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Daily Journal: General Assembly prepares for long, hot summer as budget battle looms

JLF’s Becki Gray writes for Carolina Journal‘s Daily Journal:

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for the folks on Jones Street. After a week of subcommittee meetings, full appropriation consideration, input from the finance side, two rare Friday sessions, and two full days of debate, on Friday, May 3, the House passed its $23.9 billion General Fund budget proposal.

On May 1, as the House was negotiating the budget, the N.C. Association of Educators teachers’ union marched on the state capital. Union organizers, a few thousand teachers, and Gov. Roy Cooper demanded $6 billion in additional spending for Medicaid expansion, a statewide $15 minimum wage, 5% pay increase for teachers, more health professionals in the schools, and expanded health benefits for retirees. You can check social media for photos of a few teachers meeting with legislators from their districts. You’ll also find photos of signs and shirts of the protesters. Warning: Some of them may be offensive and not suitable for children.

Crossover, that self-imposed deadline the General Assembly gives itself to pass legislation that must “cross over” to the other chamber to remain eligible for consideration during the two-year biennium, was set for May 9. Although the session started in January, legislators, like the rest of us, tend to be procrastinators and historically have left the majority of the work until the days leading up to the crossover deadline. All of us who spend most of our waking hours in the legislative complex had girded ourselves for the usual and expected late hours, frantic committee meetings, surprise last-minute substitute bill language and plenty of heated debate.

But something weird happened this year. There were no sessions late into the night. Committee meetings were noticed with adequate time to prepare and attend and with expanded audio access, observers weren’t left in the halls to only catch snippets of debate.

The system was more transparent and open and again with expanded online access, bill language was easy to find and follow along. Stakeholders met throughout the week to work out differences and the public got ample opportunity to speak whenever it wanted.

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