The North Carolina House and Senate spent weeks this summer unable to agree on a state budget. Now their inability to agree on how to adjourn could leave this year’s session in more confusion.
House and Senate Republicans passed competing versions of adjournment resolutions late last week that differed on which legislation to consider if they were to return next week and in mid-November.
The two sides would like to work out legislation on cleaning up coal ash pits and overhauling Medicaid. But they disagree on when they want to tackle particular issues.
Without an adjournment agreement, the chambers technically remain in session and must hold skeleton meetings every fourth day – even if they don’t transact any business – to comply with the state constitution. The first such Senate meeting is Tuesday. Senate Republicans scheduled a late Monday conference call in part to consider their next steps.
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It wasn’t clear Monday what repercussions could follow if the legislature failed its constitutional obligation to keep meeting every fourth day. The Legislative Building was virtually empty Monday as lawmakers fled Raleigh following several days of high-stakes negotiations, some of which stretched into the wee hours.
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory could spur legislative leaders back to Raleigh for an agreement if he vetoes one of the 17 bills lawmakers have left on his desk and lawmakers want to consider overriding the veto. He has several days to decide.
One bill will certainly be signed: the budget. McCrory has said he would sign into law the budget adjustment bill that Senate and House members finally approved Friday and Saturday. The budget’s protracted negotiations had delayed the adjournment once projected by July 4. The session began May 14.
McCrory didn’t know when he would sign the budget bill into law as “the governor is reviewing it line by line,” spokesman Ryan Tronovitch said by email.
The Senate passed an adjournment last Friday that would punt the coal ash and Medicaid issues to Nov. 17. But House leaders wanted to take up coal ash and other legislation stuck in negotiations much sooner – next week.
So the House passed its own adjournment resolution Saturday morning that broadened their workload for an Aug. 14 return to include bills on economic incentives, regulatory changes and mandating insurance coverage for an autism disorder.
The Senate refused to consider the House measure later Saturday.
Without an adjournment agreement, the Senate scheduled a so-called “skeleton” session Tuesday morning, followed by the House on Wednesday.
Conceivably, these sessions could go through the rest of the year, when the two-year terms of current General Assembly members expire. Similar low-profile floor meetings went on for months in 2002 to leave open an ongoing special session on legislative redistricting.
Gerry Cohen, who retired last week as the legislature’s special counsel, said Monday the state constitution provides for no legal remedy if House or Senate members fail to convene every fourth day, but he believes the General Assembly would still legally be in session. He said it was possible a court could compel the legislature to meet if the failure to meet was challenged.
Spokeswomen for House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Huntersville, didn’t respond to a request for comment late Monday. Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and House Rules Committee chairman, also didn’t return a phone call.
Speaking to reporters Friday, McCrory acknowledged the long hours that legislators had worked in recent weeks and said he wanted them to “take a long nap and get back home and see their families.” But he also said he would be in contact with House and Senate leaders this week as they try to resolve their differences.