State lawmakers are rushing toward a self-imposed deadline: At the stroke of midnight on May 9, any bills that haven’t passed either the Senate or the House will turn into pumpkins.
Well, maybe not pumpkins, but the bills will become meaningless pieces of paper under the legislature’s rules, which are designed to keep the session from lasting forever. Legislators with power might be able to bend the rules to resurrect their bills later, but May 9 is the end of the line for most.
As the bewitching hour approaches, you’ll see rank-and-file legislators running around, begging powerful Republicans to give their proposals a hearing. And voting sessions will drag on late into the night as many of the bills do get last-minute votes, often without much vetting.
With more than 1,600 bills filed so far this session, the odds for any one proposal aren’t great – particularly if the bill has been gathering dust for months without any action. Some don’t have support from GOP leaders, and some just aren’t enough of a priority for a busy legislature.
But I like to cheer for the underdogs, the sound policy ideas that for whatever reason aren’t getting a vote – or even any attention. Here are a few of them:
Saturday voting: Remember the big crowds at early voting sites on the Saturday before an election? It was a handy option for procrastinators who wanted to cast their ballot on a weekend instead of a Tuesday.
But current law eliminates those Saturday voting hours. House Bill 893, sponsored by Rep. Zack Hawkins, D-Durham, and other Democrats, calls for early voting from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on that popular Saturday. So far though, no Republicans have co-sponsored the bill, so it might die at the crossover deadline.
Racist literacy test in the constitution: North Carolina’s constitution still requires a “literacy test” for voters that for decades was used to disenfranchise African-Americans. Sure, it hasn’t been enforced since the 1960s, but it’s pretty gross to still have it on the books.
Fortunately, a bipartisan group including Democratic Rep. Kelly Alexander and Republican Reps. Michael Speciale and Sarah Stevens have filed a proposed referendum to repeal the requirement. But their bill has been ignored since early March, and it’s unclear why.
Volunteer firefighter shortage: Volunteer fire departments – a key lifeline in rural communities – are struggling to recruit new members, and Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, has filed Senate Bill 416 to incentivize new volunteer firefighters. Daniel’s bill features job perks for volunteer firefighters: Property tax breaks on their homes, free hunting and fishing licenses, forgivable loans for firefighter training programs and even a pension option.
“Fair treatment for journalism”: Any bill with that title will attract my attention, but Senate Bill 253 really is a fairness issue. Sen. Michael Garrett, D-Guilford, wants to repeal a vindictive law sponsored by his predecessor that allows local governments to avoid running public notices in a newspaper. Instead, the notices can go on a little-viewed government website. Having a law that penalizes businesses in a single county just doesn’t make sense.
Dangerous pets: I’m not sure why you’d want to buy or breed a lion, tiger, bear, hyena or ape, but I’d be scared to live near someone who has one in their backyard. So I’m not sure why House Bill 577 from Rep. Rena Turner, R-Iredell, hasn’t gotten a speedy hearing yet. It would make it illegal to have one of these large animals.
UNC Board reforms: There’s no reason the legislature should have exclusive control of who serves on the UNC Board of Governors. Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, has proposed an alternative with House Bill 843, which would allow the governor to appoint eight of the 12 board members. It’s a small step toward having checks and balances, but since our current governor is a Democrat, Republicans will likely let the bill die at the upcoming crossover deadline.