Local Politics

Lawmakers play shell game with bills

Posted June 3, 2010 5:47 p.m. EDT
Updated June 3, 2010 6:47 p.m. EDT


— Bills unrelated to spending or taxes needed to pass either the state House or Senate by mid-May last year to be considered in this year's legislative session.

So, how did a bill that designates the Colonial Spanish Mustang as the official state horse come up for a quick vote this week? Someone gutted House Bill 1251, initially filed to make June "Cancer Screening Awareness Month" in the state, and used the shell of a bill that made the so-called crossover deadline to house the state horse proposal.

"It's a bill somebody felt was important, and they found a vehicle and they substituted that in," Senate Majority Leader Martin Nesbitt said.

Lawmakers said the "vehicling" practice is common in the General Assembly, where an existing bill is used as a vehicle to get something else passed instead of trying to craft a new bill.

"It's just one of the ways to deal with the rules," House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman said.

Likewise, a bill involving domestic violence shelters was rewritten recently to make changes to the state's Innocence Inquiry Commission.

"You shouldn't do that unless you have to, but sometimes you have to," said Nesbitt, D-Buncombe.

Legislative leaders said the "vehicled" bills are scrutinized and debated thoroughly.

"These bills are being heard because they must be done. There are emergency situations that have come up that we didn't think about last year," Nesbitt said.

While acknowledging that voting on a state horse wasn't an emergency, he said the process also helped advance an ethics package this year, as well as legislation to aid low-performing schools and to provide school districts more flexibility in scheduling for inclement weather.

He said he doesn't believe House and Senate leaders should try to stop lawmakers from legislating. "Vehicling" is only one of the tricks of the trade, and it's preferable to using blank bills to get around the crossover rules.

"If there's a worse idea than the way we do it, that's probably it. Blank bills I've never liked," he said.