NC lawmakers head home after final flurry of bills
North Carolina lawmakers are headed home Friday after late night and early morning sessions that saw a final push to pass bills backed by the Republican majority.
The state House adjourned shortly before noon, following the Senate's 2 a.m. adjournment.
The last bills to win approval included a sweeping measure loosening environmental regulations, legislation allowing new restrictions on abortion providers and numerous changes to state elections laws that critics say are designed to help GOP lawmakers retain power.
Items left on the table included an effort to speed up fracking for natural gas and a bill that Republican Gov. Pat McCrory wanted to remake the state Department of Commerce as a public-private partnership focused on job creation.
McCrory now has 30 days to either sign the bills on his desk or allow them to become law without his signature. He has not signaled plans to veto any of the voluminous measures approved by his legislative allies.
House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger issued a joint media release praising their accomplishments.
"We have worked tirelessly over the course of six months to enact reforms critical to providing greater opportunities to our state's citizens," said Tillis, R-Mecklenburg. "We lived within our means to provide a fiscally responsible and economically sustainable budget, enacted a comprehensive tax reform plan to bring financial relief to all North Carolinians, and eliminated burdensome regulations to promote economic development in our state."
Berger praised GOP lawmakers for instituting policies he said would empower the private sector to create jobs. North Carolina's unemployment rate has hovered for months around 9 percent, even as other states have made more progress in recovering from the lingering effects of the worst economic recession in a generation.
"Despite fierce resistance and overblown partisan rhetoric from the left, we did exactly what millions of voters asked us to do," said Berger, R-Rockingham.
Democrats, environmental groups, voting rights advocates and many public educators all saw it differently.
"We end this session knowing we did nothing to create jobs, we don't have that prosperity," said House Minority Leader Larry Hall, D-Durham. "We created a tax cut for the millionaires and raised the taxes on the least of these."
Republicans took control of the North Carolina Legislature in 2010 for the first time since Reconstruction and cemented full control of state government with the inauguration of McCrory in January. That put them in prime position to implement a conservative platform focused on rewriting the tax code and rolling back government regulations they claim impeded prosperity.
But the session also saw examples of the GOP supermajority seemingly going against its stated ideological principals of smaller government and local control. Examples included the passage of bills seizing control of the state's busiest airport form the city of Charlotte and ordering Durham to annex and provide services to a proposed mega-development in the sensitive Jordan Lake watershed opposed by the city council.
To advance their agenda, Republican leaders also reverted to using many of the same legislative tactics and parliamentary procedures they had lambasted Democrats for just a few years ago, such as passing bills in the dead of the night and slipping controversial changes into wholly unrelated legislation.
Environmentalists warned that the effects of numerous GOP-backed measures could be felt for generations. They pointed to the removal of key scientists and environmental experts from state oversight boards, rollbacks of clean water protections and a measure making it easier to build landfills near parks and wilderness areas.
"In the blink of an eye — just six short months — many of the legislators at the General Assembly have attempted to rewrite or repeal almost every common sense law and regulation on the books impacting the environment," said N.C. Conservation Network Executive Director Brian Buzby, representing a statewide coalition of more than 60 groups. "The barrage of short-sighted assaults on public lands and the environment make it clear that our lawmakers are not doing their constitutional duty to protect our state, its natural resources and all that make it special."
Lawmakers are set to return to Raleigh for their biennial "short session" in May 2014 before facing voters at the polls in November, more than 15 months from now.