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Thursday September 29th

N.C. General Assembly reconvenes for 'skeletal' sessions before midterm election

<p>The North Carolina General Assembly building in Raleigh, NC.</p>
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The North Carolina General Assembly building in Raleigh, NC.

Both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly reconvened on Sept. 20 for a three-day procedural session amid a backdrop of the upcoming midterm election and debates over Medicaid expansion and student loan forgiveness.

Upon the general session’s adjournment on July 1, a joint resolution scheduled four short sessions before the Nov. 8 election — making the Sept. 20-22 session the first since Aug. 25.

The N.C. General Assembly has not acted on any bills since July 26, according to its website.

Leslie Edwards, the communications director for N.C. Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, said such administrative sessions are typically “skeletal” formalities.

During short sessions, the legislature is only allowed to discuss unfinished business and general orders and can override vetoes on bills from Gov. Roy Cooper.

Edwards said this session could allow Republicans to push through agenda items, as they have a majority in both the state Senate and House of Representatives. 

“It's a procedural move that the Republicans have been taking so that they can leave the door open to come back into session to do whatever it is they want to do on their own time without the governor calling the General Assembly back in for a special session,” Edwards said. 

She said that the atypical nature of the upcoming midterm election makes it unlikely that Republicans will affect the short sessions in any large way.

Edwards said the party that does not control the executive branch has historically had a majority at the legislative level. But in this election cycle, the outcome may not be so certain, she said.

Edwards added that issues such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the increase in gun violence may make it harder for Republicans to gain a supermajority. N.C. Republicans need three more seats in both the state Senate and House to gain a veto-proof supermajority against action by Cooper.

Therefore, she said, the Republican caucus may tread with caution during this session.

Lauren Horsch, spokesperson for state Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Caswell, Rockingham, Stokes, Surry, said in an email that the N.C. Senate will not hold any votes before the session adjourns on Sept. 22. 

No other N.C. Republican leaders responded to The Daily Tar Heel's requests for comment by the time of publication. 

Edwards said majority parties are expected to give minority parties advanced notice that they are moving legislation forward as a matter of courtesy and respect. 

Michael Bitzer, the chair of the Department of Politics at Catawba College, said a special session might be called after the election to discuss Medicaid expansion.

“I don’t think anybody’s expecting anything big to happen in this session before November’s general election,” Bitzer said. 

If Republicans gain a supermajority after the midterm election, there may be an opportunity for Republicans to pass legislation on issues such as mining and fossil fuel deregulation and agribusiness, NC Policy Watch environmental reporter Lisa Sorg said.

"Sometimes they'll try to slip bills in that don't have a lot of traction or public support," she said.

She said the legislature may also choose to “gut and amend" bills, which is when drafts with contentious titles are given nondescript names so they can be more easily ratified.

Furthermore, on Sept. 16, the North Carolina Hospital Association released a statement offering to take on the majority of the cost of expanding Medicaid in the state. 

Bitzer said backlash on the statement from the conservative Carolina Partnership for Reform, Inc. demonstrates the volatility of Medicaid expansion debates. 

For voters, however, the inaction of the legislature may have consequences before the election, Edwards said.

"In other words, it’s now or never,” she said.

The N.C. General Assembly will hold its next short session from Oct. 18 to Oct. 20.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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