Raleigh, N.C. — A low-key House session as lawmakers tried to meet their self-imposed "crossover" deadline Thursday erupted into anger, accusations and parliamentary maneuvering.
As lawmakers neared the end of the calendar, they voted without debate in favor of House Bill 113, which would allow people to sue a local government over so-called "sanctuary" policies regarding people in the United States illegally. The city, county or law enforcement agency could face penalties up to $10,000 a day in such actions.
When House Speaker Tim Moore called for the second of two required votes on the bill, Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, objected, which would effectively kill the measure because it wouldn't meet the deadline to clear the House.
House Rules Chairman David Lewis, R-Harnett, tried to suspend the rules to get a final vote despite Jackson's objection, saying the bill shouldn't die because of a technicality. But the motion failed to obtain the needed two-thirds majority.
The House then unanimously approved House Bill 571, which calls for expunging the criminal records of people wrongfully convicted immediately upon their exoneration. But Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly, quickly objected to the final vote on that measure, killing it as well.
Lewis then suggested suspending the rules so that both bills could be heard and voted on again, but Democrats complained that the expunction bill was being held hostage in retaliation for their objection to the sanctuary city bill.
"The people of this state had no idea that this bill was up for debate today unless they stayed up to midnight or 1 a.m. and saw the calendar," Jackson said of the sanctuary city bill.
A clearly irritated Moore said he was assured Wednesday night that no one would object to final votes on any of the bills remaining on the calendar – neither House Bill 113 nor House Bill 571 was on the calendar at the time.
Jackson said that, after he saw House Bill 113 on the calendar, he informed Moore's office at 9 a.m. Thursday that he planned to object to a final vote on it.
"I've got a lot of staff," Moore said. "I know I wasn't notified."
A number of other Democrats spoke against a final vote on the bill, but Rep. Greg Murphy, R-Pitt, boiled the controversy down to "politics over policy."
Jackson eventually relented and removed his objection, but some Democrats wanted an assurance from Burr that he would lift his objection to House Bill 571 before they gave House Bill 113 a final vote. Both bills were then approved.
The dust-up comes at the end of a long legislative week to meet the crossover deadline, which marks the end of the road for scores of bills filed in recent months that weren't able to get approval – some never even got a hearing – from either the House or the Senate.
Measures dealing with taxes, fees and spending aren't subject to the deadline, and lawmakers sometimes find ways to get around the crossover rule, but by and large, many of the proposals won't be able to be revived for the rest of the two-year legislative session.
The General Assembly has been in overdrive all week, working late into the night to push as many bills as possible through one chamber or the other. On Wednesday alone, the House and the Senate combined to approve more than 100 bills in a session that lasted until 11:30 p.m.
"There's a mad rush to meet that deadline," said Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake. "It's a terrible way to run government."
Here are some of the other measures that passed Thursday in time for crossover:
Victims' rights amendment: House Bill 551 would put a proposed constitutional amendment before voters in the 2018 primary that would guarantee certain rights to crime victims, including being notified of all proceedings, attending and speaking at hearings, prompt restitution and a speedy disposition of the case.
"Victims and their surviving families are thrown into the justice system against their will," said sponsor Rep. Nelson Dollar.
Some lawmakers questioned the need for a constitutional amendment, noting state laws already spell out various rights of crime victims, but Dollar said the proposal would expand on those.
Protecting police whistleblowers: Citing the case of three Mocksville police officers who were fired in 2011 after alleging corruption in their department to state authorities, Rep. Chris Malone, R-Wake, sponsored a measure to protect other officers who report suspected wrongdoing from retaliation.
"This is for the law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line for us every day," Malone said.
The measure passed despite opposition from various chiefs of police.
Adoption information: House Bill 823 would allow people 40 and older who were adopted to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate if they know the name of their birth mother or father. Sponsor Rep. Pat Hurley, R-Randolph, said she hopes providing that information gives "just a little bit of closure, hopefully, for adult adoptees."
Eyecare fight: A ceasefire was declared in the battle between optometrists who want to perform certain types of surgeries and ophthalmologists, who insist optometrists don't have enough training to do that. A bill that supported the optometrists' position was changed to an 18-month study of the procedures and the proposition before being approved by the House.
Municipal charter schools: The House passed a measure that, while it currently only applies to the Charlotte suburbs of Matthews and Mint Hill, would allow North Carolina towns to operate their own charter schools.
Not everything passed, however, so here's a look at some of the crossover roadkill:
Billboards: Two bills that would have loosened regulations on the size and location of roadside billboards were pulled from the House calendar on Wednesday and didn't reappear.
Motorcycle helmets: A measure that would have rolled back the state's helmet requirement for motorcycle riders so that only people younger than 21 would have to wear helmets was removed from the House calendar on both Tuesday and Wednesday before being sent back to committee.
Gun rights: An omnibus bill spelling out expanded rights to carry guns in North Carolina was supposed to be heard in a House committee on Wednesday, but the meeting was rescheduled twice before being canceled, meaning the bill never even made it to the House floor.
As noted previously, lawmakers will likely find a way to get around the crossover deadline to debate the legislation. Moore, the House speaker, included 2nd Amendment rights in his list of subjects lawmakers plan to work on during the rest of the session in a brief statement late Wednesday thanking legislative staff and others for their hard work during the week.