A Legislative Overview as Lawmakers Head Home for Spring Break
The General Assembly has begun a rare spring recess. Lawmakers acted upon dozens of bills before leaving Raleigh yesterday for the Easter weekend and taking next week off. They'll get back to formal business on the week of April 13, although some legislators will return sooner to work on budget matters. Barely a dozen bills have become law or await Governor Pat McCrory's signature since the session began. That's fewer compared to the same point two years ago. GOP Senator Tom Apodaca of Henderson says he's concerned about the pace of the session but says Republicans did not push an aggressive early agenda. Lawmakers passed a bill that immediately lowered the state gasoline tax, but would ultimately keep the tax higher than it would have fallen had they done nothing.
The GOP also drew new districts and changed the way Wake County elects its commissioners in a move seen by opponents as a way to give Republicans an advantage. The move comes after Democrats swept the county commission races in the last election. Had the new districts been in place, Republicans would hold a majority of county seats in Wake County despite being outvoted by Democrats by 30,000 votes, according to the Raleigh News and Observer.
Meanwhile, GOP leaders in the Senate and Governor Pat McCrory are at odds over state incentives. McCrory says the incentives fund has run dry and he needs more to attract new businesses to the state. Speculation is high that the state is under consideration for a new Volvo plant. The carmaker is one of two reported to be considering the state, along with Land Rover.
The dispute over incentives is exposing a deep divide among GOP lawmakers and McCrory, a fellow Republican. McCrory blasted the GOP last week in an interview with WFAE in Charlotte over incentives, the proposed “religious freedom” bill, an effort to redistribute sales taxes to rural counties, and letting the historic preservation tax credit expire. He’s also in a legal battle with the legislature over his power to appoint people to commissions. He won the first battle in a unanimous decision, but lawmakers have appealed.
Several bills have already been derailed, including one getting rid of religious exemptions for immunizations, one that could have impacted Buncombe County - which has the highest rate of children not getting vaccinated in the state. A bill to legalize a form of medical marijuana died in committee.
Meanwhile, some bills that are still alive have Republicans delving back into controversial social issues, with the “religious freedom” legislation that’s been panned in other states, new restrictions on abortions, and bills loosening restrictions on guns.