Legislative Session Proved A Busy One
Not so long ago, state legislators had years in which they met for eight months while accomplishing very little other than making sure that the state budget was balanced for another year.
This latest even-year short session of the North Carolina General Assembly, in which they met three months, won't be remembered that way.
Legislators bit off big chunks of substantial policy change in 2010. Some weren't completed until the wee hours Saturday morning, as the General Assembly adjourned for the year after a grueling final day in which lawmakers met for more than 20 hours.
The Democrats who control the legislature were motivated by an uncertain political landscape that threatens their majorities in the House and Senate. Sometimes that kind of threat can be a recipe for a do-nothing legislative session.
It had a different effect this year.
Legislators hit the ground running in their budget deliberations. They ultimately approved a $19 billion state spending plan, the total rising to $20.6 billion when accounting for federal stimulus money. The bill's passage marked the first time since 2003 that legislators had a budget in place by the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.
In a second straight year of depressed tax collections, the budget provided no salary increases for state employees. Those workers, though, seemed happy to avoid the furloughs and layoffs seen in other states.
The biggest critics of the spending plan were home health businesses. They were chagrined with a decision to significantly scale back a Medicaid program for in-home care services for the poor.
Legislative Republicans predicted doom because the plan made few provisions for next year, when most or all that extra federal help to the states will be gone.
Besides the budget, state lawmakers passed another round of government ethics reform, made another attempt at banning video poker, approved a batch of tax breaks and incentive measures designed to lure new industry to the state, and decided to require DNA samples of those arrested for some crimes.
They also passed legislation that puts tougher rules on local alcohol boards, broadens how money collected from a service fee on telephone bills can be spent, and subjects those who violate domestic violence orders to tougher criminal penalties.
As always, some major legislation died on the vine. Among the victims: a proposed overhaul of how negligence lawsuits are decided, a $450 million borrowing plan with projects that included new engineering facilities at N.C. State University, a proposal to soften the state's ban on hardened structures along beaches, and a measure to discourage the operation of abusive puppy mills.
For three months, legislators were as busy as the beavers they decided shouldn't be moved from Greensboro (yet another last-day piece of legislation considered).
Now they'll get busy with the business of trying to keep or win power. How the decisions they made over the last three months play into that business is anyone's guess.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story