As the legislative session winds down, legislators and lobbyists wonder when exactly the session will be over and what bills will be taken up before adjournment. Hardly a day goes by without some lobbyist frantically calling to find out whether I think some bill will be taken up in the House. A few years ago, I didn’t get a lot of those calls since “what did I know” being a junior House Member. That has changed, but often, the response is that I have no idea what might happen or even what bill the lobbyist is calling about.
Most legislators have a hard enough time keeping up with bills that might be moving in their own chamber without watching what is happening in the other chamber. That is particularly true this time of year. The Senate calendar on Monday had over 20 bills listed, and there were others that moved in Senate committees last Friday that will come to the Senate floor shortly. There are also bills being considered by conference committees.
Assuming the Senate takes action on the bills that have moved through its committees, many of them will come back to the House for concurrence, basically a vote to concur with any changes made by the Senate. Typically, if the sponsor of the original House bill doesn’t like the changes made by the Senate, he or she will move to “not concur” and a conference committee will be appointed by both chambers to resolve the differences in versions of the bill passed by each chamber. The system works the same way for Senate bills changed in the House.
If the differences in a bill are resolved by a conference committee, a conference report comes back to both chambers. When the conference report comes back, it cannot be amended — just a simple up or down vote. If that is approved by both chambers, then the bill will become law, assuming the Governor signs it (if it’s a bill that requires his signature). The Governor doesn’t sign local bills, bills relating to redistricting, or bills proposing constitutional amendments.
So what bills are likely to move in the time remaining in this session? Here are my guesses.
There are several regulatory reform bills, House Bill 169 [Regulatory Reduction Act of 2016], Senate Bill 303 [Regulatory Reform Act of 2016], HB593 [Amend Environmental & Other Laws] and HB763 [Military Operations Protection Act of 2016]. The first two bills address a broad range of issues, while HB593 is the “Environmental Amends” bill that is a staple of every session. Environmental Amends is a bill that reflects the complicated nature of environmental regulation and one is usually considered whether the Democrats or the Republicans are in the majority. HB763 is a bill that would, among other things, modify the permitting process for wind energy projects.
Because of the process used to move these bills, the House regulatory reform bill has a Senate number, SB303, and the Senate regulatory reform bill, carries a House number, HB169. Unless one really wants to get into the weeds, there is little point in recounting how this came to be.
What one should note is that the House and the Senate took very different approaches in their respective regulatory reform bills. The House passed a bill, SB303, that was atypical for regulatory reform bills. It only contained provisions that were acceptable to all interested parties. Thus, the bill sailed through the House by a vote of 111-0. All controversial provisions were deleted or were turned into studies that would be ready for next year’s long session. Conversely, the Senate passed a bill that included numerous provisions that had been struck by the House during its consideration of its regulatory reform bill or not advanced by other House committees.
My expectation is that all of these bills will be conferenced together, meaning that one group of senators and representatives will try to resolve the differences. Given the breadth of the subject matter of these bills — from solid waste regulations to engineering to wind energy to land use — one can expect that the conference committee will be a large one.
In each of the past several years, the legislature has taken up a farm bill, and this year is no different. The Senate passed SB770 [NC Farm Act of 2016], and the House Agriculture Committee heard the bill last week and will take it up again this week. Only two provisions in the bill drew fire, provisions that would exempt agriculture from the Sedimentation Pollution Control Act (Section 14) and would exempt agriculture from Capacity Use Area Withdrawal Permitting Requirements (Section 12). The latter relates to the current requirement that some agricultural users have to get permits for groundwater withdrawals. On the coast, where water comes from underground aquifers, if too much water is withdrawn an aquifer might pull salt water from the ocean into the fresh water aquifer — which is clearly problematic. My expectation is that the Farm Bill will pass, but only after some effort is made to resolve differences on the two provisions.
MAP Act Changes
The NC Supreme Court determined that a law passed in 1997, which allows the state Department of Transportation to reserve land for roads it plans to build in the future was unconstitutional [Raleigh News and Observer, June 10]. The decision came late in the legislative session and allows the General Assembly little time to respond. HB959 [DOT Proposed Legislative Changes] was about to pass and become law with some noncontroversial changes made to the House bill when it became the vehicle for addressing the unconstitutionality of the MAP Act. The House voted to not concur in the changes made to the bill, and House and Senate conferees will apparently try to deal with some of the issues raised by the court decision.
After SB71 [Comm’n Appointment Modifications] passed by large margins in both the House and Senate, Governor McCrory vetoed the bill, arguing that having a Coal Ash Management Commission that plays a role in making decisions on risk classifications of coal ash basins was in violation of the ruling in McCrory v. Berger, the lawsuit that challenged the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 [SB729, Coal Ash Management Act of 2014]. With the legislature clearly having the votes to override the Governor’s veto, many were surprised when that didn’t happen. There have been ongoing discussions between the Governor and legislative leaders, and some action will likely be taken before adjournment. The legislature could quickly move a new coal ash bill or it could simply override the veto. Any new coal ash bill would likely include the changes regarding provision of water to those households near coal ash basins.
In recent years, some broad election law bill has passed the legislature each session. While it is unclear exactly what might move in this session, SB897 [Asheville City Council Districts] passed the Senate on Monday, and will likely pass the House before the end of the session. Senator Apodaca introduced this bill and would establish districts for Asheville City Council seats.
Technical Corrections Bills
At the end of every session, there are a number of bills to make technical corrections, usually in the budget, revenue laws, or the retirement system. One of the first technical corrections bills, SB886 [Retirement Amendment] has already passed the Senate, and I expect a budget correction bill will quickly get put together to correct technical mistakes that were found after the budget conference report went online. Again, a conference report cannot be amended, and the easiest way to make minor changes is just to run a technical corrections bill.
The last bill that will be adopted by both chambers is the adjournment resolution. Presumably, the legislature will be adjourning sine die (adjournment without assigning a day for further meeting), and each chamber will pass the same adjournment resolution.
Having no doubt I missed several important bills that will pass — what is important is in the eye of the beholder — the fun begins when one tries to figure out what will happen with some other bills. On Monday, the Senate took up HB3 [Omnibus Constitutional Amendments]. Starting out as a constitutional amendment on eminent domain which enjoys broad support, it now includes a controversial constitutional amendment capping the income tax at a rate of 5.5% and a constitutional amendment on hunting. I suspect that bill will get batted back and forth between the Senate and the House a few times.
The Senate also took up HB100 [Local Government Immigration Compliance] which now includes provisions that would make various changes to the statute that prohibits the use of certain forms of identification by State and local officials and would create a process to make local governments that are not in compliance with State laws related to immigration ineligible to receive certain funds. Clearly, this is another bill that will provoke some amount of debate.
The elephant in the room (perhaps it is a donkey if one is a Democrat) is any bill relating to HB2 [Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act], the controversial law enacted in a special session in March. My guess is there will be some change to that law, but what change that might be is unclear.