Politics & Government

Legislature leaves hot topics on McCrory’s desk

Senators Mike Woodard (D) and Jerry Tillman (R) sing a rendition of "Long Back Veil" as the clock approaches midnight on the senate floor during the final hours of the long legislative session Tuesday at the State Legislative Building.
Senators Mike Woodard (D) and Jerry Tillman (R) sing a rendition of "Long Back Veil" as the clock approaches midnight on the senate floor during the final hours of the long legislative session Tuesday at the State Legislative Building. tlong@newsobserver.com

The lobbying won’t end with the legislature’s early morning adjournment Wednesday: Gov. Pat McCrory now has more than 30 bills on his desk, and advocacy groups hope he’ll veto controversial proposals involving abortion, immigration and elections.

The General Assembly finished its longest session in over a decade shortly after 4 a.m., after a frenzied few days of last-minute legislating. Lawmakers won’t return until April 25 – unless McCrory vetoes a bill and legislative leaders call a special session to override it, or for some other extraordinary reason.

On Wednesday, NAACP leader William Barber II sent a letter to McCrory calling on him to veto House Bill 318, which would restrict forms of identification for noncitizens and ban counties and municipalities from having “sanctuary city” policies that limit enforcement of immigration laws.

“You have the opportunity to be a true leader for the people of North Carolina,” Barber wrote to the governor. “HB 318, moving secretly in the final days of this legislative session, is a sweeping anti-immigrant, anti-Latino, anti-Hispanic law.”

The NAACP’s lobbying is unlikely to sway McCrory, who has already said he wants to end sanctuary cities. “As governor, I believe that every law enforcement officer is sworn to uphold not only the laws of North Carolina, but also the laws of the United States, and that includes our immigration laws,” the governor said in a statement on his campaign website. “I don’t believe anyone should give sanctuary in any part of our state and nation to people who break our laws, especially drug traffickers, human traffickers and violent criminals.”

A spokesman for McCrory said in statement late Wednesday that the governor “has taken action on several bills today and will continue to review the remaining bills.”

They include a ban on the sale of fetal tissue that targets Planned Parenthood and a bill to schedule a $2 billion bond referendum that he’s expected to support.

The governor did sign a jobs incentives bill Wednesday that he’d been pushing for months to replenish an empty fund to attract major companies – and cemented legislation that sets upcoming presidential and statewide primaries for March 15.

“This plan sends a signal that we’re ready to compete with any state or nation to bring good-paying jobs to North Carolina,” McCrory said in a news release.

He signed the election law after lawmakers made last-minute changes related to a provision outlining a new method for campaign fundraising that establishes a new form of political committee headed by certain state office holders. One part that had previously cleared the chambers would have allowed leading lawmakers to raise money from lobbyists while the legislature was in session. That melted away this week.

McCrory’s office said he signed the bill only after he sought and received that change and others.

“This bill as signed,” the governor’s office said in a release, “increases the transparency for the general public and members of the media.”

Late-night lawmaking

Before adjourning for the year, the House and Senate moved through dozens of bills in a marathon legislative period that stretched for more than 19 hours.

Lawmakers were showing signs of exhaustion by early Wednesday, complaining of fatigue reminscent of jet lag. Someone brought House members a delivery from Insomnia Cookies, a bakery near N.C. State that caters to the late-night habits of college students.

Most of the final votes were completed by midnight Tuesday, but negotiators from the two chambers had to work out differences in a “technical corrections” bill that aims to fix mistakes in other legislation. That bill tends to attract last-minute provisions that aren’t actually required to correct other legislation, but many of those extra provisions were deleted early Wednesday to ensure a smooth passage.

While waiting for the final bill to emerge, other legislators were stuck killing time in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Some senators tossed a football. Others broke into song. And some even danced to beach music on the Senate floor.

Unfinished business

Some attempts to pass controversial legislation in the session’s final days fell short, abandoned by legislative leaders in the rush to leave town. A few of the items could be back on the agenda in next year’s session.

A last-minute attempt to restrict cities, towns and counties from having certain types of ordinances failed when the House Rules Committee voted it down. Local government officials spent the bulk of the day lobbying against it, along with LGBT advocacy groups that worried local nondiscrimination laws would be struck down.

A bill to divert funds from traditional public schools to charter schools died a more quiet death, sent to a committee that won’t meet until the legislature returns next April. House leaders said they want to spend more time reviewing charter school funding allocations.

“It will be studied extensively in the interim and maybe try to revamp the entire way we fund (schools),” House Rules Chairman David Lewis said.

Also on hold until next year: a push to eliminate a $500,000 cap on state funding for light-rail projects. The cap was added to this year’s budget – no one will admit to inserting it – and would likely kill a planned light-rail line between Durham and Chapel Hill.

Earlier this week, House members put a provision to remove the restrictive cap into a revenue bill. But the Senate didn’t vote on the bill before it left, instead referring the issue to a committee. The committee could take up the fix in next year’s short session, but it doesn’t have to.

Plenty of other bills, however, did clear the final legislative hurdles and now await action from McCrory.

Among them:

UNC president search: Lawmakers approved term limits for UNC Board of Governors members Tuesday but dropped a provision that would have required public disclosure of finalists for the UNC presidency.

The action occurred Tuesday night as the UNC presidential search committee met behind closed doors at SAS, the Cary software company. In recent days, the search for a successor to President Tom Ross has become bogged down by internal dissension on the board and complaints by legislators and faculty about a lack of transparency.

On Monday night, the House had passed an amendment from Rep. Grier Martin, a Raleigh Democrat, to require that the identity of the three final candidates be made public 10 days before the board’s vote. The amendment also would have required the board to hold at least one meeting at which finalists were discussed publicly. It passed overwhelmingly Monday.

But 24 hours later, another amendment from Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican, removed the public disclosure requirements. It also passed overwhelmingly.

“Confidentiality is crucial, absolutely crucial, to the ability to recruit and thoroughly vet the level of candidates that we want for a number of positions, but particularly this position as president of the university system, which I think all of us feel very strongly about,” Dollar said.

Environmental regulations: A sweeping “regulatory reform” bill is headed to McCrory after a 73-39 House vote shortly before midnight Tuesday.

It targets obsolete laws and rewrites regulations affecting the environment, business and local ordinances. It expands the “Good Samaritan” law to protect those who help in lifesaving emergencies, and it sets up an animal welfare hotline in the Attorney General’s Office.

Supporters say it will address burdensome regulations harming businesses. But many Democrats say the changes will affect the environment.

“It’s probably doing the most damage that we’ve done yet to the environment this session,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat. “There are a number of rollbacks of protections related to air and water quality that are very troubling to me.”

Mortgage registrations: One of the final bills of the session was indicative of the bulk of the lawmaking work – fairly routine, often with broad support. It was a bill authorizing the state’s banking commissioner to implement a registration system for people engaged only in processing of residential mortgage loans.

With widespread support, it cleared the House at 1:24 a.m. Wednesday and, like so many others, went on to McCrory.

Staff writers Jane Stancill and Taylor Knopf contributed.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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