Raleigh, N.C. — Tempers are growing short at the General Assembly as lawmakers prepare to end a long legislative session and work well into the night.
The House and Senate debated more than 100 bills combined Wednesday, and House members spoke with irritation as they overwhelmingly rejected two packages of changes to state environmental regulations put together by the Senate – the House doesn't even plan to negotiate compromise legislation on one of the bills.
Rep. Larry Yarborough, R-Person, said a bill that cleared the House in April was a set of rules changes requested by the state Department of Environmental Quality. But the Senate then loaded what Yarborough called controversial provisions onto the bill, including a repeal of a ban on Outer Banks businesses using plastic bags, changes to coastal stormwater rules, "extensive changes" to mining permits, "neutering of an already weak Marine Fisheries Commission" and changes to stream buffers.
Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, said the Senate gutted another regulatory reform bill that the House had approved and inserted other language, so the House reinserted their language in a Senate bill and approved it again.
"We don't need this anymore," McElraft said of another Senate bill that now includes some of the provisions the House has already passed twice.
The following are among the bills that either were sent to Gov. Roy Cooper or neared legislative passage on Wednesday:
Campus free speech: The UNC Board of Governors would have to craft a policy on free expression that includes sanctions on anyone who interferes with the free speech rights of others under a bill approved by the Senate. The proposal, which still must get final approval in the House, grew out of concerns that conservative speakers weren't being given a fair shake on college campuses.
Posting crime videos online: A provision that would enhance the sentence of anyone convicted of a crime who posts a video of his or her actions online was added to legislation making other changes to criminal laws. The bill needs one final vote in both the House and the Senate.
Video sweepstakes: The Senate approved a measure cracking down on video sweepstakes machines, even making it a felony to own four or more machines. Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba, called gambling parlors "giant vacuum cleaners sucking money out the poorest communities in this state." The bill still needs final approval from the House.
Small cell towers: Legislation heading to the governor would limit local regulation of small cell tower arrays that backers say will speed 5G wireless technology in the state.
Ballot access: A measure headed to Cooper would lower the bar for third-party and unaffiliated candidates to get their names on the ballot.
Marine aquaculture: Under a bill headed to Cooper, people could lease 100 to 1,500 acres in the state's sounds and the Atlantic Ocean, where they could build underwater pens to raise various species of fish that they could later sell to supermarkets and restaurants.
Pinetops broadband: Despite a state law restricting municipal broadband services to operating within their city limits, a measure headed to Cooper would allow Wilson to extend its Greenlight service to the Edgecombe County town of Pinetops.
Meanwhile, proposals to expand hunting on Sundays and to overhaul teacher training programs ran into roadblocks on their final votes and must to negotiated further. With the General Assembly planning to adjourn for the year by the end of the week, it's unclear if either will pass.