The N.C. General Assembly will return to Raleigh and begin its 2017 session at noon Wednesday, but don’t expect legislators to propose or vote on legislation for at least two weeks.
That’s because Wednesday’s activities are mostly ceremonial. Legislators will be sworn in for new terms. They’ll then elect their leaders, which is a formality because the Republican majority has already decided to back House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger for another term. And they will adopt the rules they’ll follow for the next two years.
Expect plenty of pomp and circumstance, with color guards and special musical guests singing the national anthem and “God Bless America.”
Legislators will then adjourn and won’t get down to business until they return on Jan. 25. The two-week break is set in the law that governs the legislature’s schedule.
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During the January break, lawmakers often hold fundraisers. That’s because they can’t accept campaign contributions from political action committees once they’re in session, a restriction that doesn’t apply between Thursday and Jan. 24.
One item to watch for Wednesday will likely appear in the Senate rules: A provision establishing details of a Senate confirmation process for Gov. Roy Cooper’s Cabinet appointments.
For decades, the Senate hasn’t held confirmation hearings and votes on the governor’s Cabinet picks, but the requirement was added during a December special session aimed at limiting the power of Cooper, a Democrat. Cooper criticized the move but so far hasn’t taken legal action challenging the confirmation requirement.
Berger’s office declined on Tuesday to provide a draft version of the Senate rules document outlining the process, but Senate leaders have said it could resemble confirmation hearings the chamber holds for positions like the State Bureau of Investigation director.
For those appointments, a Senate committee holds a hearing in which the appointee speaks about his or her qualifications and answers questions from senators. The committee then votes on the nomination before the full Senate takes a vote.
Wednesday’s festivities also give freshman legislators a chance to meet their colleagues. The General Assembly will welcome five new senators – all Republicans – as well as 19 new House members, seven Democrats and 12 Republicans.