- Associated Press - Saturday, April 29, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - If bills were clothing, then North Carolina lawmakers just finished setting out the few items they can see themselves wearing and sending the rest the attic.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly just pushed past its biennial “crossover” deadline, as more than 200 bills cleared either the House or the Senate during the week. With exceptions, policy measures without specific taxes or spending that didn’t pass one chamber are probably dead through 2018.

“We’ve sort of cleaned out the closet,” Senate leader Phil Berger of Eden said.

The deadline points to the next phase of this year’s session, as well as hot-button issues Republicans will try to work out - and some that Democrats want to stop - before adjournment this summer. Final measures lacking GOP near-unanimity could get derailed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes. Here’s a look at some of those issues and what’s up next at the Legislative Building.

IMMIGRATION

The legislature in 2015 prohibited cities and counties from having “sanctuary” policies that ignore or avoid enforcing state or federal immigration laws. Although associations representing local governments maintain their members are complying, Republicans insist they need to go further to deter them.

So the Senate approved on a party-line vote a measure punishing a government determined to be out of compliance by withholding tax dollars. The Senate measure goes beyond a similar House proposal by also threatening some University of North Carolina campuses with the loss of financial independence for noncompliance.

The House meanwhile passed a bill allowing local residents to sue their city or county government over their lack of immigration enforcement.

CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES

Lawmakers have put into play at least six proposed amendments to the state Constitution. They’re likely to be bargaining chips between House and Senate negotiators before deciding which get on the ballot in 2018.

The House wants voters statewide to affirm longstanding “right-to-work” laws prohibiting union membership and paying dues as an employment requirement. The Senate has proposed reducing the constitutional cap on state income tax rates at 5.5 percent. Democrats oppose both questions.

The House also has backed more referendum ideas for constitutional protections from land condemnations for private economic development, to expand the rights of crime victims and to limit governors from ever being elected more than twice. The current limit is simply two successive terms.

Unlike other legislation, proposed constitutional amendments aren’t subject to Cooper’s veto stamp.

ELECTIONS

The Senate quickly pushed through many elections-related measures before the deadline.

One proposal would make permanent shifting state and federal primaries from May to March - the 2016 primary was March 15 so North Carolina could influence presidential nominations. Another would reduce the number of signatures necessary to get unaffiliated and third-party candidates on the ballot. The threshold for a leading primary candidate to avoid a runoff also would fall from receiving more than 40 percent of the vote to 30 percent.

The House and Senate also are weighing whether to overhaul odd-numbered municipal elections, such as by getting rid of their primary runoffs or moving these elections to even-numbered years.

URBAN VS. RURAL

North Carolina’s urban-rural divide was a key issue during the 2015 session and should play into House-Senate negotiations this year.

The Senate passed bills capping job-creation grants the state can offer to corporations building in urban areas and redistributing a portion of sales taxes earmarked for local governments that could benefit many rural counties. The House has been less inclined to want to restrain high-growth and urban counties.

WHAT’S NEXT

Senate Republicans are finalizing a two-year state government budget proposal and aim to pass it through the chamber by May 11. The House wants to pass their own version by early June, setting the stage for negotiations for a final budget to present to Cooper before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

Other topics on tap for debate include ending the practice of automatically prosecuting 16- and 17-year-olds charged with crimes as adults and tightening controls on prescription opioids. Narrowing local impact fees on new development and easing billboard restrictions also remain alive.


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