Adjournment in sight for NC General Assembly

By Gary D. Robertson - Associated Press

RALEIGH — As the North Carolina legislature lumbered Friday toward this year’s adjournment, lawmakers gave final approval to the state budget, hammered out other possible compromises and weighed whether to make a small change to a new law that limits nondiscrimination rules for LGBT people.

The House gave its second formal endorsement to the budget adjustments for the new fiscal year starting Friday, again with robust bipartisan support. With the $22.3 billion spending plan already passed twice by the Senate earlier in the week, the measure now goes to Gov. Pat McCrory for his expected signature.

The budget’s completion removes the largest obstacle to ending this year’s work session. But lawmakers could remain in Raleigh until Saturday as Senate and House Republicans look to move along outstanding pieces of legislation that one or both chambers want. Pending legislation nearing final approval would require criminal background checks for prospective teachers and direct testing of older public school buildings for lead in drinking water.

Work also was continuing on compromises for complicated regulatory and environmental changes, House Speaker Tim Moore said.

In keeping with previous end-of-session behavior, House and Senate members moved in and out of floor sessions, committees and private partisan caucus meetings. By mid-afternoon Friday they had sent to the governor the annual farm bill and an economic incentives tool involving natural gas promoted as a way to lure a major automotive plan to the state.

“We’re getting toward the end,” said Moore, R-Cleveland. Senate Republicans wanted to leave Friday but they may wait longer as part of the deal making. Moore said later the House wasn’t taking up bills ready for votes until they saw action by the Senate on other legislation.

Still uncertain is whether legislators will make changes to House Bill 2, the law approved in March that limited non-discrimination rules for lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people and directed which restroom transgender people can use. Moore said the House was focused on deleting one provision that appeared to keep workers from suing for employment discrimination, but the rest of the law would remain intact.

The House’s final vote was 91-22 on the budget. Republicans have boasted that it gives an average 4.7 percent permanent pay raises to teachers and 1.5 percent raises and a bonus to rank-and-file state employees. Retirees also would get bonuses of 1.6 percent.

“Although any budget you look at is never going to be perfect … on the whole this budget does a wonderful job of rewarding teachers (and) state employees within the limited resources that we have,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, the House’s top budget-writer.

The bill also contains an income tax break weighted toward low- and middle-income earners, and money to raise the state’s reserves to nearly $1.6 billion.

During the brief budget debate Friday, Democrats again criticized the increased use of earmarks for local projects, which they call pork, even as waiting lists remain for services like child care subsidies and pre-kindergarten.

“We have serious needs that are still unmet in this budget,” House Minority Leader Larry Hall, D-Durham. But instead, “we got stuck in the cash machine line for those that have special interests.”

The Senate and House honored veteran members who aren’t seeking re-election this fall, including Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairman Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, and Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson. On the House side, there’s Speaker Pro Tempore Paul Stam, R-Wake, and Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, a former majority and minority leader and 2000 candidate for governor.

In a farewell speech, Daughtry jokingly likened the General Assembly to an addiction but had serious words for his colleagues: “When I leave here, a part of my soul will be left in this place.”

The longest serving senator, Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, is also retiring. He presided over the Senate chamber Friday morning — often a privilege given to departing legislators. The circumstances aren’t ideal, since Hartsell was indicted by a grand jury this week on campaign finance-related charges.

Unless McCrory vetoes a bill and the legislature attempts an override, the General Assembly won’t return after adjournment until early January, after the November elections for all 170 seats.

By Gary D. Robertson

Associated Press

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