Raleigh, N.C. — State lawmakers are headed back to town Thursday to try to reach a deal on ending their 2014 legislative session.
The Senate will hold a voting session at 7 p.m., shortly after the House’s voting session at 4 p.m.
The House and Senate finished most of their work two weeks ago and agreed they would come back Aug. 14 to consider any potential veto overrides. But leaders of the two chambers couldn’t agree on what else they could potentially take up.
Lawmakers hit an impasse over the final version of proposed legislation to clean up the state’s coal ash pits. That unfinished measure led to the logjam over adjournment. House leaders want to finish work on the coal ash bill Thursday and Friday, while Senate leaders want to put it off until November, when they’re already scheduled to return for a special session on Medicaid reform.
Each chamber passed its own version of an adjournment resolution with its preferred terms, but no compromise deal was approved by both chambers, so the legislature is technically still in session. Constitutionally, both chambers are required to meet at least every four days for a non-voting, or “skeleton,” session, with only a handful of members present.
Senators meeting Wednesday said they’re hopeful the two chambers can reach a deal and adjourn soon.
Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, said his caucus members are “on standby.”
“There’s a lot of discussions going back and forth between the House and Senate," Hise said. “I think it’s clear to everyone out there that it’s time for us to go home. We’ve exceeded our stay here in Raleigh, and we’ve got a lot of things we need to get back to.”
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue agreed, noting that Thursday would be the first time in nearly two weeks that the chambers would meet on the same day.
“The fact that we’re coming back the same time that the House is coming back is, I think, a clear sign that we’re going to get this thing resolved, get beyond this impasse,” said Blue, D-Wake. “Let’s have some adult conversations and adjourn this place.”
House leaders wouldn’t say whether they’re continuing to push for the coal ash bill to be finished this week. But Senate leaders say they still don’t intend to take it up.
“Because the short session cannot go on indefinitely, the Senate will meet on Thursday to once again take up an adjournment resolution,” Amy Auth, spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, said in a statement Wednesday.
“We are hopeful the House of Representatives will agree to the terms the Senate recommended earlier this month – that we conclude all substantive business until a special session on both Medicaid reform and coal ash mitigation in November," Auth said. "We are waiting to see if they agree and will proceed from there."
“You can’t make one chamber consider something when they don’t want to,” Blue said, "and we do have to adjourn.”
Lengthy session restricts campaign fundraising
In the meantime, the delay could be costly for some lawmakers seeking re-election.
Under state campaign finance law, as long as the legislature remains in session, lawmakers cannot accept contributions from political action committees or groups that employ lobbyists at the General Assembly.
With the election less than three months away, that could affect some vulnerable Republican incumbents, said Jane Pinsky, director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.
“It means that the folks who are stuck in session cannot raise the big money. They can’t go to a PAC and say, ‘I need $5000.’ They have to raise it just from citizens and constituents,” Pinsky said. “Those are not the $5,000 check writers.”
For most races, she said, the delay probably won’t matter much, “but it could if it’s a race that’s really close, where the incumbent has been dependent upon PAC money.”
“It could impact some races, and it certainly will impact what they do next," she said. "If they recess for more than 10 days, then they can raise money. But they have not yet done that."
However, Pinsky pointed out, lawmakers have left themselves plenty of loopholes for fundraising during session. While they themselves can’t accept donations from PACs or groups represented by lobbyists, their respective House and Senate caucuses can, as can their party organizations.
Caucus and party contributions cannot legally be “directed” by a donor to a certain candidate, she added.
“Unfortunately, there’s a certain amount of ‘wink, wink’ that goes on,” she said.
Hise said the fundraising delay wasn’t a big concern for Senate Republicans, while Blue said it’s actually working in his party’s favor.
“I've got a bunch of challengers out here,” Blue said, referring to Democratic candidates seeking to unseat Republican incumbents. “So, if it is a disadvantage for the majority, then I say let’s keep on with the disadvantage.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said challengers to incumbents were not subject to the ban on PAC donations during session. They are, in fact, bound by the same rule as incumbents.