N.C. lawmakers look to session end after tax deal

The Associated Press

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RALEIGH — With a tax overhaul heading to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk, Senate Republicans want to hurry along legislative activity with an eye toward adjourning the six-month-long session. But House counterparts aren’t in as big a rush to do it.

Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson and Senate Rules Committee chairman, announced from the floor Wednesday that debate for some bills would occur during a rare Saturday session. A frustrated Apodaca said later he hoped that House Republicans would stay around too and press ahead to end the session with summer now in full swing.

“We’ve been here since this January. Can we not finish this up?” Apodaca told reporters. “Let’s get this done.”

House rules chairman Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said later that he sees no reason to work this week beyond Thursday, as normal. Budget negotiators can remain in Raleigh to work toward finalizing a two-year spending plan that should have been enacted July 1, said Moore, who is hopeful that this year’s session can still end sometime next week.

With the House ready to go home for a few days, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said it was up in the air whether the full Senate would remain in Raleigh for the weekend and beyond. “We have indicated a willingness and an intent to stay here until (the session) is done.”

GOP leaders want to pass voter identification legislation, stronger abortion rules and a regulatory overhaul package in addition to the budget before the final adjournment.

Apodaca said it was possible that the Senate’s version of a voter ID bill and separate election legislation would be heard Thursday in the Senate Rules Committee. Senators and House members were still working out details of the election bill. One version of a voter ID bill already passed the House nearly three months ago.

The budget talks were stunted while tax negotiators decided on a plan that helped set revenue projections for the next two years.

The House and Senate gave final approval to the tax package Wednesday. House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, wasn’t at the Legislative Building for the final vote, instead spending the day in Washington, D.C. as part of his campaign for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination next year. Moore presided over House debate for several hours.

Tillis campaign consultant Paul Shumaker said the House speaker attended “meet and greet” functions in Washington designed to build his campaign network and lay the groundwork for fundraising. He also met with other U.S. senators, Shumaker said.

The North Carolina Democratic Party jumped on his absence. “Once again, Speaker Thom Tillis is putting his political career ahead of working for North Carolina,” party spokesman Ben Ray said.

Shumaker defended the speaker’s time away from Raleigh, saying Tillis “made arrangements” to keep moving legislation through the chamber and that he was returning to work Wednesday evening. Tillis “is hopeful the Senate will now agree to move the budget process forward.”

Berger, who is pondering his own U.S. Senate bid, said he was postponing a trip to California next week for a meeting put on by the Republican State Leadership Conference as the press for the session’s end neared.