Time & Money: Challenges on Jones Street

Recently, our lobbying team met with a client to discuss an idea for a bill.  A gap in state law is leaving financial despair for some families and this employee organization wants to fix the problem.    

In a legislative session in which a quarter-million dollar budget gap is a challenge for all interest groups, our clients correctly pointed out that a non-appropriation bill may be a lighter load than budget ideas. 

Yes, no, and maybe.  

In lobbying the General Assembly, the current deficit is a challenge for all spending bills, however, for policy bills, which is what this organization wants to advance, time is the challenge.  

Let me explain.

If you have legislative business before the General Assembly, chances are  May 6-7 is noted on your calendar with the words BLOCK THESE DAYS.

It’s an important couple days at the General Assembly, one of the most important days, in fact, because legislators, lobbyists, and staffers are working nearly around the clock in order to keep policy bills alive, or drive a dagger through bills unwanted.  

Either way, a bill’s fate is determined by what happens, or doesn't happen, by May 7.  

The date is set by the leaders in both the Senate and House and it serves as the first cut date by which policy bills must pass one chamber in order to survive.  Policy bills sitting in their originating chamber on May 8 are marked ineligible to advance in the biennium and are put on ice for two years barring any legislative maneuvers legislators and lobbyists can finagle, which I will cover in a future NFB.  

Note, this is not a new practice or at all uncommon.  It’s pretty standard for most state legislatures and actually serves a useful purpose in weeding out thousands and thousands of bills filed by legislators while streamlining an agenda and keeping a legislative body focused, mainly on adjournment.  

So how difficult is it to get a bill passed in the General Assembly?  Well, it’s like an act of Congress, really.  

Passage of a chamber usually includes at least one committee hearing before passing two chamber floor votes, called second and third reading.  This gives the bill at least three opportunities to be killed or changed.  If it survives, it advances to the next stage.  

Step 1:  Bill filed 

Step 2:  Bill referred to a committee(s) (First Reading)

Step 3:  Bill advances to a chamber floor for second reading with favorable vote in committee(s) 

Step 4:  Bill voted on for a third reading vote and advances to the other chamber for a similar process if favorable on 3rd Reading.  

It’s important to remember that most bills have opposition at every step of the way, with lobbyists and legislators working for and against the bill.  The four steps above give these detractors an opportunity to vote down the bill or have it amended.  

At the direction of our clients, our team is working with key legislators to fill in the gap in state law that is unfairly and unknowingly hurting working families in North Carolina.  And while the fix doesn’t cost money, the clock is ticking ever so loudly.