North Carolina legislature nears end to annual meeting

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina General Assembly worked into early Friday morning to wrap up the year’s regular work session, with behind-the-scenes negotiations between House and Senate Republicans over energy, the environment and other topics delaying their exit.

The House and Senate held floor meetings that began at midday Thursday and continued off and on until midnight and afterward. They disposed of dozens of bills, sending most measures either to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper or to special committees to try to work out compromises between competing versions of the legislation.

One of the key fights appeared to be resolved early Friday when negotiators merged an overhaul of purchasing rules for renewable energy — approved earlier by the House — with an 18-month moratorium on state permits for wind energy facilities, which stemmed from the Senate’s version.

The Senate had previously wanted a 3½-year pause to protect eastern North Carolina military bases. Renewable energy groups were worried it would derail two pending wind farm projects. The two chambers approved the measure.

But many deadlocks that surfaced earlier in the week did not get settled immediately. GOP legislators apparently will have more time to find agreement — they’ve unveiled a schedule that will bring them back to Raleigh in early August to consider a lot of pending legislation and any vetoes from Cooper. They will also come back after that to begin redrawing electoral districts, some of which will be mandated by a federal court order.

“Everybody wants their bill to pass at the end of session. Some will, some just won’t,” House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters Thursday night. “If we don’t tonight, we’re back in August, we’re back in September. So it’s not that big of a deal.”

House Republicans also weighed whether to debate and vote on measures favored by the conservative wing of their caucus. One measure calling for a convention to consider amendments to the U.S. Constitution narrowly failed, but got revived for later in the year through a parliamentary procedure.

And the chamber won’t consider a resolution to create a special committee to investigate Democratic Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who is accused by a GOP legislator of allowing hundreds of non-U.S. citizens to become notaries. Marshall said she’s done nothing wrong.

By midnight Thursday, more than a dozen pieces of legislation had yet to emerge from their negotiating committees.

“I’m sure there will be presents under our tree from the other side of the building,” Senate leader Phil Berger said before his chamber went into recess for more private talks with House colleagues.

House and Senate Republicans had to work through differences in their version of at least three environmental laws, including one that would repeal a plastic bag ban on the Outer Banks. And legislators are trying to determine how much to lower extremely high thresholds for new political parties and unaffiliated candidates to get on the ballot.

But lawmakers on Thursday did agree to legislation expanding Sunday hunting and making clear nonprofits can hold casino nights. A bill allowing school boards to catch and fine motorists who drive past school buses — with stop arm flashing to unload or pick up children — also headed to Cooper.

The session, which began in early January, has been marked by bitter relations between the GOP-controlled legislature and the new governor. Cooper, the former attorney general, has fought Republican leaders at nearly every turn, going to court to block legislation that has eroded his powers.

Results have been mixed for Cooper in court. But thanks to the rulings of a three-judge panel, Republicans were able to carry out a new law they passed two weeks before he took office that subjected his Cabinet secretaries to Senate confirmation. All eight of Cooper’s secretaries were confirmed unanimously this year.

Cooper has issued five vetoes during the session. But Republicans overrode all of them, including one this week on the two-year state budget bill, which largely takes effect Saturday. The budget directed spending reductions in Cooper’s office and his successor as attorney general, Democrat Josh Stein.

Cooper and Republican leaders did agree in late March to approve a partial repeal of House Bill 2, which limited non-discrimination protections for LGBT people and directed which public bathrooms transgender people could use.