State lawmakers return Wednesday to start their work for 2017, their first session sharing Raleigh with the Cooper administration. The News & Observer takes a look at four people and five issues that will matter this year. Get to know Dale Folwell, Darren Jackson, Bill Rabon and Sarah Stevens. Find out what the General Assembly could consider on taxes, election law, teacher and principal pay, House Bill 2 and Hurricane Matthew relief. And learn more about how the legislative process works.
In odd-numbered years like this one, the N.C. General Assembly convenes for its “long session.” Job No. 1: to approve a two-year budget.
How long will it go? A budget is supposed to be in place by the July 1 start of the new fiscal year. Budget talks dragged on for months during the last long session in 2015, which became the longest session in more than a decade. The legislature didn’t adjourn until September. Lawmakers have some dates to circle on their calendars, including April 27. That’s the day non-financial proposals must be approved by one chamber – House bills by the House, Senate bills by the Senate – to stay alive for the rest of session.
Who’s in charge? The leadership of the Republican-dominated legislature remains the same: Phil Berger of Rockingham County as Senate president pro tem and Tim Moore of Cleveland County as House speaker. The November election maintained Republicans’ large majorities in the House and Senate, which will allow them to override vetoes from the state’s new Democratic governor, Roy Cooper – as long as the GOP sticks together. The House has 120 members: 74 Republicans and 46 Democrats. The Senate has 50 members, split 35-15 in favor of Republicans.
Didn’t the session already start? Lawmakers convened for ceremonial and organizational purposes on a single day earlier this month, then departed for two weeks as spelled out in state law. Even before that, they convened for three special sessions in December. The work of filing and considering legislation for the long session starts at noon Wednesday.
How does that happen? Here’s the typical process:
▪ A lawmaker with an idea for a law introduces it as a bill.
▪ The House speaker directs a House bill to a committee; the Senate Rules chairman does the same for a Senate bill.
▪ If the committee approves the bill, it’s sent to the floor of the House or Senate. Changes to the bill can happen in committee or on the floor.
▪ On the floor, the full House or Senate must vote twice to approve it before the bill is sent to the other chamber, where the process repeats itself.
▪ If the second chamber makes changes, the bill must return to the first chamber to either approve the changes or send the bill to House-Senate negotiations to try to reconcile differences between the two versions. Any negotiated version that emerges must be approved by both the House and Senate.
▪ That’s the last word for laws on local matters, but most bills with statewide effects must go to the governor. A bill vetoed by the governor returns to the legislature, which can override his veto if it can summon three-fifths majorities in both the House and Senate.
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Gov. Roy Cooper: governor.nc.gov/contact