The NC House’s Rules allow a House member to introduce, with a few exceptions, up to 15 “public bills” — proposed laws of general application — while there is no limit on the number of local bills that can be filed. The Senate has no limit on the number of bills — public or local — that a senator can file. With 120 House members, the concern is House members could inundate legislative staff with proposed bills that are not likely to be heard. With only 50 senators, there is less of a concern about staff spending time needlessly on bills that aren’t likely to move. Moreover, with districts 2.5 times the size of House members’ districts, there is some reason to expect senators might need to file more bills.
Legislators constantly receive communications about bills that aren’t going anywhere. Often, some reporter will report on some crazy bill, and it will unleash a torrent of communications from constituents. I have not written about how to tell whether a bill has merit or a chance of being considered, but Colin Campbell, editor of the Insider State Government News Service, put out a good article, “How to tell if a bill has a chance of passing.”
As a legislator, I can quickly look at a bill, determine its substance, who is sponsoring it, and to what committees it has been assigned and can usually guess whether the bill “has legs,” i.e. is capable of moving. It is harder for constituents who may not be closely following the legislature and have only read some news report on a bill to figure it out.
Since the start of the session, I’ve introduced eight bills. Five of those are public bills that count against my 15-bill limit. One of those bills is a public bill, but it was put forward by a legislative committee and therefore doesn’t count against my fifteen-bill limit. The two remaining bills are local bills, requested by local governments and are only applicable to local projects or issues.
Previously, I’ve reported on House Bill 14 [Reconstitute Various Boards & Commissions] and House Bill 140 [The Fair Act]. The former bill seeks to reconstitute some boards and commissions found to be unconstitutionally appointed since the Governor doesn’t have the majority of appointments while the latter bill proposes a constitutional amendment to prohibit partisan redistricting or gerrymandering.
My remaining public bills subject to the bill limit are:
- House Bill 245 [DEQ/Policy Changes.-AB]. A bill sought by the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) that was deemed by the agency to be noncontroversial changes to current law on a range of subjects.
- House Bill 246 [DEQ/Fund and Fee Changes.-AB]. A bill sought by the DEQ that was deemed by the agency to be noncontroversial changes to fees and other charges levied by the department.
- House Bill 334 [NCSU Honey Bee Laboratory/Funds]. A bill to appropriate $2 million for the construction of a new field honey bee laboratory at North Carolina State University.
What might seem strange is that none of these bills are likely to pass as free-standing bills. All three bills are likely to be incorporated either in the budget bill or some other larger bill. One doesn’t typically see agency bills — that is, the “AB” after the title of two of the bills — involving relatively noncontroversial issues pass as stand-alone bills. These sorts of bills usually get grouped with other noncontroversial matters into one bill. Bills involving fees or funding of capital projects are also not typically passed as free-standing bills. The bee lab will get funded, if it is funded, as part of the capital portion of the state budget.
So why introduce the bills? First, by putting the DEQ bills forward, everyone gets to see them and one can determine whether they are actually noncontroversial. Almost immediately, one of my colleagues objected to HB245, so both DEQ and others now know that a policy provision relating to solid waste and disposal of dead poultry and livestock after a hurricane is controversial. As for the funding bills, if provisions from either of these bills suddenly appear in the budget adopted by the House, everyone now knows where the bills came from — from DEQ with respect to HB245 and HB246, and from me with respect to HB334.
I introduced one other public bill, HB91 [ABC Laws Modernization/PED Study]; it is not subject to the bill filing limit because it was a bill proposed by the Program Evaluation Division (PED) of the legislature. PED is the research division of the legislature. PED staffers study issues intensely at the request of legislators, and put forth draft legislation. Since this legislation involves alcoholic beverage law, and I’m one of the chairs of the House Alcoholic Beverage Control Committee, I volunteered to file the legislation. HB91 proposes, among other things, to consolidate local ABC boards located in counties with multiple boards to form merged ABC boards. If one wants to understand more about North Carolina’s regulation of alcoholic beverages compared to other states, the PED report giving rise to HB91 is a great source of information.
HB91 is just the first of several ABC bills that I anticipate filing over the next several weeks. To some extent, a legislator’s work reflects his or her committee assignments. As a co-chair of the House ABC Committee, it would be expected that I would be the lead sponsor of some number of alcoholic beverage bills.
All the buzz around alcoholic beverage legislation is around my expected filing of a “privatization bill” — a bill to get governments out of the business of selling and distributing distilled spirits. There has already been one press conference opposing the bill, and some outside group is generating communications in favor of the bill. For me, it is all amusing since I haven’t filed a bill yet — no one actually knows what is in the bill although folks are already for it or against it.
Aside from the public bills, I’ve filed two local bills: HB299 [Henderson Cty/Build Community College Buildings] and HB326 [Hendersonville Local Option Sales Tax]. HB299 was sought by the Henderson County Board of Commissioners and Blue Ridge Community College to facilitate some construction on the community college’s campus. HB326 was sought by the Hendersonville City Council to give it a revenue option it currently doesn’t have. Legislators often file bills sought by local governments, and generally I try to assist local governments unless I have some philosophical problem with a proposed local bill or a bill is highly unlikely to garner sufficient support to pass.
My Bills’ Chances of Passing
Looking at the bills I’ve introduced, how would I judge their chances of success? I think the community college construction bill is likely to pass and become law. Sen. Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson) has already agreed to run that in the Senate. I think one or more ABC bills will pass, but it is too early to tell whether HB91 will pass in its present form. However, it will get a hearing in the House ABC Committee next week. As an ABC Committee chair, I can make that happen.
For the first time, I have some expectation that a nonpartisan redistricting bill will pass. It could be HB140 or HB69 [Nonpartisan Redistricting Commission], a bill on which I’m a primary cosponsor. It could be some other nonpartisan redistricting bill or some combination of them.
The two DEQ bills and the bee laboratory bill are likely to be considered as part of the budget process. They wouldn’t pass as stand-alone bills but some of their provisions probably will become law.
The local option sales tax bill is similar to a bill that was passed by one House committee last session, but wasn’t heard in a second committee to which it was referred. It could meet a similar fate this year, since legislators are hesitant to authorize local governments to collect additional taxes.
The boards and commissions bill is an unknown. I fully expect the legislature will have to address how to reconstitute certain boards and commissions that were found to be unconstitutionally constituted. However, whether that will be done in the way proposed in HB17 or whether the issue is addressed in the budget or some other bill is still unclear. Hope springs eternal, though.