Toiling in the vineyards: Legislators juggle a prolonged season

It’s September — normally a safe time for state legislators who have businesses or jobs to attend to in their home territories. But although the actual number of legislative days in Raleigh is down from past years, the N.C. General Assembly just met for the third time this year, and a fourth round looms.

The 2011-2012 biennium convened on January 26 and ran for 87 work days before its temporary adjournment in June. Notably, the so-called long session when bills are introduced saw just over 1,700 bills brought forward — almost 1,000 bills less than in 2009, and nearly 2,000 less than in 2007. Credit for that reduction seems to go to a new provision in the House Rules limiting House members to no more than 10 public bills each.

Having passed a belt-tightening state budget — overriding the governor’s budget veto — the Legislature adjourned June 28 with plans to reconvene in July to approve new maps for Congressional and state legislative districts. The second session ran from July 13 until July 28, and in addition to redistricting, it included gubernatorial-veto overrides on several key pieces of legislation: Women’s Right to Know (HB 854), Medical Liability Reforms (SB 33), Regulatory Reform Act (SB 781), Employment Security Commission/Jobs Reform (SB 532), Medicaid and Health Choice Providers Requirements (SB 496).

Last week, the Legislature reconvened for a three-day session that had been announced as an opportunity to address constitutional-amendment bills. But the only such bill that saw action was Defense of Marriage (SB 514). The controversial bill defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and has thus also become known as the anti-gay-marriage bill.

Contrary to original plans, the public will now be voting on the marriage amendment in the primary election next May — not in the higher-participation general election in the fall. The bill’s passage was accompanied by public demonstrations by supporters and opponents, and by extensive press attention. Meanwhile, the quieter action during the September 12-14 session included an appointments modification bill (SB 354); a prison maintenance bill (HB 335); and an omnibus courts act (SB 580), but no other constitutional amendment bills were considered.

Now a fourth short session for this year is planned for early November, ostensibly to address any necessary action on the state’s redistricting plans, which was required to be reviewed at the federal level. November’s agenda is likely to also include relief legislation in the wake of Hurricane Irene and an expanded agreement with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians regarding their casino operations. Still on the sidelines but in position to be called onto the field will be the additional veto overrides, as well as additional constitutional amendments that would set term limits for the leaders of the House and Senate (HB 61), and that would put in place an eminent domain provision regarding use of the land (HB 8). Veto overrides are also not entirely off the table, and two targets could be the photo ID requirement for voters (HB 351) and an energy exploration bill that includes the controversial hydraulic fracturing (SB 709).

The historic nature of this Legislature is well known — the first Republic majorities in both House and Senate in some 140 years. History was also made when Gov. Bev Perdue issued a total of 15 vetoes, including the budget bill presented to her (the first budget ever vetoed). Before it’s over, there may also be a record set for the number of times the Legislature meets during its biennium.

by Nelda Holder, contributing editor

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2 thoughts on “Toiling in the vineyards: Legislators juggle a prolonged season

  1. Phillip Marlowe

    There are 3 branches of government, however, when the Legislature officially adjourns without a date certain for return, then only the Governor can approve their return. Sounds like too much power for the Executive Branch. Perhaps a session here and a session there makes sense.

    • Nelda Holder

      Good point. Date certain for November is actually the 7th. There is a list of what may be considered, primarily budget bills, constitutional amendments, crossover bills, appointment bills ……

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