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.
House Republican leadership hasn’t changed much since last session, with one exception: Rep. Sarah Stevens is replacing Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam as speaker pro tem.
Stam – an active voice for conservatives on social issues – didn’t run for re-election last year, and Stevens says she’s had her eye on the job for years. The speaker pro tem presides over House sessions when the speaker isn’t present, and it’s one of the chamber’s top leadership posts.
Stevens, 56, is an attorney from Mount Airy – the town that inspired Andy Griffith’s Mayberry – who’s served in the House since 2009. Last session, she chaired the Children, Youth and Families and Judiciary III committees.
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Stevens said she envisions herself having more of a behind-the-scenes role. “If I do this role as well as I can, nobody from the outside may see it,” she said. “I see it as helping every member be the leader that they want.”
That includes Democrats, she added, saying she wants to “focus more on our unity than our disunity. ... Eighty to 85 percent of what comes through the legislature is bipartisan.”
To stress that point, Stevens asked House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson to second her nomination for speaker pro tem during the legislature’s organizational session. He agreed.
Stevens’ election to the post means a woman will hold one of the House’s top four leadership positions for the first time since Republicans took control in 2011.
She says her perspective could be helpful on certain issues like abortion and women’s health. In 2015, she sponsored a bill to ban the donation of fetal remains for medical research unless a natural miscarriage has occurred and ban state family-planning funding for groups that provide abortions.
“It’s a lot more effective for a woman to be speaking on that,” she said.