Bills fly through House as deadline looms
Posted 5:35 p.m. Thursday
Updated 9:22 a.m. Friday
Raleigh, N.C. — With the crossover deadline a mere week away, state House lawmakers cruised through nearly 40 bills Thursday afternoon, most passing with little discussion after being extensively vetted in committees.
Crossover is a deadline set every session by which most legislation must pass either the House or the Senate and "cross over" to the other chamber in order to remain in consideration for the rest of the two-year session. This year, the deadline is April 27, and leaders in both chambers have said they don't intend to extend it.
Bills that raise or spend money are exempt, as are redistricting bills and constitutional amendments, and lawmakers often find creative ways to resurrect measures that didn't make the cut, but the deadline is generally respected. That means long days and late nights for lawmakers for the next week.
Several bills on Thursday's lengthy calendar did generate some debate, including House Bill 110, which was a noncontroversial package of statutory changes requested by the state Department of Transportation until it was amended in a committee Wednesday to include a major policy change in transportation funding. The added provision, called "Megaproject Funding," would create a new road-building authority, separate from the Strategic Transportation Investments program lawmakers passed in 2013, to help pay for statewide or regional projects exceeding $200 million.
Critics, mostly from urban areas that receive more STI funding, warned that it would pull money away from that program. But supporters, mostly from rural areas that get less funding, said the STI isn't providing enough money to get major projects done quickly.
"Do you want them now?" sponsor Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, asked. "Or do you want them in 50 years?"
Rep. Chaz Beazley, D-Mecklenburg, tried to amend the bill to specify that Megaproject funds couldn't be used for private toll projects, but it failed by a single vote. The bill itself passed 65-50.
However, the vast majority of the day's measures were much less divisive, including House Bill 480 requiring annual tax audits for breweries, passing 92-24 . It would also require breweries that self-distribute to send more detailed records of their transactions to the state Department of Revenue.
A measure allowing more public-private partnerships for information technology infrastructure passed overwhelmingly with little debate. The so-called "BRIGHT" Futures Act, House Bill 68, would allow local governments to lease their unused or "dark" fiber capacity to broadband providers in order to increase broadband service coverage. Sponsors pointed out that it mandates nothing and contains no funding, while critics said the state should be doing more to help build IT infrastructure in rural areas.
A bill that passed with no debate and little opposition was a measure offering a fee waiver for senior citizens for six hours of credit-carrying courses and one non-credit course per semester at the state's community colleges. Under House Bill 702, the senior citizens would still have to pay for fees and other costs.
House lawmakers also approved two bills to help National Guard members in the education system. House Bill 485 requires University of North Carolina schools and community colleges to give students excused absences when they're on active duty and to help them find ways to complete coursework or withdraw from courses with no academic penalty when necessary. House Bill 486 broadens the Guard's tuition assistance program to cover professional certification training programs. Both passed unanimously.
All these measures now go to the Senate, well ahead of the deadline.