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Guns, voter ID remain as NC lawmakers near adjourn

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House and Senate Republicans have seen tempers flare and frustrations grow as the session continued several weeks beyond projections. House and Senate Republicans have seen tempers flare and frustrations grow as the session continued several weeks beyond projections.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

The North Carolina General Assembly aims to wind down its 2013 session this coming week — perhaps just in time, too.

House and Senate Republicans, like Democratic leaders once in charge before them, have seen tempers flare and frustrations grow as the session continued several weeks beyond projections, causing one GOP senator to complain last week he was "sick of the House." GOP Gov. Pat McCrory's legislative wish list and the weekly "Moral Monday" protests critical of Republican policies are adding to the tension.

The legislative "process is meant to be contentious, because I think that pushes better bills out," said House Majority Whip Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, adding, "we should have to fight to get the good bills through."

More disorder awaits the session's final days as lawmakers and lobbyists attempt to negotiate agreements on major outstanding legislation and find ways to kill bills — or at least put them off until the next regularly scheduled session in May. The legislature is likely to work from morning until evening, and maybe even after midnight, to close up shop, probably no sooner than Thursday.

"It's chaos — unorganized chaos," Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said.

Harold Brubaker, who served 35 years in the House, including four as the Republican speaker in 1990s, said there's no route around the disarray. "It will look like a flurry of activity, with at some points no rhyme or reason, but that's part of getting the session to wind down," said Brubaker, who is now a lobbyist watching bills for his clients. "It's always been this way."

Negotiators already have worked out some of this year's most significant pieces of legislation.

Republicans in both chambers worked together to pass a milestone tax overhaul package last week that McCrory is expected to sign. They also are nearing passage of a two-year state budget that was supposed to be in place as the fiscal year began July 1.

Months ago Republicans muscled through a bill that accelerated the repayment of $2.5 billion owed the federal government to help pay state unemployment insurance benefits that required benefit cuts and in turn canceled federal emergency benefits for 70,000 unemployed workers this month. The GOP legislators and McCrory also decided not to expand Medicaid to cover hundreds of thousands of low-income residents.

Although the session, which began in earnest Jan. 30, has been marked by Republican legislation labeled divisive by several hundred protesters, the activity conceals scores of bipartisan bills that have passed and get approved annually.

"This session has had many ebbs and flows," said Rep. Rodney Moore, D-Mecklenburg. "We've had some good legislation and we've had some not so good legislation."

There remained competing House and Senate versions of bills on additional contentious topics entering the final days.

They include legislation requiring citizens to show photo identification before they can vote in person and expanding the public locations where concealed weapons permit holders can carry or store their guns. The two chambers disagree on which kinds of photo ID cards would be acceptable. The Senate version of the gun bill also repeals requiring someone to get a license through a local sheriff to buy any handgun, which the House opposes.

Brubaker said some of the toughest issues will be settled in the coming days in one-on-one meetings with House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger. "There's some you win and some you lose," Brubaker said.

The future of placing additional rules on abortion and clinics that offer the procedure is uncertain although McCrory has said he will sign into law a measure now in the Senate's hands. Apodaca said last week that he didn't know what would happen with the legislation. McCrory's prominence as chief executive, informal alliance with House Republicans on several key issues and his veto stamp have given him leverage.

McCrory told a real estate trade group last week he would be actively seeking to try to influence bills in the coming days, either by working to remove provisions he didn't like or stopping them all together.

"There are a lot of bills that I don't talk publicly about because I try to kill the bills before they're passed," McCrory told the crowd. Pointing to a Senate bill that would have loosened siting restrictions on landfills that he doesn't like, McCrory said, "I think it's dying a slow death."

But the Senate has leverage, too. They've held up in committee some of McCrory's legislative priorities, such as bills that would rewrite state employee personnel rules and allow his Commerce Department to begin shifting functions to a private nonprofit organization.

Democrats, holding 60 of the legislature's 170 seats, can't stop legislation alone, such as the photo voter ID they oppose strongly.

Moore said he's trying to find what he called "wedges" in issues where several Republicans can be persuaded to take a Democratic position, thus changing bills.

"My goal is to make sure our voices are heard," Moore said.

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