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'I'm just a bill': The basics of how NC legislative bills become law

North Carolina General Assembly building in Raleigh on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020.

As the North Carolina General Assembly's legislative session continues and begins voting, The Daily Tar Heel has created a guide for how laws are proposed and passed in the North Carolina state legislature. 

The legislative process starts with a proposal, which can come from a variety of sources, including special interest groups, state agencies or legislators. From there, a legislator can send a request to the General Assembly’s bill-drafting division.

“They have various teams based on the subject that can do some of the research that may be necessary and then put it into the format of a bill,” Rep. Renée Price (D-Caswell, Orange) said.

Christine Wunsche, director of the UNC School of Government’s Legislative Reporting Services, said there is no requirement that any type of bill originates in a particular chamber. 

Though any member of the N.C. House of Representatives or Senate can propose a bill, each House member is limited to proposing 15 bills for each two-year legislative session. Wunsche said the House typically produces more bills than the Senate.

"We see more in the House, but that's because there are more House members," she said. 

Once a bill has been proposed, it is assigned to a committee. The chairperson of the committee decides which bills to put on the agenda for voting.

The chairperson can consider a variety of factors, but there are no set rules on which bills can and cannot go up for a vote, Wunsche said.

If a committee decides to put a bill up for a vote, it must receive a favorable vote in both the N.C. House of Representatives and Senate in order to pass.

If both chambers pass the bill, it will next head to the governor, who can veto it, sign it into law or take no action. If the governor does not take any action, the bill automatically becomes law after 10 days.

One exception to this rule is for local bills, which are generally bills that affect 15 counties or fewer. These are passed solely by the legislature and do not need to go to the governor.

Wunsche said bills affecting smaller areas are common in the state legislature because of the way local governments are set up and that these bills do not require approval from the governor.

“A local government might be seeking an exception to a law, or they might be asking for special permission to do something,” she said.

Exceptions to a governor's veto can also be redistricting bills or amendments to the state constitution, Wunsche said.

According to Wunsche, understanding the state legislative process is imperative because people often focus on what is happening in the federal government without considering the importance of state laws.

N.C. Legislative Librarian Anthony Aycock said although the federal government is larger, most lawmaking activity that affects the average person occurs at the state level. Still, Aycock said he gets many calls from citizens seeking information about programs for which the state is not responsible.

“I've answered calls from people who want to complain about the president. Well, we have no authority over the president,” Aycock said. “We have nothing to do with the president. Social security benefits — well, that’s a federal issue. We have nothing to do with that.”

Wunsche said the General Assembly's website has a wealth of information available to the public, including flowcharts and databases for bills that are being considered by the state legislature.

"You can actually watch the House when they're in session," Wunsche said. "You can listen to both chambers: the House and the Senate. And then our committee, the committee rooms in the General Assembly building also have audio and video."

@DTHCityState | 

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