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@NCCapitol

House reinstitutes 'floaters,' giving leadership more control

Posted February 6, 2019 4:27 p.m. EST
Updated February 6, 2019 4:41 p.m. EST

The North Carolina State Legislative Building in downtown Raleigh, where the NC General Assembly meets. Photo taken August 17, 2018.

— Top leaders in the House will be able to swoop in on committees and vote to kill or advance legislation this session after Republicans in the chamber voted Wednesday to reinstitute an old Democratic Party practice.

The allowance is part of the new rules under which this still-young legislative session will operate. Democrats pushed back against the change, but their effort got shot down on a party-line vote.

Minority party efforts to strengthen legislative transparency rules also went down on largely party-line votes, leading to some grumbling that GOP rhetoric on cooperation has not been matched by action as a new power dynamic asserts itself in Raleigh.

Republicans hold majorities in both the House and the Senate but not the super-majorities of recent years, giving Gov. Roy Cooper's veto new strength and birthing some nods toward compromise.

The rule change in House committees allows for four "floaters," members of the legislative leadership who can sit in on committee meetings and vote bills and amendments up or down. Republicans leaders said the change was needed to keep things running smoothly, avoiding delays when committees have absences.

House Minority Leader Darren Jackson said it's just another example of top-down control in the House.

“I think floaters are a very bad idea," said Jackson, D-Wake. "They devalue every other House legislator.”

Democrats used floaters in the early 2000s, when they were in the majority. Jackson said the practice ended in 2007, a few years before Republicans took their majorities in Raleigh.

Jackson also tried to add new teeth to an existing rule that requires new bill language to be available to members by 9 p.m. the night before it's heard in committee. The rule is too easily waived by committee chairs, he said, adding that he suspects Republicans have held controversial bills until late at night to avoid scrutiny in the next morning's committee meetings.

Jackson also ran an amendment to limit the way conference committee reports can be used this session. These reports, negotiated by leadership, can't be changed once their set, requiring up-or-down votes without amendments. The method was used last year to pass the state budget, giving leadership more control of that process.

Republicans voted both amendments down.

The four "floaters" this session will be House Rules Chairman David Lewis, Speaker Pro Tem Sarah Stevens, Majority Leader John Bell and Deputy Majority Leader Brenden Jones.