Local Politics

Bills Piling Up as Lawmakers Deliberate

Posted April 26, 2007 6:17 p.m. EDT
Updated April 26, 2007 6:47 p.m. EDT

— State lawmakers are on a pace to set a record for the number of bills filed in the General Assembly. But the pace at which they're passing those bills is lagging far behind.

Through the first thee months of the 2007 legislative session, about 3,400 bills have been filed. That's well within reach of the record 3,700 filed during one session in the late 1980s.

But only about 20 of those bills have been approved by lawmakers, and no agreements are in sight on major issues like the budget, taxes, Medicaid relief for counties or a proposed smoking ban.

The list of accomplishments for the session includes congratulating the Appalachian State University football team and the Barton College basketball team, both of which won national championships, as well as passing new regulations for golf carts and fox and coyote trapping.

Skeptics question the lawmakers' slow pace.

"That doesn't mean there won't be some significant legislation that's passed by the time they're finished," political columnist Scott Mooneyham said.

It's just a question of when they might finish.

Lawmakers are scrambling to get the House budget out by next week, for example, and Speaker Joe Hackney said the chamber might not finish by then.

Hackney implemented a more deliberative process this year, requiring bills be heard in two or more committees. That means consideration often takes longer.

"There's a lot of big issues that we haven't addressed that the public's waiting for us to address," said Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford.

The critical "crossover" deadline is in three weeks. A bill must pass either the House or Senate by then and cross to the other chamber, or it dies.

Blust said lawmakers will begin to panic in the coming days that their proposals won't meet the deadline.

But Hackney and other veteran lawmakers said they see no need for concern. Committees are cranked up and moving legislation, they said, and the public's business will get done eventually.

"We're doing a lot of business here," said Hackney, D-Orange. "Crossover always creates a logjam. It won't be any different this year."

People should judge the productivity of the session when it's over, he said.

"They should conclude that it's business as normal, where we do a lot of committee work in the first half of the session," he said.