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What is crossover and why does it matter?

North Carolina Legislature
North Carolina Legislature

North Carolina lawmakers are considering a wide range of bills this session, and the Republican majority is quickly calling votes on measures they want to get through before tomorrow’s crossover deadline. WUNC Capital Bureau Chief Colin Campbell spoke with BPR's Helen Chickering about the process.

Note: The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

HC: We’re hearing about so many bills being filed, being discussed. It seems like a mountain of legislation. I want to get your thoughts about that.

CC: Yeah, we're in the point of the session where each chamber is kind of doing their own thing. The house is only really working on house bills. The Senate's really only working on Senate bills. So you've seen a lot of things go through one chamber, but very little has actually gotten to the Governor's desk and become law so far.
That will change further on as we go into session. The House Speaker made some claim that this was one of the most productive sessions in the past several decades in terms of the number of bills that they've rolled out and passed.

Some of this I think, is excitement on the Republican side. We had a near supermajority before, and now, it is a supermajority with the representative Tricia Cotham switching parties to become a Republican. They feel sort of newly emboldened to kind of do whatever they want without having to worry about whether the governor's gonna veto this. Then it's just a question of how many bills actually have support from both chambers which we'll find out in the next couple months. We will see how much of these slew of house bills does Senate actually wanna take action on, and vice versa, and how many things actually make it into law.

HC: This is a pivotal week. This is crossover week – can you explain?

CC: This is a sort of funky, self-imposed deadline that marks the halfway point in session typically. Essentially if you have a House bill, and you want it to be eligible for consideration in the rest of the session, you've got to get it through the House. It requires a floor vote by this Thursday. The same goes if you're a Senator and you're trying to get a Senate bill through. Now granted, there are various workarounds. If you are a person in power and you want to get around that, and I think we'll see that with some of the more controversial bills.

Generally speaking, that's created this crush to pass tons of bills with not a whole lot of consideration. We've seen committee meetings in the last week or so where they said, "You know what? We don't have time to take public comment. We don't have time to explain this bill in more than five minutes. We're just gonna go ahead and take a vote."

It's not the most public policy friendly way to pass laws, but it does get things moving very quickly.

We're gonna see some long days and long nights this week as they get towards that deadline. And everybody's trying to get their bill through at the last minute, even if there's not enough time to really work it through the process, take public input, the sort of usual things they do when they're moving a little bit more slowly.

HC: So during this crossover week, what are the bills at the top of your list? What are you keeping an eye on?

CC: So this week, one of the things that seems like it's perhaps in the final stages is this community college governance bill. This is essentially taking a lot of power away from the Governor in terms of local community college boards. Currently, the governor gets to appoint several members of the community college boards at pretty much every community college across the state. This would shift that more towards the legislature. They would be doing more of the appointments, and they would have a larger role in confirming the president of the state community college system.

And then there's a lot of tiny little stuff that'll probably pop through this week. There are a lot of bills that will probably emerge at the last minute, particularly as we get towards the big crossover deadline on Thursday.

HC: I'm not going to put you on the spot and ask you to look at your crystal ball, but I want to get your thoughts about bills you think will and won’t make it.

CC: There are two different pieces of business oriented policy changes. One is the Blue Cross Blue Shield bill. I won't get into too many details of that, but essentially the, the insurance company wants some extra regulatory flexibility. The measure has a whole lot of muscle behind it, a whole lot of lobbyists. It seems to have support from both the House and the Senate, so that's going to pass.

On the other hand, there's a state employee's credit union bill to expand the role of credit unions, allow them to lend and, and be more active in rural counties that maybe not have as many banking resources as they used to. It has already passed the House, but the Senate seems a lot more wary about that bill. There's a lot of concern from the banking industry about it, and the Senate seems amenable to siding with the banks. I think that's something that may not have the juice it takes to get across the finish line but certainly one to watch as we go forward.

HC: What else are you following?

CC: In the next month or so, we will see if medical marijuana is going to get a hearing in the House. The Speaker told me that's something they're pulling their members on, and it obviously has already passed the Senate. He thinks there's more support in the House for medical marijuana than there was last year, and we should know within the next month or so if they're going to move forward with that particular piece of legislation.

HC: With the recent shift in legislative power, how does NC stack up compared other states pushing the sweeping reforms we see?

CC: I think for the moment, we still seem to be on the, the moderate end of Republican politics because ultimately, they've got more power. But it's still House speaker Tim Moore and Senator Berger. Their views haven't shifted that much except for thing things like Medicaid expansion. They've moved over in ways that other Republican states haven't. So we are nowhere close to being a Florida at this point. And I think particularly on some of these social issues, the ghost of House Bill 2, the infamous bathroom bill, still looms large in the legislative building. People are fearful of doing anything that would anger the business community and lead to some boycotts or some negative national press.

Doing some of the stuff that still angers Democrats and is still vehemently opposed by Democrats, is not on the level where you necessarily make national news and get a lot of the economic backlash that some of the culture wars issues in Florida saw.

HC: Here in the mountains – well pretty much everywhere – affordable housing is a big issue. You recently covered a bill that addresses what I call tiny houses. What was it?

CC: There is a variety of things going related to affordable housing right now. One of those is to make it easier to build accessory dwelling units for a backyard cottages. But the big worry with that is it's not necessarily going to be, "I built a cottage outback for grandma to move in as she's getting older." It is a question of "Are you gonna have an Airbnb and you've got tourists coming in and out of the backyard in a residential neighborhood at all hours of the night?" So that has been a tension point, and that bill has passed one chamber and needs to pass the other. The lobbying group for cities and towns is very concerned about that particular AirBNB component of it. They are asking "Are we going to limit localities from being able to have their own regulations based on the circumstances they see at the local level to try to get a handle on this and make it so it's welcoming to tourists, but you're not necessarily driving all your neighbors crazy?"

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.