Answer: Politics (as usual) in North Carolina.
That's not to say the game-fish status bill, House Bill 353, won't be sent from the North Carolina House to the Senate and approved. But with a June 9 "crossover" deadline looming, chances for a public hearing and House vote are slim and none.
HB 353 would halt the commercial netting of spotted sea trout, red drum and striped bass in North Carolina waters. Those fish account for only 2 percent of the annual commercial fishing catch in this state. The final part of HB 353 would set aside $1 million to pay netters who prove through trip tickets and tax returns they would lose money by not being able to net these fish during the next three years.
Here are the possible scenarios:
• With a June 9 "crossover" date, when a bill must move from one body of the legislature to the other in order to be considered in the future, HB 353 would die in committee (for the second-straight year) if a public hearing and House floor vote isn't scheduled before June 9.
• If five Democrats who defected to the Republican side change their minds and decide not to override Gov. Beverly Perdue's possible (but not anticipated) early veto of the legislature's budget bill, all deals might be off. Deciding not to support the Republican budget might open up the bill for a quick hearing, approval in the House and transfer to the Senate.
However, Perdue is almost certain to wait until June 14 – the deadline for her to either issue a veto or allow the budget bill to become law – before she casts her veto. If she waits until June 14, the deadline for HB 353 to move to the Senate will have passed.
• If Perdue signs the budget bill before June 9, she wouldn't need Democrats to jump from the Republican ship and adoption of the budget into law would mean HB 353 still would be stuck in the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development.
• The Commerce and Job Development Committee could ask for further study of the bill before June 9. That would make it safe from "crossover" death and allow it to be considered again in July or next May during the "short session" of the Assembly.
• A fee could be added to the bill - for example, increase the non-resident 10-day saltwater fishing permit from $10 to $20 or require a saltwater stamp to fish recreationally for reds, specks or stripers. Either change would make HB 353 a finance bill. Finance bills aren't required to meet crossover deadlines.
According to legislative sources, Rep. Darrell McCormick (R-Iredell/Surry/Yadkin), the main House sponsor of HB 353, met with other sponsors June 6 to talk about possible strategies. McCormick was unavailable for comment yesterday (June 7).
In effect, passage of HB 353 would make stripers, specks and reds "game fish" that can be caught and kept only by hook-and-line (recreational) anglers.
Southeastern and Gulf Coast states (South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Louisiana) either totally ban netting of these three species, classify them as game fish or permit limited, seasonal netting (Mississippi, Virginia).
North Carolina remains the only state that allows widespread commercial netting of these fish.
However, HB 353 has languished in the House since March 15, when it was introduced by three Republican and one Democrat sponsor and 16 bipartisan co-sponsors.
The bill has become a victim of a political battle between Democrat Perdue and the Republican-dominated General Assembly.
Both groups are playing a game of high-stakes chicken with outcomes of the next election cycle at stake.
"The House Republicans have dropped the ball," legislative source said. "By not doing anything, they're taking a chance this move will help them and hurt Perdue and the Democrats in the next election. Of course, Perdue is hoping the same thing.
"But 800,000 saltwater fishermen aren't gonna like this either way."
Republicans, with a veto-proof majority in the Senate but lacking veto cover in the House, got five Democrat House members to switch sides and vote for the House budget bill.
Political strategists and sources have told North Carolina Sportsman it is possible one of those Democrats (four are from coastal North Carolina where commercial fish-processing houses and netters live) exchanged a budget vote for a promise to keep HB 353 bottled up in the House Committee on Jobs and Commerce. But sources confirmed two of the five Democrats voted for the Republican budget in order to retain no tolls on short ferry runs operating in their districts.
In addition, four of the five Democrats are conservatives who voted for the Republican budget during every stage of the mark-up process in the House.
Ironically, the Republican budget would spend $19.7 billion while Perdue's budget calls for spending $19.9 billion, a difference of $200 million dollars (2 percent).
However, Perdue, once severely down in public-opinion polls, has seen her popularity spike by 2 percent each time she has vetoed a Republican bill. She consistently has said she'd veto the budget bill, and has until June 14 to do so (if she doesn't veto the budget it will become law; if she does veto the bill and the five Democrats don't defect, the budget still will become law).
It's almost certain Perdue, who opposes HB 353, will veto the budget bill.
If she delays in a budget veto, it will be five days after the crossover date, which would mean that without further action, HB 353 would be dead for the second year in a row.
Supporters of the game-fish bill have counted 80 pro votes (of 120 members) in the House and 40 pro votes in the 50-member Senate. Only a three-fifths majority is needed in both chambers to defeat a gubernatorial veto.
But HB 353 easily would become law if it were allowed a hearing and voice vote on the floor of either body.
At its May 2011 meeting, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission member Gene Price proposed the agency support HB 353. Price, the only Republican on the politically-appointed 19-member WRC, failed to get a second.
All inland fish species in the state managed by the WRC are classified as game fish, including speckled trout, red drum and striped bass.