Avalanche of legislation as lawmakers near end of session

General Assembly looks to finish business before Fourth of July

Eamon Queeney—North State Journal
Yes and no votes appear on the board as the North Carolina House votes for the second time to pass the budget compromise at the Legislative Building in Raleigh

RALEIGH — In a flurry of activity that began with a veto override, lawmakers are moving and negotiating dozens of bills this week in an effort to adjourn ahead of the Independence Day holiday weekend. While most of the legislation was introduced and discussed over the course of the six-month session, new plans and amendments are known to pop up in the final stretch. And unexpected committee meetings and last-minute tweaks have lawmakers, staff and lobbyists roaming the halls on West Jones into the twilight hours. The chambers adjourned just before midnight on Wednesday, and are expected to conduct business past 12 a.m. tonight.”The hope continues to be that we finish today, but we shall see,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) as the body recessed for dinner around 6:15 p.m. on Thursday. Among the many bills to pass, fail or still in play are: An investigation into Elaine Marshall: House Resolution 925 would establish a joint legislative select committee to investigate allegations that N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall violated state and federal law when she commissioned illegal aliens as notary publics; and therefore, should be impeached from her elected office. The resolution was introduced by Rep. Chris Millis (R-Onslow), who called for Marshall to resign after reports surfaced in September. The bill cleared the House Rules Committee on Wednesday and is expected to be calendared for a floor vote Thursday night.Brunch Bill: Senate Bill 155, nicknamed the “Brunch Bill,” is an omnibus ABC bill that loosens restrictions on alcohol sales and consumption. The bipartisan bill, championed by Sen. Rick Gunn (R-Alamance) allows restaurants to serve alcohol before noon on Sundays, and distilleries to sell up to five bottles of their product to customers that come to their taprooms for tastings and tours. The legislation passed the Senate in early June, but was completed — with some amendments — in the House on Tuesday. Gov. Roy Cooper may sign the bill Friday, meaning Sunday morning mimosas could be served this weekend.Renewable energy vs. wind moratorium: House Bill 589, a bill more than a year in the making, has bounced between drastically different versions in an effort to pass a comprehensive renewable energy package. The original bill, led by Rep. John Szoka (R-Cumberland), hoped to make solar energy more obtainable by creating a program that would allow households and businesses to lease, rather than buy, expensive solar panels for their roofs. When the bill hit the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Brown (R-Onslow) added an amendment that would restrict wind energy farms in military fly zones — an effort first introduced in 2016 and unpopular with some key House members who felt the map went to far.As of Thursday evening, the bill was still being negotiated behind closed and is considered one of the big fish of the session. Campus free speech: Senate Bill 527 instructs the UNC system to implement a curriculum in freshman orientation that teaches students the value of free speech and political tolerance. The bill also enforces disciplinary actions on protesters who “substantially disrupt” free speech on campus. The bill passed both chambers on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, and will be sent to the governor.Appointments: House Bill 256 saw lawmakers tap one of their own, Sen. Andrew Brock (R-Davie), to the State Board of Review after Cooper missed a May 1 deadline to fill the paid position that oversees appeal cases for unemployment benefits. As with many other boards and commissions, if the governor fails to nominate an individual, the duty falls on the General Assembly. Just last year, then-Gov. Pat McCrory nominated his legislative liaison, Fred Steen, to a post on the same board last year.The broader bill also included the nomination of several other current and former legislators to various paid and unpaid slots, including Speaker Tim Moore’s senior environmental and energy adviser, former McDowell County Rep. Mitch Gillespie, to the Environmental Management Commission. After the bill cleared both chambers on Wednesday night, Brock said he plans to resign from his Senate seat on Friday after all the legislative work is complete. He has served in the General Assembly since 2003. Gillespie is expected to remain in his role as an adviser to the House. Convention of States: Senate Resolution 36 would have signed North Carolina on for a convention of states, under Article 5 of the U.S. Constitution, but failed in a narrow vote in the House of 53-59 on Thursday afternoon. Currently, 12 other states have called for a convention of states, an initiative supported by some conservative groups as a way to address congressional term limits, the national debt and federal overreach. On Tuesday former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) was in Raleigh, accompanied by a patriotic bow-tie wearing llama, to lobby members to pass the measure. In April, the Senate initiated the process in a successful bid, but the House version — championed by Reps. Bert Jones (R-Rockingham) and Dennis Riddell (R-Alamance) — fell short when more than a dozen conservative members voted red. Workers’ compensation: House Bill 26 aims to nullify implications of a recent court case, Wilkes v. City of Greenville, that shifts the burden of proof in workers’ compensations cases on to the employer and off the injured. The bipartisan legislation passed both chambers unanimously and is headed to the governor.