General Assembly session has slim agenda, but is open-ended
By GARY D. ROBERTSON
Jan. 10, 2018
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina General Assembly reconvenes Wednesday for another extra work session in which Republican leaders say they'll act quickly on a slender agenda. Once done, however, they could delay adjournment while redistricting litigation and negotiations over judicial changes take their course.
GOP lawmakers scheduled this session three months ago and approved a wide range of topics that could be considered. But some House and Senate members said their to-do list will be short, at least initially, and could be done in one day.
They plan to act now on whether to confirm some of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's appointments to the state Utilities Commission that have been waiting for months. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger also want some of their own appointees to state boards and panels approved by colleagues.
"We have a couple of other items — loose ends to pick up — and we'll see where we go from there," said Sen. Bill Rabon of Brunswick County, the Senate Rules Committee chairman.
House Republicans want the Senate to go along with legislation directing state health and environment officials to study further unregulated chemicals in drinking water supplies statewide. The bill is another response to the disclosure that a Bladen County plant had been discharging the chemical GenX into the Cape Fear River.
A draft of the water bill unveiled late Tuesday and expected in House committees also would shift $1.3 million unused in a previous state budget so the Department of Environmental Quality can use it to reduce permitting backlogs and increase testing of GenX and other water contaminants. Cooper's administration had requested more funds. Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County — Rabon's House counterpart — said earlier Tuesday he was optimistic lawmakers would find a solution.
Meanwhile, Lewis said he anticipates parliamentary maneuvers that would leave the work session running for the immediate future. He said that would enable legislators to further redraw House and Senate districts if directed by a federal court. A three-judge panel could soon decide whether to accept map changes made by an expert they hired. Republicans argue they should have been given another chance to make alterations before candidate filing begins next month.
The open-ended session also could give legislators a few weeks to try to negotiate new maps for judicial election districts and local prosecutors, versions of which were approved by the House the last time the General Assembly convened in October. Senators examined the maps during a special committee and also have offered a related proposal that would replace head-to-head elections with an appointment system and retention elections.
A new joint House-Senate committee meets for the first time Thursday to look at judicial changes.
"I believe that we'll take action on judicial redistricting before the end of January," Moore predicted to reporters last week. He added, however, that he couldn't say whether House Republicans back a judicial selection overhaul, which also would require a constitutional amendment approved by voters. Senate Republicans have sounded more willing to negotiate longer to gain Democratic support. The next regular work session would begin in mid-May.
Groups opposed to any judicial changes scheduled a rally Wednesday at the Legislative Building. The groups already are running ads accusing Republicans of trying to alter maps and judicial selection to favor GOP candidates.
Republican leaders are unlikely to address worries by school districts and parents that student class-size requirements in kindergarten through third grade next fall will result in layoffs of arts and music teachers and packed upper-grade classrooms. Cooper emphasized the issue Tuesday by visiting a Cary elementary school. Republicans said district spending data designed to help with a solution is still coming in. Berger, the Senate leader, said recently he expected the issue would be addressed in May.