by: Jenna Deery Updated:RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)gislation designed to clean up coal ash ponds at Duke Energy power plants in North Carolina is now heading to final negotiations after the Senate rejected the House version of the bill.
The Senate voted unanimously Monday to send competing legislation from both chambers to a conference committee to forge a compromise. The Senate bill's sponsor said last week he had some issues with the House version.
A final measure would have to be voted on again by both chambers before it heads to Gov. Pat McCrory's desk.
Both versions of the cleanup measure require all pits be closed in 15 years. The House would give state regulators leeway on deadlines if Duke seeks delays. The legislation arose from the massive coal ash spill at Duke's Eden plant in February.
NC budget talks remain slow on education, Medicaid
GARY D. ROBERTSON, Associated Press
North Carolina budget talks puttered along Monday as House Republicans held a public one-sided negotiations meeting and Gov. Pat McCrory tried to keep pressure on senators to trim their teacher pay proposal.
The House budget negotiators met publicly in a committee room to talk about their differences with the Senate on key education and Medicaid positions. Their Senate counterparts, who already said they wouldn't attend a similar meeting last Friday, weren't at this meeting, either.
The two chambers wanted to get budget adjustments to McCrory's desk two weeks ago, when the new fiscal year began July 1, but the discussions have bogged down.
With the name placards of senators perched in front of empty seats, the House members spent an hour reiterating how the two sides disagree on teacher pay, teacher assistants and Medicaid eligibility. They said the Senate's latest offer could still eliminate jobs for thousands of teacher assistants in second- and third-grade classrooms and eliminate some services for tens of thousands of Medicaid recipients.
"We stayed focused just on the facts and what the implications are for a number of these decisions," said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, senior co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Dollar said they had rescheduled Friday's meeting until Monday to a time more convenient for Senate negotiators, who were invited.
McCrory threatened last week to veto any plan that contains the Senate's proposal to raise teacher pay by more than 11 percent on average because it would result in deep cuts elsewhere. He's now backing the House's teacher pay proposal, which offers average 6 percent raises and the first step in McCrory's initiative to develop differentiated pay plans for veteran and high-quality instructors.
"I want a long term teacher compensation plan, not just a one-year political hit that looks good for the next election," McCrory told WFAE radio in Charlotte on Monday. "I want a plan that lasts for a decade or two, that is dependable, reliable and makes sense on which teachers and rewarded and, frankly, which ones aren't."
Senate leaders contend they have offered many concessions to the House members, including easing up on Medicaid reserves to deal with potential shortfalls this year and removing from the 11 percent pay raise a requirement that teachers must give up their job-protection career status.
Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said he didn't receive an invitation to attend Monday's meeting but said he and other Senate Republicans are working on a new offer for release very soon. He declined to describe the proposed teacher pay increase but said "it's a good one. I'd take it."
According to Dollar, the House and Senate remain about $177.5 million apart on net reductions to public education and the Department of Health and Human Services and about $100 million apart on compensation for state employees. For rank-and-file employees, the House has offered $1,000 raises. The Senate has offered $809 raises.
House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said all chamber members have been asked to return for Wednesday's floor session after most have been away from Raleigh for nearly two weeks. Tillis said the full House may vote on bills unrelated to the budget.