RALEIGH — Time will tell whether there’s some yet unknown backstory or whether as described on the floor of the N.C. House, a compromise worked out on a controversial government reorganization bill suffered a fatal technical flaw.
Regardless of the reasons, the compromise on Senate Bill 10, which was closely watched by environmental groups because it would have shaken up key state oversight commissions, was rejected by the House yesterday 116-0 and its fate for now is uncertain.
The unusual outcome for a conference report came after House sponsors said they had mistakenly signed off on language eliminating some administrative judges that also would eliminate the jobs of two new McCrory Administration appointees. Both Republican and Democratic leaders called for a vote against the bill.
After the vote, House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said that the bill would not come back during the session, but when pressed by members on what would happen to it, Tillis noted that he has the option of attempting further negotiations with the N.C. Senate aimed at another compromise. But Senate leaders said late yesterday that they were not inclined to renegotiate.
For now environmental advocates are breathing a little easier.
“We’re pleased it’s not moving forward at this time,” said Mary Maclean Asbill of the Southern Environmental Law Center.
There was plenty to worry about in the bill, she said.
The compromise was worked out behind closed doors by a conference committee after the two legislative chambers passed different versions of the bill. The committee version would have immediately ended the terms of all 13 members of the state’s Environmental Management Commission and set up a new 15 member commission with nine seats appointed by the governor and three each by the House and Senate.
The conference report, which was passed earlier in the day by the Senate, included a House backed plan for a slower rate of change at the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission. The conference report reduces the size of the commission from 15 to 13 and all but four seats would turn over on June 30. The Coastal Resources Advisory Council would be reduced from 45 to 20 members and areas of specific expertise would be eliminated. Members would be required to either reside or own real property to qualify for both boards.
An earlier version of the bill would have ended the terms of all currently serving members on June 30, but House members, including Rep. Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover, objected saying the CRC needed to retain institutional expertise. Catlin said before the vote yesterday that he was pleased the conference committee had maintained the House’s position on the CRC.
Another new addition in the conference report was specific language on climate change that echoed last year’s controversial sea-level rise legislation. The new mandate, tucked into a portion of the bill that ends an already dormant legislative commission on climate change, would have barred any state agency from spending money “for the development, promotion, dissemination, or implementation of a statewide climate change action plan or adaptation strategy” unless first approved by the legislature.
Molly Diggins, state director of the N.C. Sierra Club, said it’s hard to tell what will happen next. Portions of the bill could end up in other legislation or a new compromise could be worked out, she said. But with the clock ticking and appointments to some of the boards and commissions due near the end of the session, the window is closing.
“The more time passes, the harder it is to justify cleaning house,” Diggins said.