North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

June 25, 2010

Pardon Our Dust

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Another week of  budget negotiations consisting mostly of private meetings of Democratic legislative leaders allowed other issues to make headlines at the General Assembly.  On Wednesday, over one thousand supporters of video sweepstakes games swarmed the legislature to advocate for regulating and taxing sweepstakes parlors.  Their effort came after the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that would ban the games.  The House may address the issue soon.
Meanwhile, the Senate gets Alcoholic Beverage Control (“ABC”) legislation after the House approved a measure to to give the state’s ABC Commission more oversight over local liquor stores and shut them down if they don’t meet performance standards. The legislation that now goes to the Senate gives the state commission more power to monitor activities of local ABC boards. Liquor stores could be closed or local ABC boards merged if problems aren’t fixed after a period of time.
Campaign finance reform was addressed in the Senate, but rapid developments have left the future of the bill in doubt.  On Tuesday, both the Senate Finance and Senate Judiciary I Committees approved a broad package of ethics and campaign-finance related reforms, including a provision to provide public financing in elections for Commissioner of Agriculture, State Treasurer, Secretary of State, Commissioner of Labor and Attorney General, all of which are statewide races.  By Wednesday, the bill had been referred back to the Senate Judiciary I Committee.  That move may have been triggered by opposition to the public financing provision, which would raise money by imposing new fees on the businesses and firms regulated by the elected offices involved.  The provision was removed during Thursday’s Senate Judiciary I Committee hearing.  Consideration of the bill will continue next week with emphasis on provisions that strengthen access to government records and forbid elected officials from soliciting campaign donations from industries they regulate or from state contractors.
The General Assembly’s remaining schedule will be affected by the July 4th holiday and conclusion of the budget process.  Budget negotiators remain committed to their target of producing a final budget proposal for presentation to Governor Perdue before the new fiscal year that begins on July 1st, but legislators have failed in similar attempts since 2003.  Their challenge may be more difficult because the U.S. Congress appears increasingly unwilling to extend a more generous Medicaid funding formula to the states, leaving North Carolina legislators with the added responsibility of closing an additional $525 million budget gap.  The bill produced by the budget conference is likely to be considered on chamber floors next week before the General Assembly disperses for the July 4th holiday.  Although the General Assembly will open for business on Monday, July 5th, legislators are not expected to reconvene for significant discussion or votes until Tuesday, July 6th.  Once a budget has been approved, legislators may spend up to two weeks wrapping up any remaining business before concluding the 2010 Short Session, and adjourning two year 2009-10 Session sine die.