RALEIGH — Late last week, it seemed like the only thing Republican House and Senate leaders could agree on was to get doused with cold water as part of the Ice Bucket Challenge social media craze raising money to fight Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Albeit separately, both House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger were photographed in street clothes getting drenched — and cold — for the cause. The chilliness didn’t stop there.
In case you didn’t know, the House and Senate, both controlled by strong Republican majorities, haven’t always seen eye to eye this session. That’s probably an understatement, and the discord again was apparent late last week, when the chambers couldn’t agree on what last-minute bills to vote through or even how to adjourn for the session.
By Friday afternoon, the inability of lawmakers to close out the session led conservative lobbyist Becki Gray to Tweet to the General Assembly: “let’s just admit we have a problem and get into therapy.”
When lawmakers arrived in the capital in mid-May, they planned to finish their business by the Fourth of July. About six weeks after that optimistic date, the session continues this week. Legislators have been unable to come to a consensus on how Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds should be cleaned up, a priority coming into the session after the massive spill of coal ash into the Dan River in early February. It now appears that legislation will be considered in November or wait until the next General Assembly is sworn in next year.
Disagreements over how much of a salary boost to give teachers and how to pay for the raises meant the House and Senate didn’t pass a budget until five weeks after the 2014-15 budget year began. It passed in early August and Gov. Pat McCrory quickly signed it. The fiscal year started July 1.
Last Thursday and Friday, the General Assembly was expected to tie up loose ends, pass a couple of last-minute bills and go home to reunite with their families and campaign for the November elections. That didn’t happen either.
Still in legislative limbo are a series of economic incentives measures requested by Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker to give her staff of economic developers more tools to land new companies. Also undecided are a controversial proposal to allow counties across the state to hold sales tax referenda and a budget fix that local school districts want to help them pay teacher assistants.
And, of course, adjournment. The Senate late last week passed three different resolutions to send lawmakers home, then prodded the House to pick one and pass it. One of them would end the two-year session for good. A second would adjourn the session until mid-November, when lawmakers could come back to consider Medicaid reform. The third resolution would allow the Legislature to come back after the elections in November and take up Medicaid reform, coal ash legislation and other bills.
Friday afternoon, Berger took to Twitter to urge the House to take the third option and come back in November to address Medicaid reform and coal ash mitigation. But Tillis said the House wasn’t planning to return to Raleigh later this year at all.
And the disagreement — and session — continues.