High Profile, Will Pass Bills
House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger announced late last week that the legislature would adjourn on September 30, bringing an end to one of the longer legislative sessions. Before the session ends, there appears to be consensus on the “must pass” bills, including bills reforming Medicaid (House Bill 372), providing economic recruitment incentives (House Bill 117), authorizing a vote on state bonds for a range of capital projects (House Bill 943), and consolidating state and local primaries with the March presidential primary (House Bill 373). Gary D. Robertson with the Associated Press wrote a good article on those issues published in papers throughout the state entitled “Bonds, primaries, Medicaid addressed before adjournment.”
Other High Profile, Will Pass Bills
Aside from those bills, there are other bills that are clearly likely to pass in some form. Senate Bill 513 [NC Farm Act of 2015] is one of those bills. It is touted as a bill to provide regulatory relief to the agricultural community, and it contains everything from increasing the assessment on horse feed from $2.00 to $4.00 (Section 1) to making technical changes relating the transfer of the NC Forest Service from the Department of Environment & Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs (DACS) (Section 25). In between those parts of the bill, there are provisions relating to tax withholding for agricultural workers, oversized agricultural trucks on highways, use of all-terrain vehicles on farms, meteorological towers, and the burning of polyethylene agricultural plastic.
By far, the most talked about provision is one which moves the captive cervid program (deer farming) from the Wildlife Resources Commission to the DACS and provides for regulation of deer farming. The opponents of this provision say that the provision would open the way for the importation of captive deer to be shot in hunting preserves, and they raise the specter of the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease — a “Mad Cow”-like disease which is not readily diagnosable, not curable, and can be transmitted through the soil for decades. Supporters of the provision say deer farming is happening in the state and that DACS has more expertise in dealing with animal diseases.
In the past several weeks, every time one heard a legislator say he needed some bill on which to attach some critically important provision (to that legislator, at least) the Farm Bill was mentioned. Everyone knew that the bill was likely to pass, and everyone knew that a provision added to the bill — even if it had nothing to do with agriculture — would likely pass both chambers.
Having passed local regulatory reform (House Bill 44) last week, another bill that is oftentimes mentioned as a “vehicle” for other legislation is House Bill 765 [Regulatory Reform Act of 2015]. The bill as passed by the House was a one-page bill, and the Senate sent back at fifty-eight page bill. When the House did not concur in the changes made by the Senate, a conference committee was appointed, but hadn’t met while work proceeded on HB44 and the budget. With work on both of those bills now complete, House conferees have sent a proposal to the Senate conferees, and it is expected that some version of the bill will pass before the end of the session.
The environmental community is likely to mount a full-court press on this bill since it contains many provisions that environmental organizations find objectionable. For example, the bill would establish a disclosure privilege for environmental audit reports and generally establish immunity for violation of environmental laws with an environmental audit that is voluntarily disclosed to an enforcement agency. The bill also includes a provision repealing recycling requirement for discarding computer equipment and televisions (a really dumb provision), a provision which essentially eliminates protection of isolated wetlands (a pretty dumb provision), and provisions dealing with the mitigation requirement for development impacts to streams (provisions likely ineffective because of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution).
From my comment, my guess is one can get my initial take on the bill. Despite these views, I was appointed to the conference committee on this bill and will refrain from further comment until after the conference committee reports. As with bills like HB44, my role probably is to try to advocate for some changes to the Senate version of the bill to get the bill marginally less objectionable than it currently is.
Other Likely To Pass Bills
Most bills that are in a conference committee are likely to pass this session. For example, the House has on its calendar today, House Bill 361 [Principle-Based Reserving/Revise Insurance Laws]. This is a bill that is important to the insurance industry, but has gotten little coverage since only a narrow range of people and companies are interested in the subject matter of the bill. While most bills being conferenced will pass, both the House and Senate will also begin to pass some number of bills that are viewed as noncontroversial, such as House Bill 850 [Eastern Band of Cherokee/Law Enforcement] or House Bill 679 [UNC Self-Liquidating Projects], two bills on the Senate’s calendar today.
Other Bills Whose Fate Is Unknown
As the session ends, legislators are looking for bills that might become a vehicle for moving broader legislation. For example, on the Senate floor today is an occupancy tax bill, House Bill 531, which started out as an occupancy tax bill related to only one county which has now grown to become HB531 [Various Occupancy Tax Changes], a bill that covers several counties and may not be as noncontroversial as the original bill.
A favorite tactic this time of year is to strip out a bill that has passed one chamber, substitute a totally different bill, and send it back to the original chamber for concurrence. A concurrence vote is a simple up or down vote with no amendments allowed. For example, House Bill 539 was a bill dealing with school playgrounds when passed by the House. Assuming that it passes the Senate today, HB539 is now a charter school funding bill. Since bills dealing with charter schools can be controversial, who knows whether the Senate’s bill is one which will garner House support, although the primary author of the House bill, Representative Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg), is a strong supporter of charter schools, and he may have worked with Senate leaders to move the charter school funding bill.
There are several bills whose fates are unknown but that might still pass. The autism bill, Senate Bill 676 [Autism Health Insurance Coverage], could move as could House Bill 20 [Rural Access to Health Care Act]. Senator Tom Apodaca’s autism bill has resided in the House Rules Committee while advocates for health insurance coverage for autism wrangle over different approaches taken in the Senate bill and the House autism bill, House Bill 646, that I introduced.
HB20 started out as a bill requiring parent education during certain well child visits regarding Type I diabetes, but it has been transformed into a bill dealing not just with diabetes but with the application of the Certificate of Need (CON) laws to one or more recently-closed hospitals and repeal of the Certificate of Public Advantage (COPA) relating to Mission Health. Some coastal legislators want the CON provision and Seator. Apodaca wants COPA repeal. Only time will tell if he gets his wish, although Park Ridge Health is in our district and it continues to oppose repeal.
One’s Own Bills
Most legislators will tell you that they have returned to Raleigh hoping to pass one or two bills that they introduced. With 170 legislators and eight working days, it is clear that isn’t going to happen. My best prospects are House Bill 647 [Epi-Pens in All Child-Serving Businesses] and House Bill 533 [Modify PUV Exemptions to Disqualification]; the first is a bill just providing a way for businesses to get epi-pens, and the second is a narrow tax exemption sought by land trusts.
My only reason for thinking these bills might move is that Senator Apodaca, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, has said he’d move those bills. Neither of them is controversial, and the Epi-Pen bill is a “feel good” bill.
Conversely, I have no hopes for House Bill 571 [111D Implement Carbon Dioxide Rules] or House Bill 554 [Protect Public From Dangerous Wild Animals]. HB571 as passed by the Senate to does the opposite of what the House bill would do to prepare for potential implementation of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. The bill currently sits in the House Rules Committee and is unlikely to see the light of day.
House Bill 554, known as the “monkey bill” by House Members who voted on it just before the crossover deadline, is also unlikely to be taken up by the Senate. The bill was strongly supported by the Humane Society of the United States. But after the Humane Society’s unsuccessful effort to defeat House Bill 405 [Property Protection Act] during which it pejoratively tagged the bill as the “ag-gag” bill, neither chamber is wanting to take up the animal protection bill. The over-the-top rhetoric of the Humane Society on HB405 will result in the demise of HB554 — a result I support since bad behavior should not be rewarded.
In ten days, the House and the Senate will have adjourned sine die — an adjournment without assigning a day for a further meeting. Unless Governor McCrory vetoes a bill requiring us to come back into session, the legislature will go home until the start of the so-called “Short Session” in May.