Lawmakers file bill to pay themselves more

H.B. 71 nearly doubles per diem rates for lawmakers, allows for reimbursement even when legislature is not in session

RALEIGH — A bipartisan bill could drastically increase the reimbursement rates for legislative travel and subsistence for the North Carolina General Assembly.The new rates in House Bill 71 would match those received by full-time federal employees, nearly doubling the per diem rate legislators can claim from $26 to $51. What’s more is that under current rules, the legislature does not have to be in session for lawmakers to collect per diem payments.When not in session, a lawmaker must be approved by the Speaker of the House or Senate President pro tem for reimbursement. In order to satisfy requirements for approval, the lawmaker must be traveling as a representative of the General Assembly, its committees or commissions, or must simply be, “Otherwise in the service of the state.”Officially a part-time legislature, the N.C. General Assembly is sometimes in session for the majority of the calendar year with legislators traveling from all corners of the state to convene in Raleigh to handle the state’s business. The reimbursement hikes are aimed at reducing the burden on those lawmakers traveling from distant districts.However, the increases designed to mirror full-time federal employee rates while also allowing for out-of-session reimbursements under the vague pretense of being “in service of the state” open the door to possible abuses of taxpayer funds.The bill, filed last week, passed its first reading on the House floor and was subsequently referred to the House Committee on Appropriations.