- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Fitting to this year’s theme of protraction and delays, the North Carolina General Assembly session wrapped up its 8½-month session in the middle of the night Wednesday, only after lawmakers waited nearly four hours for one final bill.

The House and Senate gaveled out shortly after 4 a.m., just after each chamber approved a “technical corrections” bill that included more than 90 specific changes to current law or bills now on Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk.

Leaders of both parties negotiated differences in the wee hours, requiring rank-and-file legislators to remain at ease while the final version was produced. Some took to singing, throwing a football and shag dancing on the Senate floor to pass the time.

It’s hardly the first time lawmakers decided to work overnight before adjournment, and the mechanics of legislation take time. But the hurry-up-and-wait Tuesday and Wednesday exemplified the longest budget-writing work session since 2001.

“I know we’ve been here quite a few months now,” House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, told colleagues in the moments before adjournment. “We’ve dealt with a lot of issues over these past nine months.”

The session started Jan. 14. Hopes that Republicans would adjourn the legislature by its traditional early summer closing date got waylaid by a budget stalemate and extended negotiations on overhauling Medicaid and economic recruitment incentives. The state budget, due July 1, passed just two weeks ago. An extended session added $2.5 million to the cost of operating the legislature compared to ending about the time the budget should be finished.

GOP leaders emphasized their accomplishments this year, including some tax-rate reductions, additional permanent transportation revenues and a $2 billion bond referendum in that got its final legislative vote shortly after midnight.

“Senate Republicans fulfilled our number-one goal this session: We maintained the spending discipline and commitment to tax cuts and reform that led to a $400 million budget surplus this year,” Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a release. Moore mentioned teacher pay raises and education funding.

Democratic leaders in the minority countered that tax reductions for the highest wage earners eliminated more funds to help education return to pre-Great Recession spending levels. And they didn’t like how the budget expanded sales taxes to cover more services.

The focus now turns to McCrory, who has until Oct. 30 to dispose of roughly 40 bills, either by signing them into law, vetoing them or letting them become law without his signature. He announced signing a half-dozen bills Wednesday, including a bill moving all North Carolina primary elections next year to March 15. The bond question also would be on the same date.

Advocacy groups late Wednesday began pressing him publicly to veto at least two bills approved Tuesday: the annual regulatory overhaul and an immigration measure that blocks local “sanctuary city” policies and curbs the use of certain identification cards that bill supporters argue can’t be relied upon for authenticity.

Speaking at a bill-signing ceremony in Guilford County, McCrory said he would spend the next week reviewing bills. It’s an end-of-session process he had hoped for in the summer, not the fall.

“We wish it would have been quicker, more deliberate, but we also have to respect the process of our democracy,” McCrory said.

Other bills passed in the legislature’s final days include a prohibition on the sale of fetal tissue from aborted fetuses, a requirement that state-regulated health insurers provide autism treatment coverage and the first steps to reviving industrial hemp farming.

The final “technical corrections” bill also sought to ease worries by police about the immigration bill. The measure adjusted some campaign finance changes already on McCrory’s desk. It appears to mend a rift between legislative leaders and GOP activists.

Left behind until at least next year is a bill that would have earmarked more local school district funds for charter schools.

Another deferred measure attempted to crack down on employers purposefully mislabeling workers as independent contractors to avoid paying taxes and employee benefits. And an effort by some Republicans to block current or future local government ordinances that place specific requirements on businesses got derailed.

Barring veto override or special sessions, the legislature isn’t expected to reconvene until April 25.

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Associated Press reporter Tom Foreman Jr. in Stokesdale, North Carolina, contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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