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North Carolina lawmakers dash toward key bill deadline

RALEIGH (AP) — The North Carolina legislature plowed thorough dozens of measures on Wednesday in meeting its traditional parliamentary deadline, whittling down the universe of bills that could become law during the next two years.
House and Senate members held floor sessions and voted on more than 45 bills combined on the eve of the “crossover deadline.” The Senate voted unanimously for bipartisan criminal justice and police reforms and a measure to raise the minimum age to marry from age 14 to 16.
The House wrapped up its work for the week by dinner time, but not before passing on a party-line vote a Republican measure to prevent K-12 schools from embracing certain concepts on race and gender. Another divisive measure that was approved allows lawmakers with concealed weapons permits to carry their hidden pistols inside the Legislative Building. They and other elected leaders statewide with permits could be similarly armed at an array of otherwise prohibited locales if they are performing official duties.
The Senate had another dozen bills to consider Thursday morning. Bills unrelated to state spending or taxes, elections or amending the state constitution that don’t pass at least one chamber by Thursday are considered dead through the end of 2022. While there are ways to get around this blockade — especially if chamber leadership agrees — bills that fall short this week face long odds for passage.
The two chambers considered more than 90 pieces of legislation combined on their respective floors Tuesday, when the House met well into the evening. But House Speaker Tim Moore noted late Wednesday that the midnight or early-morning sessions of past crossover weeks were avoided.
Committees had been meeting at full throttle over the past couple of weeks, as lawmakers seeking to advance their ideas or those of lobbyists or constituents sought to get them over their first major legislative hurdles. Many approved bills received little or no floor debate. Many also passed by overwhelming margins, such as a House measure that would bar local governments and state agencies from paying ransom to hackers — a current issue in light of the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack.
Crossover week “is organized, but like any deliberative body, especially in a representative democracy, it’s organized chaos,” said Rep. Billy Richardson, a Cumberland County Democrat who first came to the House in the 1990s. After the deadline, he added, “we have to be very careful and really vet the bills that have come over to make sure that there’s not unintended consequences in their passage.”
Other bills not ready for prime time were voted down in or withdrawn. The full House on Monday defeated a bill mandating active prison sentences for someone convicted of causing a death while steering a boat while drunk. On Wednesday, House leaders pulled from planned debate a bill that would have required cities to set rules to encourage their employees — such as police — to report internal wrongdoing and to protect such whistleblowers.
Still, some are hopeful their ideas will be revived after the deadline. A Senate measure requiring state and local governments to make public when requested more information about their workers’ personnel history was returned to a committee before its scheduled floor debate Tuesday. So it would appear the bill, backed by the North Carolina Press Association, would miss the deadline.
But Sen. Norm Sanderson, a Pamlico County Republican, said Wednesday he’s been told by Senate leadership that a way will be found to advance the measure this year after more adjustments are made to the bill. A common tactic is to insert the bill’s language in another piece of legislation that passed before the deadline or is otherwise exempt, approve the edited bill and return it to the other chamber.
“I’m hoping that the House will receive it and take it up,” Sanderson said. “But I want to make sure that before they do that there’s not a problem that they’ve got to fix.”
The deadline essentially marks the completion of the first stage of the General Assembly’s primary work session this year.
GOP lawmakers next will likely turn their attention to passing a two-year state budget, with the hopes of working out an agreement with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. But House and Senate Republicans are behind schedule in fashioning a spending plan because they’ve yet to decide how much money they intend to spend in the fiscal year starting July 1.

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