07/10/08 — Senate won't vote on plans to change annexing

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Senate won't vote on plans to change annexing

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 10, 2008 1:46 PM

Despite the state House approving an involuntary annexation moratorium by a wide margin last week, the Senate leadership has indicated that the bill will not come up for a floor vote before the General Assembly adjourns in the next few weeks.

And for residents of the pending Goldsboro annexation area of Buck Swamp, that's disappointing news. But Good Neighbors United, a group of residents opposing the city's annexation of their property, President Bob Pleasants said the group isn't giving up yet. He was on his way this morning to speak with Senators about getting the bill to the Senate.

"We don't feel like its over. We are still making efforts to get that bill on the Senate floor," Pleasants said.

It's also disappointing news for Rep. Louis Pate Jr., R-Wayne, who worked on the House study committee that drafted the proposed moratorium that would have prohibited cities from taking any land-grabbing action from August 31 to May 31, while suspending those processes already under way -- likely including Goldsboro's.

The goal, Pate explained, was to give the Legislature time to decide what permanent changes might be necessary.

"I think we were acting under the assumption they would bring it up provided enough senators would sign onto the bill," he said. "And I thought they had 30 senators so far. So yes, I'm disappointed. If that large of a percentage of the Senate is saying they want to look at the bill, I would think they could take it up.

"I thought we were dealing in good faith with them. I don't know what it takes."

However, Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, explained that under the Senate's rules for the short session, the House bill simply does not qualify for consideration.

"The bills that can be considered are severely restricted," he said. "The short session is just to get the budget approved."

Schorr Johnson, communication director for Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight, D-Dare, explained that to be considered by the Senate during the short session, bills must either have money attached to them, have passed one chamber or the other before the crossover date during the long session, or be the result of either a Senate or joint study committee.

The annexation moratorium was the result of a House study committee.

"I would say that the House study committee spoke to a lot of folks on this issue and heard from a lot of folks, and they just thought they needed to respond in some way to what they were hearing," said Bill Holmes, communication director for House Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Orange. "I don't even know that the members of the House study committee even thought about (the Senate's) rules.

"We don't feel this is an us-against-them situation. They just felt the House had to do something to let folks know they were listening."

And so to Sen. John Kerr, D-Wayne, it seems as though the House's action was purely politically motivated and not done in the most responsible manner.

"It's a political thing. I don't even know how the House got on it. I personally have some concerns about this thing. I think (the people) opposing annexation are wrong," he said. "But this is just a Senate rule. It could come up next year, but it is not eligible for the short session."

Sen. Fred Smith, R-Johnston, noted, however, that if Rand, the chairman of the Senate rules committee where the bill is currently languishing, really wanted the matter addressed, he could make it happen.

"Sen. Rand can make the rules to do anything he wants to do," Smith said. "I've never seen him have a rule stop him. I've been here six years, and anytime Sen. Rand has wanted something to come up, he's found a way to bring it up.

"He just didn't want it to come up."

It's a charge that Rand doesn't necessarily deny, though he steadfastly maintained that the House bill violates the set Senate rules.

"That (bending the rules) is always an option, but I don't think that will happen," Rand said.

Instead, he said, the plan currently is to create a Senate or possibly a joint study committee to work with the state League of Municipalities and state Association of County Commissioners to take another look at the issue before the next long session in 2009.

"We will do a significant study, look at the whole issue of annexation and then decide what needs to be done."

For Goldsboro and the affected county residents, though, that means they are only waiting for their current legal standoff to be resolved by the state Supreme Court.

"We will just have to follow the law, and whatever decision the (state) Supreme Court makes we will abide by," City Manager Joe Huffman said. "We are just going to stay the course. Either way the city will have done what we needed to do to comply with the law."

-- Staff Writer Anessa Myers contributed to this report.