United States: March 13, 2015 Legislative Update

SB 181Wake County Commissioner Districts and SB 36Greensboro City Council Districts, the two bills that remake the governing boards of two large local governments, passed the Senate this week.  It was a contentious floor debate between Wake County Republican bill sponsor, Chad Barefoot, and Wake County Democrats, Josh Stein and Dan Blue.  While Senator Barefoot told the press that the Wake County delegation had been discussing the bill for months, Senator Stein said it hadn't been brought up in any of the delegation meetings.  Senator Stein also pointed out that the bill is coming right on the heels of Democrats taking over the formerly Republican County Commission.  The vote was, not surprisingly, along party lines.

Both bills will now head to the House, where most senior Republicans on the Wake County delegation have hinted at being in favor of the Wake County bill.  Wake County Representative Paul Stam has voiced his full support.  If approved in the House, the bills will become law.  The governor has no veto power over local bills (bills that apply to fewer than 15 counties).  To the victor goes the spoils...

State Revenue

The legislature's Fiscal Research Division released a new estimate of state revenue this week.  While last month's report showed revenues to be below target by $271 million, this month's estimate puts the general fund revenue at $158.6 million below.  The state's fiscal year ends June 30.  The governor's new Budget Director, Lee Roberts, pointed out that we'll have a much better view after the April tax season.  Stay tuned for the next estimate!

Economic Development

HB 117NC Competes Act – the House's economic development bill came to a stand-still once arriving in the Senate.  Senate Rules Chair Tom Apodaca made clear that the Senate would take its time looking at the bill, which is now parked in the Senate Rules Committee.  He warned that the bill pushes the limits of what the Senate has decided they can accept when it comes to economic development efforts.  Meanwhile, Governor McCrory and Commerce Secretary John Skvarla continue to lobby in favor of the bill, saying it's essential in order to recruit large companies to the state, including automakers.

Judicial Experience

HB 213 – An act to amend the Constitution to provide that candidates for judgeships must have at least five years' experience as licensed attorneys – would affect eligibility for election or appointment of justices of the Supreme Court and judges of the Court of Appeals, Superior Court or District Court.  The draft legislation promoted by the NC Courts Commission, a group that advises the legislature on the statewide judicial systems' needs and problems, initially would have permitted candidacy after five years of experience anywhere in the country.  However, the amended version, which requires in-state experience, received tentative approval by the commission while legislative staff research whether it conflicts with the US Constitution.  The bill will next be assigned to legislative committees in the House.

Longer Terms at the General Assembly?

HB 180An act to provide for four-year terms for members of the General Assembly – would allow voters to decide in the next general election (November 2016) whether to amend the NC Constitution to allow members of the General Assembly to serve four-year terms instead of their current two-year terms.  The bill would also allow voters to decide whether House Speakers and Senate President Pro Tems should be limited to two consecutive sessions.  The bill's primary sponsors include three Republicans and one Democrat, and co-sponsors include a bipartisan mix of 33 members.

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