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NC lawmakers await a contentious final week

By Gary D. Robertson
Associated Press

RALEIGH The North Carolina General Assembly is poised for another contentious week as it tackles the budget, and bills that would change voter ID and state gun laws.

Legislators are set to vote on a historic budget this week that would have the state take a giant step toward further privatization of education, end teacher tenure, and compensate victims of the government eugenics program.

The budget that was in the process of completion Sunday would have the state take a giant step toward further privatization of education, end teacher tenure, and compensate victims of the government eugenics program.

It includes a program that would allow families that meet income guidelines to use taxpayer money to pay private school tuition for their children, starting with the 2014-2015 school year, according to an email from Senate leader Phil Berger’s and House Speaker Thom Tillis’ offices. The full budget was not expected to be available until later Sunday night.

House and Senate Republicans, like Democratic leaders once in charge before them, have seen tempers flare and frustrations grow as the session continued several weeks beyond projections, causing one GOP senator to complain last week he was “sick of the House.” GOP Gov. Pat McCrory’s legislative wish list and the weekly “Moral Monday” protests critical of Republican policies are adding to the tension.

The legislative “process is meant to be contentious, because I think that pushes better bills out,” said House Majority Whip Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, adding, “we should have to fight to get the good bills through.”

More disorder awaits the session’s final days as lawmakers and lobbyists attempt to negotiate agreements on major outstanding legislation. The legislature is likely to work from morning until evening, and maybe even after midnight, to close up shop, probably no sooner than Thursday.

“It’s chaos – unorganized chaos,” said Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson.

Harold Brubaker, who served 35 years in the House, including four as the Republican speaker in the 1990s, said there’s no route around the disarray.

“It will look like a flurry of activity, with at some points no rhyme or reason, but that’s part of getting the session to wind down,” said Brubaker, who is now a lobbyist watching bills for his clients. “It’s always been this way.”

Negotiators already have worked out some of this year’s most significant pieces of legislation.

Republicans in both chambers worked together to pass a milestone tax overhaul package last week that McCrory is expected to sign. They also are nearing passage of a two-year state budget that was supposed to be in place as the fiscal year began July 1.

Months ago Republicans muscled through a bill that accelerated the repayment of $2.5 billion owed the federal government to help pay state unemployment insurance benefits that required benefit cuts and in turn canceled federal emergency benefits for 70,000 unemployed workers this month.

The GOP legislators and McCrory also decided not to expand Medicaid to cover hundreds of thousands of low-income residents. On Thursday, the General Assembly created a new authority to run Charlotte Douglas International Airport, taking it out of the city’s control and infuriating many local officials. The matter is now in court.

Although the session, which began in earnest Jan. 30, has been marked by Republican legislation labeled divisive by several hundred protesters, the activity conceals scores of bipartisan bills that have passed and get approved annually.

“This session has had many ebbs and flows,” said Rep. Rodney Moore, D-Mecklenburg. “We’ve had some good legislation and we’ve had some not so good legislation.”

There remained competing House and Senate versions of bills on additional contentious topics entering the final days.

They include legislation requiring residents to show photo identification before they can vote in person and expanding the public locations where concealed weapons permit holders can carry or store their guns.

The two chambers disagree on which kinds of photo ID cards would be acceptable. The Senate version of the gun bill also repeals requiring someone to get a license through a local sheriff to buy any handgun, which the House opposes.

Brubaker said some of the toughest issues will be settled in the coming days in one-on-one meetings with Tillis and Berger.

“There’s some you win and some you lose,” Brubaker said.

The future of placing additional rules on abortion and clinics that offer the procedure is uncertain although McCrory has said he will sign into law a measure now in the Senate’s hands. Apodaca said last week that he didn’t know what would happen with the legislation.

McCrory’s prominence as chief executive, informal alliance with House Republicans on several key issues and his veto stamp have given him leverage.

McCrory told a real estate trade group last week he would be actively seeking to try to influence bills in the coming days, either by working to remove provisions he didn’t like or stopping them all together.

The (Raleigh) News&Observer contributed.

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