Representative Tom Murry (R-Wake) was tasked with handling the regulatory reform bill in the House. In responding to questions and criticism of the bill in a House committee last week, he said of the bill “This ain’t my dog; I’m just walking it” — and I understand that another legislator quipped that he ought to “put a leash on it.” Well, that bill, Senate Bill 734 (Regulatory Reform Act of 2014), got panned in committee last week, but legislators returning after the weekend found out that, according to Representative Murry, “the dog had a puppy.”
That is another way of saying that the bill has (again) been split in two bills with some number of provisions taken out and some new ones added. Aside from a new SB734, the additional regulatory reform bill is SB493 (Health and Safety Regulatory Reform). These two bills were heard in committee today, and one or both of them will be heading to the floor shortly.
I was glad to see that my autism bill (House Bill 498) has made it into SB493, but I’m dismayed that language included in the original Senate bill relating to allowing community colleges to sell the beer they brew in their brewery courses did not make it into either bill.
A quick review of the bills will give one a sense of just how many diverse provisions are included in each bill. In SB734, there are provisions to do away with various committees, commissions and boards, a provision to streamline the rule-making process, a provision to prohibit certain headlights on vehicles, a provision creating a bail bond shield like the shields police officers and sheriff deputies have, and a provisions relating to licensing to professional engineers and locksmiths…and that’s only through page nine of the twenty-four page bill.
In SB493, aside from the autism bill, there are provisions relating to behavior analyst licensure, pharmacy benefits management, food services at lodging facilities, youth skin cancer prevention, animal euthanasia, and the use of natural spring water at co-located restaurants. The latter provision is no doubt some change in law to specifically address a problem caused by the peculiar facts surrounding one such restaurant somewhere in the state.
The history of SB734 is a good example of just how hard it is for anyone, even legislators, to keep track of what is happening with legislation. SB734 was originally split into two bills, and one of those bills, SB38 (Amend Environment Laws 2014) dealing almost exclusively with environmental provisions, already passed the House. Now SB734 has split once again into two bills, but the bills are more and less than the sum of their parts — in other words, the bills contain some of the provisions of the old SB734, but new provisions have also been added.
Some may remember this same thing happened last year when the Senate and the House took up regulatory reform — several bills went back and forth between the two chambers. Ultimately, the General Assembly passed HB74 (Regulatory Reform Act of 2013) that ran fifty-nine pages and included provisions that few legislators had seen. One of the provisions relating to compliance boundaries in and around coal ash ponds suddenly received some amount of attention following the coal ash spill into the Dan River earlier this year. Aside from no one wanting to take responsibility for the provision, the bigger problem was that folks didn’t agree as to what the compliance boundary provision in the bill did. We may be trying to fix that in a bill soon, but it illustrates what the problem with these omnibus bills is.
With the rush towards adjournment and the variety and size of the bills quickly moving through the legislature, it is almost impossible for our constituents to keep up with legislation, even legislation that is important to them. And it is very hard even for legislators to keep up.