Premature Fireworks on Jones Street

We know it’s only July 2nd, but thanks to the fight over Greensboro City Council Redistricting we have fireworks! On the eve of the Legislative Summer Recess a carefully crafted conference committee report was rejected by the House with some of those members calling senators “bullies” much to the delight of the media. House Republicans retreated to caucus for arm-twisting.   

And you thought the only danger from sharks was at the beaches….

Greensboro Legislative Mischief

A bill filed in March reducing the membership of the Trinity City Council (population 6,650) from eight members to five members, and reducing the terms for Mayor and City Council members from four years to two years if approved by referendum took on a new life when Sen. Trudy Wade added a new section to the bill in the Senate Redistricting Committee, quadrupling the size of the bill, that redistricts the Greensboro City Council. The House rejected the Senate changes and a compromise bill emerged from a conference committee this week. The conference report  for HB 263 – City Elections/Trinity and Greensboro  increases the Greensboro City Council from seven to eight members with none elected city-wide, and the mayor may only cast a vote to break a tie. The legislature drew the eight districts splitting precinct blocks and deviating from the ideal district numbers triggering the gerrymander claim. The conference report also assigns to the General Assembly the task of redistricting of the Greensboro City Council after the 2020 census – a job they left to the City Council in the past. Greensboro Rep John Blust, a conferee, refused to sign the conference report because it did not include a city-wide referendum on the changes, which he and others advocated for.

The conference report was placed on the calendar in both the House and the Senate for Thursday’s session. The House failed to garner the necessary votes to support the compromise voting 50 to 53 on the first go-round; and Rep. Glazier’s clincher motion was rejected by the Speaker. (A clincher motion is a redundancy that kills something dead). Rep. John Blust of Greensboro stated on the House floor that senators were threatening to kill House Bills as retribution.

House Republicans retreated to a quick caucus meeting where arm twisting managed to change seven votes and the conference report was then messily adopted by the House. Procedurally, a member who voted on the prevailing side, in this case voted against the conference report, made a motion to “reconsider the vote by which the report failed”. That motion passed and the conference report was back before the House for consideration. Next came a motion to forgo debate, which passed along party lines. Ultimately the conference report was adopted by the House by a vote of 57 to 46.

Bills dealing with redistricting and terms of office become law upon ratification and do not require the Governor’s signature.

Summer Recess

The General Assembly goes on summer vacation until 7:00 pm on Monday, July 13th according  SR 717which was ratified today.  Our State Constitution provides that, while in session, “The two houses may jointly adjourn to any future day or other place. Either house may, of its own motion, adjourn for a period not in excess of three days.” In this instance the first sentence applies, and they adjourn for 10 days.  Interestingly, state law prohibits fundraising from PACs associated with lobbyists and from lobbyist principals unless or until the General Assembly has adjourned for more than ten days.  A missed opportunity?

Uber won’t be uber-regulated

SB 541 – Regulate Transportation Network Companies – passed the Senate Transportation Committee this week and heads to the Senate Finance Committee.  The bill sets regulations for the currently unregulated ride-sharing industry, like Uber and Lyft, by requiring these companies to conduct criminal background checks on drivers and requiring drivers to be covered by at least $1 million in liability insurance when driving for the company.  Taxi drivers have been asking the state to begin regulating the new industry –their competition. Uber officials say that they already comply with the provisions in the bill and are supportive of the bill moving forward.  **We learned that some auto insurance policies have covenants that void a personal auto policy if the car is used for livery. This has been a rude awakening for some parents of college-age secret Uber drivers.

Regulatory Reform

The Senate has put together a wide-ranging regulatory reform bill designed to loosen regulations on businesses.  HB 765 – Regulatory Reform Act of 2015 – was originally a House bill dealing with gravel and rock transport, but is now a 54-page list of regulatory changes that Senate Republicans insist are necessary for a healthy economy in North Carolina.  The Department of Environment and Natural Resources objected to some of the bill’s provisions and submitted a letter of its demands in exchange for removing its objection. The Senate approve a wide-ranging omnibus amendment that appeased the department and then approved the bill.  

Just a reminder that the state government did not shut down at the June 30th end of the fiscal year.A continuing resolution was enacted to continue government spending until August 14th by which time a budget agreement may be reached, or more likely another continuing resolution is adopted.

Next Week

We’re expecting a quiet week on Jones Street with the legislature in recess.  But the clock is ticking on the budget continuing resolution. We’ll keep you posted.