Leftover issues are expected to abound at the North Carolina session

RALEIGH, NC (AP) – North Carolina’s legislature book is cleared every two years when the next batch of 170 lawmakers are sworn in. The General Assembly starts from scratch, submits bills and moves them forward.

But the legislative session, which starts in earnest Wednesday, should be full of familiar issues from 2022 onwards — whether to approve the Medicaid expansionmedical marijuana and sports betting including – for debates and votes during this year’s main working period, which is expected to last into early summer.

Action on often redrawn district maps and another way to implement photo voter identification are likely, although appellate judges could step in and restore Republican legislation that they recently struck down.

And with the GOP now holding a veto-proof majority in the 50-seat Senate after November’s election and just one seat short of the 120-seat House of Representatives, Republicans could once again pass looser gun laws and stricter immigration policies with hopes of finally overriding Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes.

These items come on top of the passage of a state budget, which is typically the biggest lift of the year for lawmakers.

“It will be quick. There are many issues that we are going to discuss that have been carried over,” said GOP Rep. Donny Lambeth, one of the House’s chief budget authors. “I’m sure there will be a few new articles, but many of us who were there have been discussing these topics for years.”

New points should include proposed abortion restrictions that are much broader than narrow changes that Cooper successfully vetoed in 2019 and 2021. Access to abortion is expected to be one of the most contentious issues in state buildings across the country this year after the US Supreme Court scrapped federal protections against abortion last June.

North Carolina bans almost all abortions after 20 weeks, with narrow exceptions for urgent medical emergencies. House Speaker Tim Moore hinted this month that some support is emerging in his chamber for a proposal backed by Senate Speaker Phil Berger Ban abortions after the first trimester – 12 or 13 weeks gestation – with new exceptions for rape and incest.

Berger and Moore, re-elected chamber leaders at the organizational meeting of the General Assembly on January 11, warned that the discussions are early.

Moore has said repeatedly that he believes Republicans now have a “working supermajority,” with several Democrats poised to vote with the GOP on many fronts. But finding unanimity on abortion among Republicans will be a challenge, let alone a House Democrat willing to stand up to Cooper, a strong pro-choice supporter.

The conservative North Carolina Values ​​Coalition wants lawmakers to ban abortions once an ultrasound first detects fetal heart activity — usually around six weeks after fertilization and before many patients know they’re pregnant.

“We believe a heartbeat law is already a compromise because we believe life begins at conception,” said Coalition Executive Director Tami Fitzgerald, and “because we believe it will save more lives.”

Another bill with cultural flashpoints related to education and gender identity that is likely to resurface is a “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” which passed the Senate last year but failed to get a vote in the House of Representatives. Promoted by GOP senators as a toolkit to help parents monitor their children’s education and health care, the bill included provisions excluding teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in K-3 curricula and requiring schools to to warn the parents about a name change or pronoun used for their child.

Berger said he suspects there will be “good support to move forward with that again.” Critics of the measure say it unnecessarily interferes with lessons and instills fear in transgender schoolchildren who lack supportive parents.

Ann Webb, a political attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, called the anti-abortion legislation and other “highly politicized” issues pushed by the GOP “legislation fueled by hate and misunderstanding.”

Provisional house rules for the operation of the Chamber, and likely to become permanent, a previous two-day notification erased before a veto override vote could be attempted. This means Republicans could try to override themselves if they spot Democratic peers even a short distance from the chamber floor.

House Minority Speaker Robert Reives, who strongly criticized the rule change and wants a repeal notice to be retained, said he wants lawmakers to pass measures that increase public spending on education, promote affordable housing, give workers tax breaks and expand Medicaid.

GOP leaders and Cooper have made dramatic strides over the past year to an agreement to extend Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of low-income adults through the 2010 Federal Health Care Act.

The House and Senate passed separate expansion bills by a wide margin. Negotiations fell through, however, when Senate Republicans insisted that any definitive action to relax the rules was needed so there would be more healthcare professionals and medical facilities to treat more Medicaid applicants. House Republicans said they would not consider expansions and changes in access to health care in a catch-all measure.

A bill to create a regulatory framework to legalize marijuana for medical purposes passed the Senate last spring but has remained idle in the House of Representatives. And legislation authorizing sports betting and licensing providers passed the Senate but were defeated in the House by Social Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

With sales up about 25% in each chamber this year, it will take time for new lawmakers to familiarize themselves with longstanding issues. But Lambeth said there is still a feeling in the Legislative Building that now is the time to act.

“I look at a lot of these as problems that it’s time to take up and solve one way or another,” he said, “either a yes or a no.”


Hannah Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that brings journalists into local newsrooms to cover undercover topics.


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