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RALEIGH — After sifting through nearly 1,600 pieces of legislation, the 2015 General Assembly entered its anticipated last week of work with only about a dozen left to go. But it didn’t take long for those bills — and a few more added in — to slow things down.
The end of each session typically sees a mix of proposals that ease to passage and those that become the subject of bitter fights. This year is no different.
In the House yesterday (Monday), a heated, often grisly debate over a bill that would set penalties for the sale of fetal tissue and prevent Planned Parenthood from running teen pregnancy prevention programs was followed a little later with unanimous approval of a measure to expand insurance coverage for autism.
In the Senate, last-minute comprehensive legislation allowing the production of industrial hemp sailed through, while the leadership tried to salvage a major farm omnibus bill that hit a wall late last week over opposition to deer farming.
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Senate leaders hope to be done late today (Tuesday). House Speaker Tim Moore, however, told members to keep their schedules open through Wednesday. An adjournment resolution, passed last week by the Senate, has Sept. 29 as the adjournment date, but the schedule remains hectic with both Senate and House rules committees acting as the main conduits for legislation.
One local proposal rejected in House Rules yesterday was a new bill Rep. Jonathan Jordan, R-Ashe, that would have banned asphalt production plants within two miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Jordan said the bill was in response to proposals in his district.
The first order of business today for the full House is the final vote on a compromise of the Connect NC Bond Act, a stripped down version of Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposal for infrastructure and transportation bonds. McCrory wanted the bond referendum to go before voters this fall, but the final edition of the legislation sets the referendum on a $2 billion package of mostly university, community college and state parks projects for the March primary. The Senate approved the bill last week.
The last mix of bills also includes several conference committee reports, the results of negotiations over differences in House and Senate versions. Once negotiators sign off on the reports, they go directly to the floor of each chamber, usually for an up or down vote.
Among the major conference reports in the wind up is House Bill 765, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2015, a 71-page omnibus of changes to environmental legislation.
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The Senate adopted the report last night with a vote of 28-16. The bill could have a more difficult time in the House, which could vote on it this afternoon. Environmental advocates say that while some of the bill’s worst provisions have been taken out or dialed back, there is still enough in it to worry about, including changes to air quality and wetlands protections and an environmental self-audit provision. Opposition to the bill could see some GOP votes. Both Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, and Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, did not sign the conference report.
Also on the agenda for today is a final version of the Farm Act of 2015, the subject of a number of twists and turns mainly over a proposal to transfer jurisdiction of deer farms from the state Wildlife Commission to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The move has been opposed by hunting groups over concerns it will lead to the spread of chronic wasting disease in the state.