It appears that Greensboro will be getting a long awaited hotel on South Elm Street, but it wouldn’t be happening if not for the work of state Rep. Jon Hardister and state Sen. Trudy Wade, in the final hours of the legislative session in June.
The last days the state legislature is in session are always a little crazy, and June 29 was no different.
The bill Hardister and Wade pushed through in the final minutes of the session is relatively simple. State building codes required a wall between the portions of a planned parking garage built over property owned by the city and over property owned by the hotel. Since it is all to be one large parking garage building, a wall through the middle wouldn’t have worked.
The bill gives Greensboro an exception to this particular regulation in the statewide building code, and in the same bill is an exception for airports, so they don’t have to build storm water retention ponds. This is particularly needed by the Piedmont Triad International Airport as it expands.
Both items are simple and straight forward and should not have been a problem to pass. The building code issue is a unique situation and there were no protestors rallying in favor of a wall through the middle of a parking deck. Nor was anyone demanding that airports build more ponds to attract more geese to interfere with planes taking off and landing.
But those items were placed in a larger regulation reform bill, which is where a whole host of different revisions are placed, and that bill got stalled.
City Attorney Tom Carruthers had been to Raleigh to explain to the committee Greensboro’s need for the exception to the state building code and the lobbyists who work for the City of Greensboro had been working on it as well, but the larger bill got stalled because of other provisions.
Hardister said that on Thursday, June 29, the day the legislature was scheduled to adjourn, he and Wade realized the regulation reform bill was not going to pass and they needed a bill where they could strip out what was there and replace it with the two items for Greensboro.
Hardister said they got help from the city’s lobbyists and found Senate Bill 8, which was no longer needed because the provisions in it had been placed in another bill.
It sounds confusing because it is, but in the legislature there can be many different bills introduced on the same issue. In some cases, similar bills are introduced in the House and the Senate but only one is passed by both chambers, leaving the other one to die a natural death or be resurrected and given a new life, which is what Hardister and Wade did for SB8.
Hardister said House Finance Chair Rep. Jason Saine had said stripping the bill was fine, but he wanted to add a provision that private schools that received state scholarship funding had to have background checks for their employees. This was reportedly at the request of private schools that already do background checks but are accused of not doing background checks because it isn’t required by state law as it is for public schools.
Hardister said they didn’t have any problems with that provision in a bill or a provision about the Lincolnton airport, so a bill about the building code and airport in Greensboro suddenly had another airport as well as an education component, and the situation was starting to get confusing.
The bill passed in the House unanimously, but Sen. Chad Barefoot didn’t like the provision about private schools, so the bill got hung up in the Senate. Hardister said they had started with SB8 about 7:30 p.m. and by this time it was close to midnight, which is when the session was supposed to adjourn.
Hardister said he told Barefoot that if he wanted to remove the private school portion of the bill that was fine with the House. So that’s what happened.
The Senate voted not to accept the bill the House had already passed, which meant the bill had to go to a conference committee to work out the differences; then the revised bill would have to go back to the House and Senate for passage.
In this case, the differences had already been worked out, but the conference committee still had to be appointed and the bill passed again by the House and Senate.
Hardister said that he knew he was running out of time and he kept checking to see if the Senate members of the conference committee had been appointed so they could go through the procedure to get the bill that no one objected to passed.
Hardister said that finally he went over to the Senate and found Jim Blaine, the chief of staff of President Pro Tem of the Senate Phil Berger. Hardister explained to Blaine that this bill was time sensitive and Blaine passed a note to Berger who immediately announced the conference committee members.
Hardister then went back to the House to await the formal message from the Senate about the conference committee members, which came a couple minutes later. The conference committee met (Wade said the meeting lasted “about two seconds”), everyone agreed it was a fine bill with the private school provision removed and the conference committee members all signed off on the revised bill.
The bill passed the House and Senate at about 1:30 a.m., and a few minutes later the legislature adjourned.
So Hardister and Wade cut it about as close as possible, but they got it done. If Hardister hadn’t gone over to the Senate Chambers to find out what was holding up the appointment of the conference committee, the bill would most likely have still been sitting on someone’s desk when the session adjourned.
Hardister said, “I was very gratified that we got it done because it’s so important to Greensboro. This will result in an investment of $80 million to $100 million in downtown Greensboro. And I have to thank Sen. Wade who worked really hard in the Senate to get it through.”
So that’s how a bill becomes a law. It isn’t pretty and it doesn’t always seem to make much sense, but in the end Greensboro will get a new Westin Hotel downtown and hopefully the airport will have fewer geese.