RALEIGH — The passage of the two-year state budget by both the House and Senate chambers of the North Carolina legislature is certainly a significant step, but keep in mind that they did not pass the same budget.
That’s why it’s a little too early to call this legislative session nearly over. Over the weekend, House and Senate leaders signaled why you could call this phase the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger stressed that there are significant differences in the House and Senate plans. House Speaker Tim Moore said he want to spend whatever time is necessary to get this budget, his first as speaker, right.
“I’m in no hurry,” he told the (Raleigh) News & Observer.
That means that on or before June 30 — the last day of the state’s fiscal year — the legislature will have to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government running. Meanwhile, a House and Senate conference committee starts meeting this week to work out a compromise plan. Western region legislators on the committee include Reps. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, and Roger West, R-Cherokee and Sens. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, Ralph Hise, R-McDowell, and Dan Soucek, R-Watauga.
Any compromise will hinge on resolving major disagreements on Medicaid restructuring, tax policy and teacher and state employee pay. Further complicating matters are disagreements both between the chambers and within them. Last week, the lone GOP vote against the Senate plan was cast by Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Rucho said he could not vote for the plan because the tax package includes changes to sales tax distribution which will have its heaviest impact in urban counties like Mecklenburg.
The House isn’t uniform either. In late May, when the House passed its budget plan, 11 GOP representatives were among 23 voting no. The House budget vote also saw a split among WNC Democrats with Reps. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, and Joe Sam Queen, D-Haywood, voting against the plan and Buncombe Reps. John Ager and Brian Turner voting yes.
Gun bill passes the House
After an often-tense debate that ran over two days last week, the House passed a heavily amended version of House Bill 562, an omnibus firearms bill. During floor action Tuesday and Wednesday, a coalition of Democrats and veteran GOP legislators were able to strike provisions that would have eliminated a local sheriff’s role in obtaining pistol permits and loosened state concealed carry laws.
The WNC delegation was divided on the bill, with Reps. Fisher, Queen and Ager voting against the final version and Reps. Turner, Roger West, Mike Hager, Chris Whitmire, Josh Dobson and Jonathan Jordan voting for the bill.
Turner, one of only five Democrats to support the bill, authored a key amendment that mandates the state Department of Public Safety to work with federal officials to develop a background check system for private gun purchases.
An amendment by Ager to extend the authority of the N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture to prohibit the carrying of firearms at the Mountain State Fair in Asheville failed.
The bill now goes to the Senate.
Balsam Range honored
The legislature recently hosted a tribute to WNC’s Balsam Range, named the 2015 Entertainer of the Year and Vocal Group of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association.
Statements in honor of the Canton-based band by Sen. Jim Davis, R-Cherokee, and Rep. Queen were read into the House and Senate record on June 10 and festivities included a throw down with the band just outside the Legislative Building.
You can watch Rep. Queen and Haywood County attorney Chip Killian showing a few mountain steps to the music.