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Crossover Week Chaos Ensues At NC Legislature

The chambers of the NC State House
Jorge Valencia

State lawmakers engaged in some self-induced chaos as part of the biennial exercise of ‘crossover’ this week.

The legislative deadline known as crossover is an arbitrary parliamentary deadline during which bills must receive approval from one chamber and have crossed over to the other chamber, or be relegated to the legislative dumpster.

This general practice is about separating the wheat from the chaff – there is legislation with some value, and that which is worthless. But of course, the legislature dictates its own rules and there are mechanisms by which a bill that is perceived dead, could resurrect at a later time.

On Tuesday morning, House lawmakers moved mostly briskly through 30 bills. Each measure approved had bipartisan support, and acrimony was limited.

One measure seeks to expand broadband in rural areas, another aims to better provide healthcare for youths living in homelessness. One bill that heard plenty of debate, would penalize distracted driving, with a $100 fine.

“We’re certainly not trying to criminalize behavior. We’re trying to change behavior, we don’t want to criminalize anyone, but we want to change behavior so that people are not engaging in activity that puts not only themselves, but others at risk,” said Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford).

Hardister says in the 18 states where it’s illegal to hold a smart phone while driving, there has been a decrease in traffic fatalities. However, some legislators criticized the broad nature of the proposal.

“If you look at the wording on this bill, it’s very vague. Distractions? It’s so vague that it’s hard to determine what it is you can be ticketed for, what it is you can be pulled over for,” Rep. Michael Speciale (R-Craven) said on the House floor.

Ultimately this bill was approved by a 92-23 count, and now goes to the Senate.

State senators were slated to consider a controversial energy bill that would ban wind turbines across a large stretch in the eastern reaches of the state. But the legislation was removed from the calendar, without immediate explanation. The wind saga dates back nearly two years, to when lawmakers banned wind turbines from going up in the coastal plains. That ban was in place from July 2017 until the end of 2018.

A powerful Republican senator cited the possibility of wind farms interfering with military pilot training exercises, leading to the closure of bases. That assertion was questioned.

With the ban on wind farms having now expired, senators are seeking another prohibition, aided by some new maps that detail low, medium and high risk areas as it relates to military training. It's unclear when the wind issue will reemerge, though senators have tucked policy into their state budget proposal in recent years. The Senate will unveil its full budget later this month.

The House concluded its work for the week and will not have any votes until next Wednesday.

Jeff Tiberii covers politics for WUNC. Before that, he served as the station's Greensboro Bureau Chief.
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