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The Daily Tar Heel

Push to Limit Session Length Lacks Support

A bill that would limit the length of state legislative sessions has stalled in the House because it does not have the votes to pass.

Officials from N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry, the largest business group in the state, said Nov. 15 that they were concerned by the length of this year's session, the longest in state history.

As a result, NCCBI has thrown its support behind term limits for the General Assembly. The legislature began meeting at the end of January and is still in session.

The proposed bill, favored by NCCBI, would limit the General Assembly's session to no more than 135 calendar days during odd-numbered years and no more than 60 days in even-numbered years.

Danny Lineberry, spokesman for House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, said the bill has stalled in the House because it does not have enough votes to pass.

He said the bill involves changing the state constitution, which requires a three-fifths majority vote.

Lineberry emphasized that Black has told the business lobbyists, who are pushing legislators to consider the bill, that the House will vote on the bill if the lobbyists can build enough support.

House Speaker Pro Tem Joe Hackney, D-Orange, an opponent of the bill, said he looked at other states with a limited legislative session and found that term limits do not work well.

Hackney said short legislative sessions generally do not give enough time to address issues sufficiently.

"Long sessions are pretty much an aberration (in North Carolina)," Hackney said.

"We have not, as a rule, had unusually long sessions. Generally, sessions end in July and August, and we have had only one other session that went past this period."

Hackney said support for the bill was not divided along party lines.

He said many legislators expressed concern that the bill gives too much power to the presiding officer of either house.

But Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston, said NCCBI's support might bring attention to the bill and make a vote more likely.

NCCBI supported the $3.1 billion higher education bond referendum last year by funding media advertisements and building legislative support.

The bond passed overwhelmingly, with more than 70 percent of voters endorsing it.

UNC received about $500 million for capital projects under the bond referendum.

Hoyle, who has introduced other bills calling for a constitutional amendment to limit session length, said NCCBI's support turn this bill into a "burning issue."

"Now they are going to push it and put heat on some people," Hoyle said.

He said the bills he introduced earlier, which were passed in the Senate, were not considered in the House.

"In the past we did not even get a (vote), but I think we'll get it now," he said.

"If we are going to get this bill going, it's going to be through the efforts of the NCCBI."

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But Ferrel Guillory, director of UNC's Program on Southern Politics, Media and Public Life, said most states have some kind of session limit, and long sessions make it more difficult for people with jobs to serve in the legislature.

Guillory said the real issue in the next couple of years should be organizing sessions so that those who have careers and families can continue to serve.

He added that while this year's state legislative session has been unusually long, the recent trend has been for sessions to lengthen over time.

Guillory said several factors have caused legislative sessions to last longer, including a two-party system with a fragile majority that has difficulty coming to a consensus.

Guillory said he thinks the bill limiting session lengths might have trouble passing because it places more power with the governor.

"It's going to be very difficult for the bill to pass this House."

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