GARY D. ROBERTSON
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina lawmakers expect to work more long hours this coming week to complete their regular annual session — one that's been breathtaking in the speed and scope of legislation considered as Republicans control both chambers for the first time in 140 years.
GOP legislative leaders say they'll push toward final agreement on changes to the state's forced municipal annexation laws, a requirement that voters show picture identification and environmental regulatory changes before leaving town for good as early as Friday.
Leaving by next weekend would make it the shortest budget-writing session by calendar days since 1973, according to General Assembly staff data. The session began Jan. 26.
Changes to gun laws, product liability lawsuits and procedures that women must follow before they get an abortion already have passed the House or Senate and also are likely to be considered, as could a repeal of a new law that helps death-row prisoners challenge their sentences on the basis of racial bias. But the issues could also be set aside until next spring because they aren't on a list of the GOP top's priorities from the fall campaign.
Meeting the proposed adjournment date will depend largely on whether Republicans can override a potential veto of the two-year state budget now on Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue's desk. It is anybody's guess when they'd leave if two or more of the five House Democrats who voted for the final plan don't stay allied with Republicans during an override vote, should Perdue veto it before Tuesday.
House leaders say they are assured the five Democrats will stick, despite intense outside pressure from teachers, advocates for the poor and Perdue.
"This budget will be passed into law," a confident House Speaker Thom Tillis said late last week. He said adjourning by Friday was "still achievable." Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, also has said his chamber is working to leave during the coming week.
Republican legislators checked off several major items on this year's to-do list this past Thursday. They eliminated a 100-school cap on the number of charter schools and changed medical malpractice litigation and rules governing workers' compensation benefits. The last two had been sought for years by business and medical interests in North Carolina.
Votes also are expected next week on legislation to narrow the state tax collecting chief's power to demand multistate companies pay more taxes on their returns.
"I would characterize it as one of the most business-friendly sessions that anyone's ever been involved with," said Tillis, R-Mecklenburg. "We focused on a business agenda and a lot of things they were hoping we would get done have been accomplished."
But social issues also have been considered, including a bill that passed the House last week to require women to get specialized counseling and wait 24 hours before having an abortion. The Senate and House also have passed differing omnibus gun-rights bills, both of which would give more leeway for homeowners and motorists to shoot intruders.
Democrats and their allies argue the bills show Republicans are pushing beyond what voters expected when they put them in the majority last November. Chris Fitzsimon, executive director of the liberal political watchdog group NC Policy Watch, took issue with Tillis' statements that the GOP agenda only looks dramatic because the General Assembly had been run by liberal leaders before now.
"He's trying to move the reference point to distract attention from the radical right-wing agenda that they are doing," Fitzsimon said. "He obviously is worried that people are going to find out the truth about what they've done."
Perdue also is likely to veto some other legislation. She's already complained about the voter ID bill that passed the House last week and fell a few votes of canceling a veto.
Other bills that have passed one chamber include:
— House legislation to let consumer finance companies make more money off of installment loans. The bill is opposed by commanders at the state's military installations because they say it would put young service members deeper into debt.
— several that would eliminate voluntary public financing for candidates of three Council of State seats, make judicial elections partisan again and end straight-party ticket voting.
The Legislature is expected to return to work twice, even after the regular session is over. Lawmakers will redraw legislative and congressional maps in mid-July, then consider proposed constitutional amendments during another session in August.Tags: