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Lawmakers give up on coal ash, Medicaid reform

Posted August 15, 2014 6:24 p.m. EDT
Updated August 15, 2014 6:41 p.m. EDT

NC Flag, Legislative Building, Raleigh

— Legislative leaders said Friday they're no longer planning to return to Raleigh for a special session after the November elections.

That means there likely won't be a coal ash cleanup plan or a Medicaid reform plan in 2014, despite the fact that House and Senate leaders identified both as top priorities for the 2014 session.

When the two chambers wrapped up the bulk of their work two weeks ago, House and Senate leaders were deadlocked over differing plans to require Duke Energy to clean up its 33 coal ash ponds in North Carolina. They decided to finish work on that bill in November, when they had already planned to return a special session to work on Medicaid reform.

On Thursday, Senate leaders sent the House three adjournment resolutions. One included a November session on Medicaid reform and coal ash, a second set a November session for Medicaid reform only and the third would simply adjourn "sine die" – literally "without day" to return – which officially ends the two-year session.

Senate leaders said they had a "strong preference" for the first option. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger reiterated that preference Friday afternoon. 

But later Friday, after a contentious debate over a Senate gambit to link a fix for teacher assistant funding to an economic development measure, House Speaker Thom Tillis announced the House would pass the "sine die" resolution instead.

The decision came at the end of a session that has lingered on far longer than legislators expected, highlighting deep tension and conflict between House and Senate Republicans.

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca was philosophical.

"We gave them three options. They're welcome to choose whichever they like,"  said Apodaca, R-Henderson.

The Senate's most vocal advocate of coal ash legislation, he noted that Gov. Pat McCrory could call the legislature back to Raleigh to deal with coal ash if action is required before next year. He also hinted that a fix could come next week, when legislators will return to finish work on the bills that hit a logjam Friday.

Meanwhile, Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said he feels the governor and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources are making "sufficient" progress on the coal ash cleanup without legislative action. 

Tillis said the House and the Senate still disagree on "some technical parts of the bill" and would work out those differences in the interim. He added that there's little difference between coming back in November to pass a bill and waiting until January.

"A new group of legislators will be in in January," he pointed out.