The North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh. File photo by Angie Newsome/Carolina Public Press

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Teaching assistant pay, economic incentives prove to be sticking points

RALEIGH — Based on the past week, it would be futile to try and guess how things will turn out when North Carolina’s legislature reconvenes today (Monday).

But they might go home. Maybe. Maybe not.

Last Friday — at the end of what was yet another promised “last week of work” — wrapping up the General Assembly’s short session stalled as state House and Senate leaders employed increasingly complicated modifications to bills.

The Senate started off the latest round of maneuvering on Thursday. That day, it passed three separate adjournment resolutions. It also sent the House a fix to teaching assistant funding in the state budget that is contingent on the House also passing an economic incentives bill.

During a meeting of the Senate Rules Committee, chairman Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, acknowledged House leaders in attendance.

“It’s good to have our friends from the House here,” he said. “We want to give them options tomorrow so they can decide on which way they want to go. Because we want to go home.”

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But the incentives bill, H1224, which also includes local option sales tax changes and a provision regulating crowdfunding, has proved to be the final major sticking point between the two chambers. Crowdfunding refers to the practice of funding a project or a venture by raising small amounts of money from a large number of people.

House members bristled at the Senate’s move to tie its passage to the teaching assistant fix, a separate bill backed by House Speaker Thom Tillis and Gov. Pat McCrory that allows school systems more flexibility in teaching assistant pay. Calls for a fix have grown after dozens of school districts around the state announced reductions in teaching assistants due to changes in the new budget.

JMAC grants on hold

Among the provisions in the economic incentives bill that are considered less controversial is an additional $10 million for the Job Maintenance and Capital Development fund, an effort backed by members of Western North Carolina’s legislative delegation. Those funds, along with a $2 million balance in the JMAC account, are earmarked to help Evergreen Packaging in Canton convert two of its five coal boilers to natural gas in order to meet new greenhouse gas requirements by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The provision has already passed both chambers in other legislation, but won’t become law until it is passed by both in the same bill, in this case H1224.

The House failed to approve a procedural move to speed up passage of the bill and is scheduled to take it up again Monday, starting with a House Rules Committee meeting at 4:30 p.m. The House is scheduled to hold a voting session at 5 p.m. The Senate is scheduled to convene at 4 p.m. However, neither chamber has stuck to its published schedule lately, with short floor sessions interspersed with caucus meetings to discuss strategy.

Environmental bill passes

One bill that did make it through both the House and Senate last week was a revised version of the Regulatory Reform Act of 2014, a 47-page omnibus that included provisions on topics ranging from community college beer sales to wetlands mitigation.

Representatives of the N.C. Sierra Club said the bill, which included several provisions that had not been seen previously, did not get a thorough airing.

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“Conforming with tradition to pass bad environmental bills at the very end of session, the legislature today passed a regulatory reform bill full of giveaways to regulated industry at the expense of the environment,” Cassie Gavin, the Sierra Club’s director of government relations, said in email to members after the bill emerged from a House and Senate conference committee late last week.

But during floor debate, House leaders said the bill strikes a balance between freeing up businesses and protecting the environment.

Although the bill drew strong objections from environmental groups, the prospect of allowing up to 12 annual events for brewing programs at community colleges to show off their work drew fire in the House, with some conservatives saying they did not want to see the state encouraging beer consumption on the campuses.

The bill passed both chambers Friday and was sent to McCrory for his signature.

Kirk Ross

Based in the Triangle, Kirk Ross is the capital bureau chief for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at kross@carolinapublicpress.org.

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