Most bills to face additional checkpoint in Senate

Posted February 14

Senate debate

— Proposed laws making their way through the state Senate will have an extra checkpoint before making it to a floor vote under a new procedure lawmakers are adopting this year.

After a substantive hearing in a committee like Education or Judiciary, most bills will stop in the Senate Rules Committee for final signoff, according to Rules Chairman Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, and Majority Leader Harry Brown. This will give senators a chance to raise any last-minute questions, technical issues or objections before the measure goes to the Senate floor.

Rabon said the idea was to make the Senate process more deliberative and ensure that committees fully vet bills rather than pushing detail fixes off to the floor. The hope, Rabon said, is to avoid stop-and-start floor sessions as amendments to bills are hammered out and vetted by the Republican and Democratic caucuses.

"If the Rules Committee thinks there is a little hair on the bill, we'll either shave it in there or send it back to the other committee for a trim," he said.

Should the new process stand as it was described, it will stand in contrast to how the chamber operated over the past three sessions, when policy-laden bills could blaze a path from filing to passing a floor vote in a day or two.

Committee chairmen have also been told to ensure more time for public input, and greater emphasis will be placed on lawmakers, rather than committee staff, to explain their own bills, Senate Judiciary Chairman Warren Daniel, R-Burke, told his committee Tuesday morning. That's one reason why some committees are being given a two-hour window for their meetings rather than the typical hour.

Both Rabon and Brown, R-Onslow, said the new process isn't designed to be an extra hurdle choking down the flow of legislation, but rather a check to make sure that bills are fully drafted before reaching the floor.

Rabon said he envisions each member of the Rules Committee being given a checklist of bills to be cleared that day. If every committee member signs off, he said, the bill would quickly clear committee and head to the floor.

However, Brown acknowledged that, at certain points on the calendar, like crossover week or the final weeks of the session, the Rules Committee would be awash in bills.

"At the end of the session, it will be a challenge," Brown said.


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