05/15/07 — Number of bills on rise in Raleigh

View Archive

Number of bills on rise in Raleigh

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 15, 2007 1:46 PM


News-Argus Staff Writer

With more than 50 bills being entered into the state House rolls Wednesday -- the last deadline for introducing legislation -- the total number of bills seeing some sort of action from the General Assembly this year has skyrocketed to more than 3,600.

It's an amount that has some county officials alarmed that their needs might go overlooked.

But local legislators say those worries are unfounded.

What is true, though, is that they are faced with an unprecedented number of bills.

This year, the state legislative staff had more than 4,018 drafting requests. In 2005, the last long session, there were 3,214. Of those, only 2,860 actually became bills that saw any action.

Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, said he remembers in his first term, back in 1995, House Speaker Harold Brubaker only allowed 10 bills per member.

"He was of the opinion that nobody had more than 10 good ideas," Pate said. "And I'm not so sure that's not true. We've got enough good laws on the books, and I'm not sure we have to keep tweaking them. It also got people working together and caused some coalitions to be formed and the bills got in better shape to start with.

"Now there are bills out there I have no idea what's in them. I know that doesn't sound good, but it's honest. There's no way you can be familiar with the details of 3,000 bills and there's some that will never even get a hearing."

But it's all just part of the process -- albeit one that has grown much larger this year, sapid Sen. John Kerr, D-Wayne.

"Bills are put in at the request of constituents," he said. "There are more people involved in the process than ever before, and everybody's organized. They all bring their wants and desires to you."

The key, though -- and where many of his colleagues fail -- is not responding to every request, he added.

"I don't do all those bills. I think the best thing is to pick two to three issues and try to know something about them," he said. "But some people just file bills to give themselves a chance to write back to the local papers and say, 'I sponsored 30 bills,' but they probably don't know a darn thing they say."

And that is what has some county commissioners a little worried.

"It's a tremendous number," commissioner Andy Anderson said. "And I am concerned about it.

"You've got that many bills and those legislators trying to spend some time in their communities, travel back and forth, attend meetings and they've got maybe one person on their staff, there's no way they can look at all these.

"I think they're doing the best they can under the situation they're in, but it concerns me that there's too much on their plates to handle and I think things do slip through the cracks."

Freshman Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, said he doesn't think the number of bills will end up hurting the counties.

"It is a lot of bills, but the county commissioners have the county commissioner organization (the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners) that lobbies for them and a lot of people up here are ex-city councilmen or county commissioners, so they understand local government," he said. "If it's a bad bill, word gets around that it's a bad bill."

Still, he continued, there has been a learning curve.

"It's an interesting process. You really have to follow your bills along. The most frustrating part to me is not having the time to study the bills as I would like," he said. "It's almost impossible to do the research and the due diligence that I would like, so you have to depend on lobbyists and your colleagues on other committees.

"The bills that come through my committee, I'm familiar with, but the others, I'm not so much."

Fortunately, he added, he's found that most lobbyists and others will give him the information that he needs to make a decision.

"The lobbyists, for the most part, are honest and fair. I've not found anybody, so far, to tell me anything wrong," Braxton said. "It's probably not the best system, but it's probably the best we can get."