporation that has a charitable purpose. If one thinks about Whole Foods or Ben and Jerry’s, one has the idea of what a benefit corporation is. Benefit corporations have now been authorized in 14 states, and Delaware’s law will become effective before the end of year. Since most corporations in the United States are incorporated in Delaware, I suspect it is only a matter of time before North Carolina will authorize benefit corporations.
The debate on the benefit corporation legislation was a bit surreal. Civitas, a conservative think tank, came out against the legislation with strong support from Tea Party activists. They evidently believed that the bill would authorize a type of corporation that would primarily be used by liberal activists or was part of some Agenda 21 plot by advocates of a United Nations world order. The debate was surreal because the legislation in other states had been signed by conservative governors and introduced by conservative legislators — including in two instances, legislators who graduated from Bob Jones University — that bastion of liberal education south of our border.
Crossover week was a mixed bag for me, though. The House passed my bill, HB498 — Mandate Autism Health Insurance Coverage — to require insurers and the State Health Plan to offer coverage for autism spectrum disorders. 32 states have enacted similar autism insurance laws, including South Carolina and Virginia. The bill passed 105-7.
On the issue of how much debt the State has, I introduced House Bill 364 — Treasurer’s Debt Issuance Accountability Act — to limit the ability of state agencies to incur debt or enter into debt-like arrangements without General Assembly approval. The North Carolina Department of Transportation opposed the bill, arguing that they should just be an exception to the bill. In the face of NCDOT’s opposition, we turned that bill into a “study bill” to authorize a study of the state’s debt.
The House also approved my bill, HB545 — Modify Henderson County Occupancy Tax — to do away with the provision allocating one cent of the occupancy tax to the Flat Rock Playhouse. Since the county commission isn’t interested in raising the occupancy tax to provide monies for the Playhouse, both Senator Apodaca and I introduced bills to strike the allocation.
Regional Water & Sewer. The bill to combine the water system run by the City of Asheville with the sewer district in Buncombe County and Henderson County’s sewer system became law (Session Law 2013-50) on Tuesday, May 14. That same day, the City of Asheville sued the State and the sewer district in Buncombe County arguing that the new law was unconstitutional. While the City makes several arguments, it primarily is arguing that the General Assembly exceeded its authority in passing a law that purports to be a general statute but, in fact, is a local statute that only applies to Asheville and its neighbors’ sewer systems. The City also says that the forced merger amounted to an unconstitutional taking of the City’s assets.
Since the matter is now in litigation, I’ll refrain from talking about the merits of the case. As expected, the City got a temporary restraining order to allow the court to hear the case. With the consent of the Attorney General, who is representing the State, the parties have now agreed to continue the injunction until early August to allow the parties to prepare their cases.
What is interesting to me is that the City of Asheville doesn’t even have Henderson County as a party to the lawsuit. I have to laugh about that because it seems to be consistent with Asheville’s usual behavior when it comes to Henderson County — just ignore us.
With crossover behind us, next up is the budget. The Senate will pass its budget this week and then the budget debates move to the House. Since I co-chair the Education Appropriations Committee, I expect the coming weeks will be consumed with negotiations over issues like the funding of pre-K programs, teacher pay raise proposals, and funding levels for K-12, community colleges and the university system.