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Where bills go to die

Attentive North Carolinians browsing the North Carolina General Assembly’s website may notice from time to time a status attached to certain bills which indicates that the legislation has been referred to committee. The purpose of doing so is to allow one of the legislature’s 118 committees and subcommittees to study the legislation and its potential impact before recommending (or nor recommending) it for debate.

It is not uncommon for a bill to die in committee. Committees can be a convenient place to pigeonhole a particular bill, avoiding debate and votes on particular issues. One particular committee in the North Carolina Senate, however, appears to be a black hole for legislation.

At present, there are 641 bills in the Rules and Operations of the Senate Committee. The bills presently in committee, sponsored by both Republican and Democratic legislators, cover a wide range of topics, including education, consumer protection, health care and law enforcement.

Of these pieces of legislation, 198 bills in the committee originated in the NC House of Representatives and have already been passed by that legislative body. In some cases, the bills sent from the House have been passed almost unanimously. For one reason or another, however, these bills have ended up in committee, where they will likely remain indefinitely without a vote.

The power to refer a bill to the Rules and Operations Committee of the Senate rests in the hands of one senator — the chairman of the Rules committee. This one individual holds tremendous sway over the flow of legislation in the North Carolina Senate and can single-handedly determine which bills are referred to committee.

Unlike most of the General Assembly’s committees, there is no regular schedule of meetings for the Rules and Operations Committee of the Senate. The group rarely meets and is under no obligation to take up any of the matters referred to the committee.

While committees certainly have their place in the legislative process, the Rules and Operations Committee of the Senate serves no clear purpose other than being a repository for legislation. It is a place where bills go to die. In many cases, the bills pigeonholed in this committee should have been referred to another committee for actual consideration and discussion.

To allow these bills, some of which are solid, well-thought out pieces of legislation, to pile up in committee, as the North Carolina Senate has done, is a disservice to the people of this state. This committee, and all NCGA committees, should be required to meet on a regular basis; if they don’t, then what’s the point?