House passes budget, leaves session running

The state House wants to continue working on coal ash cleanup legislation when it returns later this month. Senators have left town anticipating little work on Aug. 14. The impasse leaves the legislative session in limbo.

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Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — The state House gave final legislative approval Saturday to the $21.1 billion state budget, but instead of formally closing the session, lawmakers have left it in limbo.

Gov. Pat McCrory has said he will sign the budget bill.

"You have set the right priorities; you have funded those priorities," said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake.

Republicans by and large backed the measures, but Democrats universally voted against it, pointing to places where they say programs have been sacrificed.

"We talked a lot about teachers during this session, but we didn't talk a lot about students," said Rep. Greg Meyer, D-Orange. "The one cut in this budget that bothers me the most is the $9 million cut to our at-risk student fund."

Rep. Marvin Lucas, D-Cumberland, questioned why most rank-and-file state workers got a $1,000 raise and five extra vacation days while non-teaching school employees such as bus drivers and custodians got only a $500 raise.

"I don't understand," Lucas said.

The final vote was 66-44.

Other matters in limbo

While passing the budget is the main work of the summer legislative session, lawmakers had a long-list of priorities, many of which have been left hanging.

Among the most pressing of those priorities is a bill that would mandate the cleanup of coal ash ponds across the state like the one that spilled into the Dan River on Feb. 2. As well, several different measure meant to push forward with economic development are left unfinished. Lawmakers also have failed to come to an agreement on reforming the state's Medicaid health insurance system for the poor and disabled.

When senators ended their work for the year in the pre-dawn hours of Friday morning, they filed an adjournment resolution that would allow lawmakers to return on Aug. 14, mainly to handle any vetoes by the governor. That resolution anticipated returning after the November general election to handle Medicaid and coal ash.

However, House leaders want to push forward with several matters, including coal ash, before the end of August. They drafted new adjournment resolutions that would allow lawmakers to take up coal ash, insurance coverage for autism treatment, regulatory reform measures and changes to environmental laws at the Aug. 14 session.

Senators have declined to take up either of those resolutions.

Instead, the Senate will hold a session on Tuesday and the House on Wednesday. In theory, the two chambers could work out an adjournment agreement and pass it with only a handful of members on hand. Or they could simple walk away from the discussions and leave the session idle, holding skeleton sessions every three days in order to meet constitutional requirements, until Aug. 14.

While this half-adjourned status is confusing, it leaves a sliver of hope open that some bills as yet unfinished could see further action this year.


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