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Friday December 9th

NC General Assembly holds special session to discuss amendments

The N.C. General Assembly is convening today to hold its second special session since it adjourned in mid-June.

Legislators are expected to limit debate to three constitutional amendments that would define marriage within the state constitution, reorganize the state Board of Education and place term limits on leaders in both of the assembly’s chambers.

If these amendments receive support from at least three-fifths of the House of Representatives and Senate, they will be placed on the ballot in November so voters can make the final decision.

Though legislators said this session will focus on the three constitutional amendments, it’s possible for members to discuss anything contained in the adjournment resolution from the end of the normal session in mid-June.

“Everything that has been vetoed is still on the docket and will be in our veto garage,” said Jordan Shaw, communications director for Speaker of the House Thom Tillis.

“We can pull them out if we need to.”

The Republican-led assembly also held a special session in July to discuss redistricting.

Legislators don’t anticipate this special session to last longer than three days, Shaw said.

“We are looking to be efficient, do our work and then get out of town,” he said.

Because legislators focused on passing the 2011-2012 state budget during their long session, which lasted from January until mid-June, they decided to hold this special session to address constitutional amendments, Shaw said.

Mitch Kokai, communications director for the conservative John Locke Foundation, said the assembly placed limits on the types of items it will address to guarantee the session’s brevity.

“They have set themselves up for a greater opportunity to focus on the task at hand and finish their work relatively quickly,” Kokai said in an email.

But Chris Fitzsimon, executive director of N.C. Policy Watch, a left-leaning organization, said he didn’t see the need for the special session.

“It’s smarter to handle these proposals during the normal legislative process,” Fitzsimon said.

“It’s frustrating because we don’t know specifically what will come up,” he said. “We have sort of been left in the dark.”

The most contentious bill expected to come up during this session is the proposed amendment to define marriage within the state constitution.

“Advocates on both sides of the issue have held press conferences and rallies,” Kokai said. “Some have been targeted for ad campaigns to sway their votes.”

Both Fitzsimon and Kokai said the proposed constitutional amendment to limit the terms of legislative leaders has not been a source of partisan divide.

“Those pushing this measure believe it’s a good thing to limit any legislator’s ability to amass too much power,” Kokai said.

If these proposed constitutional amendments do not receive enough votes during the special session to be placed on the November ballot, they still might be brought up again in the spring session.

“Nothing is dead until the chambers adjourn for the session next summer,” Fitzsimon said.

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