Updated 11:50 a.m., 4/28/2017
Thursday's crossover deadline came and went with a bang. Debate got heated when House Minority Leader Darren Jackson (D-Wake) objected to a final vote on House Bill 113. The measure allows for private citizens to take their local governments and police departments to court for failing to comply with immigration law enforcement.
It was clear Jackson believed Republicans violated a bi-partisan agreement on which bills would get a final vote just ahead of the deadline--Jackson said HB 113 was not one of them. Nonetheless, Jackson backed down when it was clear he was being outmaneuvered by the GOP leadership. The bill survived crossover and moved on to the Senate.
Fireworks aside, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) seemed satisfied when he spoke with members of the Capitol Press Corps following the hectic week at the General Assembly.
Berger addressed a few questions after his chamber wrapped up its business for the week Thursday morning, following long day of work Wednesday.
“See the smile on my face? I feel pretty good about it," he said.
“We’ve sent a number of matters over to the House. Of course, they’re sending things to us, and so we’ll for the rest of the session - in addition to the budget - we’ll figure out which of those bills are things we want to move forward with, and which we want to leave for the short session next year, and which we want to just kind of leave on the table somewhere.”
Both chambers passed dozens and dozens of bills this week. Among them was a series of elections proposals on how to determine ballot order, easing access for third party and unaffiliated candidates, and adjusting the schedule for municipal elections.
The crossover week also featured two overrides of vetoes by Governor Cooper. The controversial measures - Senate Bill 68 and House Bill 239 – are law, for now. The first measure does away with the current state elections and ethics boards, and establishes a new eight-member board. Cooper is seeking a preliminary injunction to block the measure. He says it illegally strips him of appointment powers.
The other measure is a plan to reduce to the number of judges on the state’s second highest court from 15 to 12. These veto overrides are the latest in an ongoing power struggle between Republican lawmakers and the Democratic governor.
“I think that’s a lot of what you’re seeing right now, is trying to see where the checks and balances are, where the appropriate balance is between the executive and legislative branch, and I suspect that we will continue to see that for some time to come,” Berger said.
With crossover complete, the Senate will turn its attention to the budget. The higher chamber will roll out its spending plan, the House will follow, and then a compromise will be hashed out this summer.
“I think we should finish on the Senate side and send a budget over to the House early to mid may, that would be my expectation.”
Crossover: A bill must have passed at least one chamber of the Legislature by the end of the day Thursday to stay alive for consideration this year. (Although, in the past, lawmakers have found ways around the “rule.”)
Here’s a partial list of important or interesting bills that are moving ahead of the crossover deadline.
HB 797: Changes to Body-Worn Cam Law: Last year, the General Assembly adopted a law that requires a court order to publicly release police body-cam or dash-cam video to the public. The issue stoked controversy after the police shooting of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte on Sept. 20. This bill adds language clarifying the agencies or bodies to whom such video may be released. For example, HB 797 permits release of the video within a law enforcement agency for training purposes and to other agencies for investigative purposes, as well as the release of still images for aid in identifying a potential criminal suspect. However, a lengthy debate resulted in the removal of language that would have allowed for the release of police video to a civilian review board. The bill went to the Senate where it was approved in a preliminary vote and referred to the Rules Committee.
S285: Asheville Redistricting: This measure requires the city of Asheville to redraw its electoral districts by November 1, 2017. If the city fails to redraw them by the November deadline, it allows the state to create new districts for the city. The Senate passed the measure Wednesday, despite opposition from Asheville Democratic Sen. Terry VanDuyn, and the City of Asheville. The Republican bill sponsors say the city has dragged its feet on necessary redistricting. The measure went to the House on Thursday and passed a preliminary vote. It was then referred to the House Rules Committee.
SB486: Uniform Voting Act: This bill requires that when one precinct extends voting hours on election day due, they must be extended in every precinct across the state. Republican sponsor Andrew Brock says voters in his district felt disenfranchised when a precinct in Durham extended voting hours on election day due to problems with the voting machines. The measure went to the House on Thursday and passed a preliminary vote. It was then referred to the House Rules Committee.
SB 68: Bipartisan Board of Elections and Ethics: On Tuesday morning, the House joined the Senate in voting to override Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that reconstituted the State Boards of Elections and Ethics. Lawyers for the governor filed a motion in Wake County Superior Court on Wednesday seeking a Temporary Restraining Order and a preliminary injunction blocking the law from taking effect. A three-judge panel is hearing arguments Friday morning on the request.
HB514: Allow Towns to Operate Own Charter Schools: This bill would allow the two suburban towns of Mint Hill and Matthews outside of Charlotte to operate their own charter schools. The measure went to the House on Thursday and passed a preliminary vote. It was then referred to the House Rules Committee.
SB253: Make Carteret County School Board Partisan: This bill would make the Carteret County School Board partisan. Carteret school board members themselves oppose the change, saying they don't want to inject their board with toxic, Washington-style politics. The board is currently composed of both Republicans and Democrats. The all-Republican Carteret County Commission supports the change. Lawmakers have turned more and more school boards partisan in recent years. The measure went to the House on Thursday and passed a preliminary vote. It was then referred to the House Rules Committee.
SB531: School Boards Can't Sue Counties: This bill would take away local school boards' right to sue their county commissioners for more education funding. Republican sponsor Tommy Tucker says a recent court battle between his school board and county commission in Union County cost taxpayers more than $2 million in legal fees. The North Carolina School Boards Association says boards need the right to sue in order to bring county commissioners to the table in funding negotiations. The measure went to the House on Thursday and passed a preliminary vote. It was then referred to the House Rules Committee.
HB 13: K-3 Class size: A bill that settles (for now) the fight between the state Senate and school districts that claimed the Senate's initiative to reduce K-3 class sizes would lead to mass layoffs of arts and P.E. teachers. The compromise would push back the reductions for a year. As part of the compromise, Senate leaders want to be able to force local school superintendents to be more transparent and comprehensive with how they report class-size numbers, and with how they use the money provided to make class sizes smaller. Opponents point out that many districts don’t have anywhere near the physical space to create more classrooms, and that the funding is inadequate. The new version lowers maximum K-3 class sizes for this fall to 23 students, and then to 19-21 students in 2018-19 school year. The Senate passed the bill on Tuesday, the House approved it on Thursday and Governor Roy Cooper signed it into law the same day.
HB 704: Break up large school districts: This bill would create a study commission to divide some larger school districts into smaller districts. Both sponsors are Republicans in large districts (Wake and Charlotte/Mecklenburg). If enacted, a ten-member study commission would look at the feasibility of breaking up large districts. The bill passed the House Wednesday night, the Senate gave the measure preliminary approval on Thursday and referred it to the chamber's Rules Committee.
HB 838: State Superintendent Staffing: This bill would give State Supt. Mark Johnson $596,586 to hire certain staff, without the approval of the State Board of Education. It’s another battle in the ongoing war between Johnson and the State Board of Education. The measure passed the House on Monday. The Senate gave the legislation preliminary approval in a vote on Tuesday and then referred the bill to its Rules Committee.
HB 800: Charter School Perks for Company Employees: This bill would allow companies to donate a building, land or significant upgrades to a charter school, and in return claim up to 50 percent of the school's enrollment for their employees' kids. Rep. Jonathan Bradford (R-Mecklenburg) says the bill will attract businesses to the state, especially in areas where potential employees might have concerns about the quality of the local schools. Opponents say the bill crosses the line into privatizing charter schools, which are public schools. The bill passed the House 73-46 and went to the Senate where the bill passed a preliminary vote and was referred to the chamber's Rules Committee.
HB 779: Charter School Enrollment Boost: This bill would allow charters schools to grow by 30 percent without approval from the State Board of Education. Currently, charters can grow by 20 percent without Board approval. The bill passed the full House Wednesday. On Thursday, the Senate approved the bill in a preliminary vote and referred the measure to its Rules Committee.
HB 527: UNC freedom of speech bill: A bill, being pushed hard by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, would “restore and preserve campus free speech” at state universities. After it failed to pass a House committee, it was re-tooled and brought back, where it passed. The current version has the support of UNC General Administration, and directs the Board of Governors to craft a policy on free expression. The revised version also gives each campus the chance to create its own restrictions and disciplines. The bill passed the House Wednesday and is headed to the Senate where it passed a preliminary vote on Thursday and was referred to the Senate Rules Committee.
SB 434: Plastic bag ban: As part of an environmental bill making its way through the legislature, SB 434 would repeal the ban on plastic bags on the Outer Banks. Plastic bags are harmful to wildlife, especially sea turtles. The N.C. Retail Merchants Association supports the repeal. The Senate passed the legislation on Monday, the House gave it preliminary approval on Wednesday and referred it to the chamber's Rules Committee.
HB 576: Landfill spraying: This bill would allow the disposal of landfill wastewater and any leaking fluids by spraying it into the air over the dump without a permit. Environmental groups are against the process, called "aerosolization". The Department of Environmental Quality worked with lawmakers and now approves of the current version of the bill. Landfills that accept coal ash or swine waste wouldn't be allowed to use the process. The bill passed the House on Tuesday, received preliminary approval from the Senate on Wednesday and was referred to the Senate Rules Committee.
SB 660: Business incentives: Senator Harry Brown (R – Onslow) wants more of the state’s business incentives to go to companies that locate in rural areas of the state. Currently, all counties in the state are classified as Tier 1, 2, or 3. Tier 1 counties are the most distressed, and Tier 3 the most prosperous. According to the bill, "no more than 50 percent may be awarded for projects located in whole or in part in development Tier 3 areas." The Senate passed the bill Wednesday and sent it to the House where it received approval in a preliminary vote on Thursday and was referred to the House Rules Committee.
HB 406: Orange County impact fees: The full House on Tuesday passed a bill that would repeal Orange County impact fees. Orange County currently places fees on developers that are then used to build schools. (Chatham is the only other county that uses impact fees to fund schools.) Republicans argue it’s an abuse of power. The bill passed the full House on Monday. It got preliminary approval in the Senate on Wednesday and went to the Rules Committee for further consideration.
HB 113: Private Lawsuits Over Non-Compliance With Immigration Laws: Sponsored by some of the legislature's most conservative members, HB 113 would allow for private citizens to sue their local governments or law enforcement agencies for failing to comply with immigration laws. The measure provides for a civil penalty of $10,000 for each day of non-compliance plus attorney's fees. Thursday's debate over the bill centered on whether Republicans tried to slip the bill in under the crossover deadline by adding it to the calendar late. House Minority Leader Darren Jackson withdrew an objection to a final vote on the bill, which would have killed the legislation. It went right to the Senate and passed a preliminary vote. The measure has now been referred to the Senate Rules Committee.
SB145: Punishments for "Sanctuary Cities": Among many other measures, this bill would direct the state to withhold funding from municipalities that don't enforce federal immigration laws. It would allow individuals to sue local governments and law enforcement agencies that they believe are not enforcing immigration laws. And it would punish universities for preventing immigration enforcement activities on their campuses. The Senate passed the measure Wednesday night, and sent it onto the House where it received preliminary approval on Thursday and was referred to the House Rules Committee.
HB330: Protesters blocking traffic can't sue for injury: This measure, sponsored by Reps. Justin Burr and Chris Millis would protect drivers from getting sued if they injure a person blocking a road during a protest. Proponents say the measure is a response to images they saw of protesters blocking traffic on I-277 after a fatal police shooting of a black man in Charlotte. Many Democrats opposed the bill, saying it could encourage violence against protestors. The House passed the measure 68-48, and sent it to the Senate. On Thursday, the Senate approved the legislation in a preliminary vote and referred it to the Rules Committee.
HB 91: Motorcycle helmets: A bill to get rid of the requirement that motorcyclists wear helmets passed the House Transportation Committee on Monday. The new bill would require helmets for riders under 21. Currently, the fine for not wearing a helmet is $25.50. Republican John Torbett - the bill's sponsor - is a rider himself, and says he agrees that wearing a helmet is safer, but he believes it should be a personal decision. Medical groups decried the bill. The bill was on the agenda for a full House vote Wednesday, but was pulled from the calendar.
SB 303: Slow drivers: The House is trying to resurrect a bill that would target slow drivers who are traveling in the left lane on highways. This version of the bill would allow law enforcement to issue $200 tickets to slow drivers, but only in the second year. In the first year, slow drivers would get a warning. The bill did not survive the crossover.
Note: WUNC reporters and editors will update this post throughout the week as bills move through the General Assembly.