NC House of Representatives opens legislative session
North Carolina lawmakers are getting close to finalizing which bills they will or won’t debate for the remainder of this legislative session.
Thursday is the legislature’s “crossover deadline” — the day that most bills have to pass in either the N.C. House or Senate, otherwise they’re considered dead.
Here are some important things to know about the crossover deadline and what it means for bills you might either support or oppose.
1. Crossover affects most bills
Thursday is the make-or-break deadline for most bills that have already been filed. And for the most part, no new bills can be introduced, either.
There are only a few specific types of bills that are exempt from the crossover rules, such as bills that are written based on reports from a handful of powerful committees.
2. There are loopholes
Lawmakers have been known to use a process called “gut-and-amend” in the past, which is when a bill that passed one chamber is re-written by the other chamber to tackle a different topic.
One famous example happened in 2013 with the so-called “motorcycle abortion” law.
That year, a bill proposing harsher penalties for drivers who hit motorcyclists passed in the Senate. But the House amended the bill to add in several pages of new — completely unrelated — language that dealt with restricting abortions. The House then passed that new version and sent it back to the Senate, which also signed off on it. Then-Gov. Pat McCrory signed it into law while protesters gathered outside the governor’s mansion.
Democrats in the House backed a bill this year that would end gut-and-amend tactics, as well as implementing several other pro-transparency changes. But that bill, HB 341, has been stuck in committee since March and appears unlikely to pass.
Last year, for the first time in modern history, lawmakers wrote and passed state budget changes using a gut-and-amend process, which stopped lawmakers who weren’t directly involved in writing the budget from being able to suggest changes.
However, this year’s budget debate has been more open. Last week, the House unveiled its budget, then passed dozens of amendments to it, before sending it to the Senate for review.
3. Many bills have crossed over already
The House held votes on Tuesday morning, with a handful of bills passing at the last minute, including a “distracted driving” bill that would ban people from using cell phones while driving. That was the last voting session in the House until next week.
The Senate also held votes Tuesday, but might continue voting Wednesday and/or Thursday.
According to legislative records, more than 400 bills have passed at least one chamber and thus met the crossover deadline.
More information on what bills have passed at least one chamber, and which legislators voted for or against them, can be found at www.ncleg.gov/Legislation/Votes/2019.
4. Redistricting bill not affected
A bill related to redistricting is not affected by the crossover deadline.
That’s important because there are two court cases against the district lines North Carolina uses to elect politicians both to the state legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives. If the legislature loses one or both cases it could receive a court order to pass new lines this year, in advance of the 2020 elections.
The crossover deadline also does not apply to a state constitutional amendment proposal, lead by Republican Rep. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville, that would reform North Carolina’s redistricting laws in way that supporters say would depoliticize the process and make it less susceptible to gerrymandering.
That amendment, which is called HB 140 or the FAIR Act, has not come up for a vote yet, although more than half of the members of the House have signed on as sponsors or co-sponsors.
5. The latest on Medicaid expansion
Medicaid expansion, another major topic of interest for supporters and opponents alike, has stalled. But it’s not necessarily dead.
An expansion bill with bipartisan support in the House, HB 655, hasn’t made it out of committee. However, the issue could still come up later — especially since Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has said Medicaid expansion is one of his top priorities for the legislature this year.
Cooper might threaten to veto the state budget to force Republicans to work on Medicaid expansion. The top House Democrat said as much last week, although when asked by The News & Observer, a Cooper spokesman said it was still too early in the budget process to say for sure.