General Assembly ends, but lawmakers to return soon, often

Published 2:29 pm Friday, June 30, 2017

RALEIGH — The North Carolina General Assembly completed early Friday its primary work session for the year, but not before Republican legislators rolled out a plan to return soon and often to deal with unfinished business, including the replacement of electoral maps.

The House closed the 5½-month session shortly after 2 a.m., about a half-hour after the Senate gaveled out its members. Legislators had been working since Thursday morning, shuffling favored bills between the two chambers.

More than 100 measures approved in the session’s final days this week will wind up on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk.

In their final hours of work Thursday night and early Friday, the legislature approved bills expanding a 2015 law allowing Sunday hunting with guns, affirming nonprofits and some private companies can hold casino nights and allowing school boards to issue civil penalties against motorists who are caught on stop-arm cameras illegally passing a stopped school bus.

House and Senate Republicans also reached a compromise involving a detailed bill that changes how Duke Energy purchases solar and biomass electricity. The utility estimates the change will save $850 million over 10 years in what it would pay for renewable energy, and should help undergird solar energy growth.

But the final product contained a moratorium on state permits for wind energy facilities sought by the Senate in the name of protecting air space used by eastern North Carolina military bases for training missions. The 18-month pause is less than the 3½ years originally demanded by the Senate. Renewable energy groups have been worried two pending wind farm projects could be scuttled.

Cooper has until late July to sign the bills, veto them or let them become law without his signature.

With vetoes in mind — Cooper already has issued five of them since taking office in January — the GOP-controlled General Assembly unveiled a schedule before leaving town that has them returning in early August to consider overriding additional vetoes.

But they also left open the ability in August to revisit key measures that got stuck in negotiations, particularly on environmental regulation, between the House and Senate.

The General Assembly’s schedule also includes legislators returning in early September. The schedule says the meeting time could be used to consider revising nearly 30 legislative districts that federal courts have thrown out as illegal racial gerrymanders. But the redistricting could be moved up or back depending on what a three-judge panel directs legislators to do, especially if they order special elections in 2017.

Republicans, who prefer to wait until holding elections under new maps for the first time in 2018, said a remapping session would begin no later than mid-November.

Adjournment occurred after House Republicans decided they wouldn’t debate or vote on a last-minute resolution to create a committee that would investigate Democratic Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and could consider impeachment articles. GOP Rep. Chris Millis of Pender County has accused Marshall of breaking the law by allowing hundreds of people living in the U.S. illegally to become notaries. Marshall has denied any wrongdoing and considers the accusations politically motivated.

The session, which began in early January, was marked by bitter relations between the GOP-controlled legislature and the new governor. Cooper, the former attorney general, has fought Republican leaders at nearly every turn, going to court to block legislation that has eroded his powers. The legislature, meanwhile has overridden, all of his vetoes, including the two-year state budget.