North Carolina legislators restart session for maps, vetoes
By GARY D. ROBERTSON
Aug. 18, 2017
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina General Assembly quietly reconvened its work session Friday after a two-week hiatus, preparing for several days of partisan scuffles over redistricting, possible veto overrides and discharges of a chemical into a river.
The House and Senate opened sparsely-attended floor meetings at midday and adjourned minutes later until Tuesday. No votes were taken.
Lawmakers, who last met during a one-day session Aug. 3, have returned chiefly to redraw district boundaries for the 2018 elections before a court-mandated Sept. 1 deadline. Federal judges struck down nearly 30 districts from the 2011 redistricting as illegal racial gerrymanders, but boundaries for several dozen seats now must be reworked.
Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County, senior chairman of the House redistricting committee, said he anticipated House and Senate district proposals would be released by late Sunday, in advance of a statewide public hearing Tuesday. Committee votes on boundaries would be held Thursday, with the first floor votes Aug. 25, according to Lewis. Parliamentary and constitutional requirements mean the maps wouldn't be given final approval until the following week, he said.
While Republicans control both chambers and can draw the boundaries to their liking, the maps will face the review of a three-judge panel.
Democrats and their allies also are sure to oppose many boundaries and they've already complained about criteria that committees agreed to in drawing the maps. In particular, the remap rules prevent the use of racial data about voters but allow for past election results — a key projector of a district's political leanings. Lewis has said other legal requirements will mean some pairs of incumbents will have to be drawn into the same district.
Legislators also must decide what to do about six vetoes issued by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper since late June. Four vetoes had been issued before the one-day session but lawmakers then delayed acting on them. Cooper's written objections to two more bills he vetoed this week from the Aug. 3 session were read aloud Friday.
Five vetoed bills originated in the House. Lewis said House Speaker Tim Moore hasn't made final decisions on whether override votes would occur next week.
A General Assembly environmental panel also will travel Wednesday to Wilmington for a meeting to investigate the discharge of the chemical GenX from a Chemours Co. plant in Bladen County into the Cape Fear River.
Senate Republicans have been unhappy with the Cooper administration for what they call incomplete or vague answers to questions they sent to two Cabinet secretaries about state and federal investigations related to the discharge. The Cabinet leaders, who are seeking $2.6 million in emergency funds from the legislature to beef up water quality programs, say 70 water quality positions have been eliminated since 2013. GOP budgets have made targeted reductions within the Department of Environmental Quality.
Lewis told reporters that lawmakers would not act this month on any proposed constitutional amendments or on attempts to redraw district boundaries for local judgeships. He said legislators could reconvene in late September.