he General Assembly has picked up speed in recent weeks, following the passage of the recent HB2-related legislation. Last week, Legislators had a short week before heading out of town for a spring break. They return today, April 18th, and will rush headlong towards “crossover”— the deadline for most bills to be passed by at least one chamber in order to be considered for the rest of the session.
When the post-crossover dust settles, look for another regulatory reform bill to come out of the House, as well as, perhaps, a compromise renewable-energy bill that Senior Advisor to Speaker Moore (and former WNC legislator) Mitch Gillespie has been trying to piece together since last fall. Gillespie has his work cut out for him. The House GOP caucus is deeply divided on renewable energy with some members supporting it as an important 21st-Century job creator, particularly in rural areas. Other GOP members oppose regulatory incentives for renewables, which they say drive up energy costs and protect the green-energy industry from having to compete with more traditional sources of energy.
Once crossover is complete, we can expect the budget process to also pick up speed. Lawmakers typically wait until early May when final revenue figures from the April tax season are in and they know how much money the state has to spend in the coming year. Tax cuts are almost certain to be included in the budget, but the size is still to be resolved between the Senate and House. Senate GOP leaders would like to see the cuts top out at $1 billion, while House Republicans favor more modest cuts totaling hundreds of millions. How Gov. Cooper will react to the tax reduction is still unclear – his budget priorities include significant investments in public education. If and how that spending will be squared with GOP tax cuts is anyone’s guess right now.
Top Enviro Cop Regan Gets Stamp of Approval
Before legislators left town, they wrapped up confirmation for Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan. A former staffer for the U.S. EPA as well as the Environmental Defense Fund, Regan earned a unanimous recommendation for confirmation from the Senate Agriculture, Environment committee, and, ultimately, unanimous approval from the Senate. Regan’s confirmation was received with a collective sigh of relief among his supporters, as there was some speculation that his strong environmental experience – and the fact that GOP lawmakers have so far approved all of Gov. Cooper’s appointments – might cause some GOP legislators to make an example out of Regan and reject his appointment. Former New Hanover County Rep. Susi Hamilton was also confirmed by the Senate as Secretary of Natural & Cultural Resources.
Regulatory “Reform” Marches On
The regulatory reform bill, S131, which contains several troublesome provisions (including a doubling of the threshold for unmitigated destruction of streams) continues to move full steam ahead. The Senate voted last week to concur to the House changes to the bill, but one final vote is required. The Senate vote was mostly along party lines. Here is how the WNC delegation voted:
No: Terry Van Duyn
Yes: Deanna Ballard, Jim Davis, Warren Daniel, Ralph Hise, Chuck Edwards
High Hog Drama
There was high drama in the General Assembly last week over H467, Agriculture and Forestry Nuisance Remedies. The bill would limit compensatory damages available to plaintiffs in nuisance suits against agriculture and forestry operations. It is a response to numerous pending lawsuits against mega-hog processor Smithfield for impacts related to its hog production facilities. The week saw the bill brought up by the Speaker out of order, Republicans bickering amongst themselves about the bill and the process used to approve it, as well as hog producers packing the House gallery. They watched as representatives approved an amendment preventing the bill from applying to current lawsuits and then sent the amended bill to the Senate. The prospects for the bill’s fate are unclear, but we’ll be watching.