After two weeks off, the General Assembly will return to session on Wednesday to begin work on the two-year budget and other policy matters.
The Long Session opened January 11 with pomp and circumstance, but the legislators took a two-week hiatus before getting to the policy work.
Right out of the gate, though, Republicans leading the legislature are already at odds with newly minted Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper with multiple lawsuits between them.
Cooper is suing over the recent changes to election law and the executive powers of the governor in the state, while House Speaker Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) are suing Cooper over his attempt to have Medicaid expanded in the state, in defiance of state law.
In the General Assembly there are 18 freshman representatives and five freshman senators. Leading the House will be Moore, who is starting his second session as the Speaker of the House.
Serving with Moore in the leadership of that chamber will be House Majority Leader Rep. John Bell (R-Wayne), and Majority Whip Rep. John Hardister (R-Guilford).
Berger will be leading the Senate for the fourth time, joined by Majority Leader Sen. Harry Brown (R-Jones) and Majority Whip Sen. Wesley Meredith (R-Cumberland).
Going into the session, Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in both chambers, controlling 35 of the 50 seats in the Senate and 74 of the 120 seats in the House.
The major task to be completed during the Long Session will be the passage of the budget for the next biennium, beginning July 1.
While most of the negotiations during the budget-writing process will be between the House and Senate, as the House tends to put up a budget that spends a little more compared to the Senate’s more frugal spending plan. Both chambers, however, are likely to be more conservative than the proposed budget Cooper sends to the legislature.
During his opening remarks, Berger doubled down on his past goals to work to build up the state’s financial reserves in preparation for events like Hurricane Matthew and the wildfires that burned in the western part of the state late last year. That runs counter to Cooper’s remarks during the campaignabout wanting to use the reserve funds for other things.
“Let me be clear: we will not, under any circumstances, return to the failed tax and spend policies of the past that gave us the mess we inherited,” Berger said after being unanimously elected to lead the chamber for another term.
Berger also outlined his plan to again increase teacher pay in the state from an average of $50,000 to $55,000 over the 2017-18 session. Cooper has also said he has plans to improve teacher pay in the state, possibly giving the Legislature and Governor’s Mansion some common ground.
In the House side, Moore expressed his commitment to continuing the policies of tax reform to create a more friendly business climate in the state, as well as helping to ease the tax burden on the citizens of North Carolina.
On the minds of many Second Amendment supporters is what Cooper in the Governor’s Mansion will mean for the advancement of gun rights in the state after the increased protections for self defense, concealed carry and other Second Amendment legislation that has been passed in recent years under Republican leadership.
Paul Valone, president of Grass Roots North Carolina, said that he could see things in the state falling either way, with more aggressive Second Amendment legislation coming out of the Republican-led Legislature that is not beholden to the executive branch, or (with the possible 2017 elections looming) the Legislature may step back from possibly polarizing legislation such as gun rights bills.
A court ruling late last year threw 28 legislative districts out, requiring new elections in 2017 for those redrawn districts and whatever districts are affected by redrawing those districts.
Though the U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily halted that election, the issue hasn’t been decided, and some lawmakers may be skittish about controversy.
“They were beholden to McCrory but they are not beholden to Cooper,” Valone said