With one week to go, it’s anyone’s guess what the end of session will bring

·4 min read

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A week away from North Carolina’s legislators’ self-imposed deadline to complete all business, it’s still anyone’s guess what they’ll manage to come to an agreement on.

The session we’re currently in the tail-end of may be brief, but GOP leaders in the state House and Senate have packed a lot into this last chance to pass legislation before a recess that will most likely last until the beginning of next year.

At the top of the list has been an elusive budget bill that Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said last week they were optimistic about unveiling imminently, with the support of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

That seems less likely now, however, after a couple of surprising developments in the House that have stalled negotiations.

Sports betting a no-go

First, the House voted down the controversial but bipartisan bill that would have legalized online sports betting in North Carolina. The bill narrowly passed the Senate almost a year ago, and had since moved nowhere in the House, until it received a series of committee hearings this week.

But in a new development, bill sponsors introduced a number of revisions to the existing bill that would prohibit gambling on amateur and college sports, and raise the levels of taxes and fees imposed on gambling companies, to increase revenue for the state. Instead of proposing these changes as amendments to the original bill, sponsors put them in a separate bill.

When both bills reached the House floor on Wednesday night, one of them was rejected (the main bill that would legalize sports betting), and one was passed (the new bill containing the revisions, which is effectively meaningless without the main bill also passing). The fate of both bills was decided by the margin of a single vote, Will Doran reported.

“I know for sure that at least half of us have changed our minds once, twice or even three times, maybe even during the course of this debate,” said Rep. Deb Butler, a Wilmington Democrat, who voted against both bills.

An impasse over Medicaid expansion

The second surprise also came on Wednesday evening, when Moore, who had previously said that the House would not take up the Medicaid expansion bill the Senate passed earlier this month, announced a separate bill forming an oversight committee and a more drawn-out process with a vote on Medicaid expansion, not next week, but more than six months from now.

Moore’s announcement caused leaders in both parties to regroup and reconsider how to move forward.

On Thursday, Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincolnton Republican who was a top proponent of the failed sports betting bill, and is the chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, told reporters that the developments with his bill and the Medicaid shake-up could very well result in lawmakers going home without passing a budget bill.

“We have a two-year budget. I think the House position, at least as chairman of Appropriations, my position all along has been we’re OK if we don’t get a budget this year. There’s nothing that I have to have immediately, and I think the state will still be in a good place,” Saine said.

So where does that leave things? Berger and Moore held meetings with each other on Thursday, and will likely meet again over the weekend, Dawn Vaughan reported. If they reach an agreement, they’ll meet with Cooper.

If all that goes to plan, that would leave only a couple of days for the budget to move through both chambers.

More from the team

There are five out LGBTQ lawmakers in the General Assembly. Our politics intern Kyle Ingram spoke with them at length to understand what it’s like to find a balance when the political becomes personal.

As legislative leaders continue negotiations over another budget bill, state workers are pushing for Democrats and Republicans to deliver on higher raises, Dawn Vaughan reported.

The U.S. Supreme Court handed GOP leaders in the state legislature a victory on Thursday, ruling that Phil Berger and Tim Moore can intervene in a challenge over the constitutionality of North Carolina’s voter ID law. Will Doran explains what this means for the case going forward.

Thom Tillis, one of four senators who helped craft a bipartisan gun safety bill that is moving forward in the Senate, defended himself and the legislation after facing a significant backlash from members of his own party, Danielle Battaglia reports.

Thanks for reading. See you next week. In the meantime, tune into our stories, our tweets and our Under the Dome podcast for more developments.

— By Avi Bajpai, reporter for The News & Observer. Email me at abajpai@newsobserver.com.

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