Another session came to a close late Friday night after legislators gave final approval to the state budget and made some changes to HB 2, but left many other measures on the table unfinished.
The Senate and House gaveled out the 10-week Short Session just before midnight, ending the 2015-16 session as the new fiscal year began.
The $22.34 billion spending plan was the largest task to be completed during the Short Session, which the House closed out with a 91-22 vote on the spending measure. The bill saw wide bipartisan support in the House and the governor is expected to sign the budget this week.
The budget represents a 2.8 percent spending increase and gives raises to teachers and other state employees as well.
The budget boosts average teacher salaries to $50,186 next school year and to nearly $55,000 within three years, moving average teacher pay above $50,000 for the first time in state history.
Under the budget, teachers will get pay raises averaging 4.7 percent, and state employees will get raises averaging 1.5 percent.
The budget also includes a 1.6 percent cost-of-living increase for state retirees.
The budget includes the targeted raises the Senate was seeking, including experienced-based step increases to valuable teachers, assistant principals, principals, State Highway Patrol troopers, clerks and magistrates and correctional officers and provides a 4.5 percent pay raise to assistant district attorneys, public defenders and other judicial branch workers.
Providing salary increases for high-performing employees has been a goal of conservatives in the past and with this budget the state is moving closer to that goal.
In education the budget includes provisions to help make college more affordable by lowering tuition to $1,000 per year for in-state students and $5,000 per year for out-of-state students at Elizabeth City State University, University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Western Carolina University.
The budget also promises there will be no in-state tuition increases for a standard undergraduate college term at all North Carolina public universities as well as freezing student fees at all North Carolina public universities at current levels. The budget also limits future increases to student fees to no more than 3 percent per academic year.
The move to lower state tuition originally included some of the state’s historically black colleges and universities, but pushback from critics who claimed the degrees would be devalued killed that part of the proposal.
After repeated calls for the full repeal of HB 2, including multiple protests and state boycotts by other state and local governments as well as some businesses, the only change to come to HB 2 is one requested by Gov. Pat McCrory.
The Legislature approved changes to HB 2 late Friday that allows for people to bring claims for discrimination in state court and not just federal courts. The caveat is that claims must be made within one year of the alleged offense.
The change passed in an 82-18 vote in the House and a 26-14 vote in the Senate.
Some opponents of HB 2 voted for the measure, though most of them said that a vote for the change did not signal approval for the law itself.
Barring the need for another emergency session, the Legislature is not expected to return to Raleigh until early 2017 to open the Long Session. Then legislators whose bills were not passed will have to start the process all over again.
Measures that Failed to Pass
Included in the list of things that didn’t happen are bills to put three Constitutional amendments before voters in November, a plan to shift Asheville council elections to districts as opposed to at-large seats, and a number of government oversight rollback bills to reduce regulation on business in the state.
The bill to put the amendments up for a vote, HB 3, would have let voters choose to put a 5.5 percent cap on the state income tax, put limits on eminent domain and affirm the right to hunt and fish in the state.
However, the measure was placed in the House Rules Committee, which is generally a graveyard for legislation, and that proved to be the case.
During the shuffling between committee meetings and holding session, a few other significant bills died, including bills to require two courses of study be available for high school math, requirements for background checks on prospective teachers, and more.
Other measures that were left unfinished were bills to cancel the I-77 toll lane contract, and a measure to limit the sale of Kratom, an herb from the coffee family, to those under 18 while the effects of the herbal drug are tested.
Another Senate bill that the House left untouched was a bill to give teeth to an existing state law requiring local governments to work with the federal governments on immigration violation investigations.
The bill would have penalized the “sanctuary cities” by withholding Powell Bill and school construction funds if the cities and counties are stonewalling federal immigration authorities.