ROLEY, NC (AP) — The North Carolina General Assembly returned to Raleigh on Wednesday after its usual two-week recess in January and busied itself with passing legislation — filing bills on several topics familiar to veteran legislators.
The House of Representatives and the Senate held midday sessions, marking the start of the biennial legislative session. On January 11, the legislature held one-day organizational sessions to re-elect House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Leader Phil Berger. Committees are not expected to start hearing measures until at least next week.
This year, Republicans leading both houses are expected to face key 2022 challenges that have not been resolved. This includes the adoption of the Medicaid expansion, the licensing of sports gambling, and the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.
The medical marijuana measure, identical to the one passed by the Senate last year, was filed Wednesday morning in the House.
Sen. Bill Rabon of Brunswick County, one of the bill’s top sponsors and chairman of the influential rules committee, said Wednesday he expects the bill to be put forward early this year’s business period.
The House of Representatives did not consider a marijuana bill last year, but Speaker Tim Moore told reporters Wednesday that there is some support in the House Republican caucus for such a law, especially if the rules involve doctors and tighter controls.
“I tell you that there is a chance that this could happen,” he said.
Other legislation on the remaining issues, filed on Wednesday, includes a House bill that would require North Carolina sheriffs to learn about the immigration status of inmates in their prisons and make efforts to apprehend those federal agents want to take. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper successfully vetoed legislation establishing similar directives in 2019 and 2022.
And Rep. Hugh Blackwell, a Burke County Republican, filed a bill similar to the one Cooper also vetoed last year. This will transfer the management of two public boarding schools for the deaf and one school for the blind from the State Board of Education to new boards of trustees.
Compared to the past four years, it should be harder for Cooper to maintain his vetoes in the upcoming session after the Republicans won a veto-proof majority in the Senate and are one seat short of a similar majority in the House of Representatives.
His efforts to keep Democrats united in the House of Representatives will be tested if Republicans push new restrictions on abortion after the US Supreme Court struck down federal protection against abortion last June.
Cooper, a strong supporter of abortion rights, said he would consider any bill to ban abortions after less than 20 weeks’ gestation, which is the current law, extreme.
Some Republicans, including Berger, are interested in pushing back the ban by 12 or 13 weeks, with new exemptions for rape and incest. Others would be interested in extending the ban by about six weeks.
Moore said members of the GOP caucus in the House of Representatives were polled domestically and “it looks like there’s probably a consensus position somewhere in between the extremes.” filed on Wednesday.
House and Senate Democrats scheduled a press conference Thursday to promote their own legislation, filed Wednesday, that codified the old Supreme Court standards on access to abortion stemming from the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which was overturned. The chances of hearing such bills in the General Assembly, controlled by the Republican Party, are slim.
The adoption of the biennial state budget will also be one of the main tasks of the legislature for this year’s working period, which usually ends in early summer.