Another extra legislative session officially began at noon Friday, but don't expect any votes until Thursday, House Rules Chairman David Lewis told the N.C. Insider.
Redistricting will be the focus for the next week, but legislators might also consider bills vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper and bills that were in conference committee negotiations, Lewis said Thursday. Other unfinished legislative business will likely wait until next year's short session or another extra session this fall that could happen in late September or early October. That session could be needed to deal with any further vetoes and any further action on redistricting required by courts, Lewis explained.
Lewis, who co-chairs the Redistricting Committee, says proposed legislative maps will be released by Sunday – if not sooner. "We're not quite ready to release them," he said. "We're going to make sure they're out for the public to see them before the hearing." The legislature's Redistricting Committee will hold a public hearing on the maps Tuesday, hearing comments made at seven locations across the state. A site in Beaufort was added to the initial location list on Thursday after some groups complained there weren't enough hearing sites in eastern North Carolina.
The Redistricting Committee is set to vote on the maps on Thursday, with the first House vote expected on Friday, Aug. 25. The final House vote will likely be Monday, Aug. 28, and the Senate will vote in the following days to meet a Sept. 1 deadline ordered by federal judges. Some want to see the new maps sooner. The advocacy group Common Cause called on legislators Thursday to "release the new legislative maps now so that citizens have sufficient time to review the redrawn districts in preparation for the public hearing."
Lewis again refuted claims that the maps were drawn weeks or months ago. "If that were the case, I would have worked a lot less hours this week," he said. "We've only had the criteria for a week. I think getting it done in the amount of time that we've done is truly remarkable. We're working as hard as we can to draw the maps."
As the map-drawing process enters its final days, Lewis said he doesn't know how the new districts will change the partisan make-up of the General Assembly. But he said several incumbents will find themselves double-bunked with colleagues because of county grouping clusters already approved. "We're doing everything we can to work with the criteria the committee adopted and try to avoid pairing incumbents," he said, but "there will be a couple of exemptions across the state."
Lewis said he doesn't yet know which of the six bills vetoed by Cooper will have override votes during the session. The list includes the "garbage juice" landfill regulation bill, the nonprofit "game nights" bill, the newspaper legal notices bill, legislation dealing with credit property insurance, and two regulatory bills passed during the early August session.
Two other regulatory bills could surface during this month's session. House Bill 162, titled "Amend Administrative Procedure Laws," passed the Senate in early August after emerging from a conference committee process. But it faced objections in the House and didn't get a vote before legislators adjourned. Some Democrats opposed that bill because of a provision that would ban state agencies from making regulations that would cost more than $100 million over five years to companies and people affected, and give the legislature a chance to review any regulations with total costs over $10 million. Rep. Jonathan Jordan, an Ashe County Republican, chaired the conference committee and said the bill didn't get a vote simply because it "did not meet the time limit" in the one-day session. He says he's not sure if it will be on the agenda this month.
House Bill 56, which dealt with environmental laws, nearly emerged from the conference committee process in early August, but no compromise bill was released. Lewis chaired that conference committee and said he didn't have an update.
Lewis said proposed constitutional amendments won't be on the agenda until the fall session or next year's session, including a potential voter ID constitutional amendment. Other proposed constitutional amendments range from upholding the right to hunt and fish in the state to prohibiting employers from requiring employees to join a labor organization as a condition of employment. And as for a push to impeach Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, "it's not on anybody's agenda for immediate consideration," Lewis said.
Another piece of unfinished business is Rep. Justin Burr's bill to redraw the state's judicial districts. While it's seemingly stalled, it could come back in future sessions. Burr, a Stanly County Republican, in June told media outlets the bill would be taken up again when the General Assembly returned for extra sessions in the summer. Burr could not be reached for comment this week about the bill.