RALEIGH — North Carolina’s legislature finally wrapped up its two-year session Wednesday after passing a coal ash cleanup measure, but falling short on goals involving Medicaid and a budget fix with teacher assistant funds.
This year’s work period began May 14 and ended seven weeks later than July 4 predictions by legislative leaders as negotiations on the budget, coal ash and economic incentives lingered. Barring a special session or returning to address a veto by Gov. Pat McCrory, the General Assembly won’t reconvene until the next two-year session in mid-January, after the November legislative elections.
Lawmakers cheered, clapped and hugged each other as leaders of each chamber hammered the gavels down for the regular 2014-15 session — first in the House in the afternoon, followed by the Senate more than four hours later.
Both chambers approved a negotiated compromise on a schedule to close down the 33 coal ash ponds controlled by Duke Energy, a few days after legislative leaders said a deal wouldn’t happen until early next year. House and Senate leaders worked for several days to fashion the agreement, now headed to McCrory’s desk.
“It’s a great way to end on a positive note,” said House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, who is completing his second and final term as speaker and is running for U.S. Senate. The chambers also managed to approve economic incentives to help a Haywood County paper mill and to address a legal tug of war involving records of unemployment benefit claims.
But GOP leaders couldn’t push across the finish line other economic incentives sought by McCrory and others when many House Republicans balked. The incentives and a cap on local sales taxes were caught within a parliamentary web in which the Senate linked their passage to a provision designed to address worries by local school districts that they won’t have enough money to retain teacher assistants this fall.
Tillis said the House decided against passing a bill that included only the teacher assistant funding fix because the Senate made it plain it wouldn’t be considered.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, downplayed the lack of a teacher assistant agreement, saying late Wednesday that districts can still use local dollars earmarked to hire teachers to pay for assistants. The state budget provided more than $80 million for additional classroom teachers that could make up for local dollars, he said.
The adjournment resolution approved Wednesday by the House — one of three options sent over by the Senate last week — also defers discussion on a Medicaid overhaul to next year. Lawmakers had said three weeks ago, when this year’s session was put on hold, that they planned to return in mid-November to consider Medicaid changes.
Tillis suggested it’s possible McCrory could call lawmakers back to consider other economic incentives the governor wants approved. Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said he prefers not to get called back.
“But if he does, I know how to get down I-40,” Apodaca quipped, referring to the state’s chief east-west interstate.
All 170 General Assembly seats are up for re-election in November. Republicans currently hold 77 of the 120 House seats and 33 of the 50 Senate seats.