Will Legislature's 'Routine' Session Stay That Way?
The next special session of the General Assembly convenes Thursday at noon. House Speaker Thom Tillis said in an email to members of the House this past week that it will be a skeletal session only, that no votes will be taken except the procedural one to approve the House Journal and to adjourn the session.
Senate Rules Chair Tom Apodaca told WRAL-TV that he didn't expect anything different to happen in Senate.
Most years, that would settle things, and no one would worry much about the legislators coming to town next week.
But this is not most years.
Just a month ago, the Republican-led General Assembly convened one afternoon to discuss a possible override of Gov. Bev Perdue's veto of the Racial Justice Act. Lawmakers ended up adjourning and convening an unannounced session in the middle of the night to override Perdue's veto of a bill that bans teachers from having their dues to the N.C. Association of Educators deducted from their paychecks.
That midnight session not only promoted widespread condemnation across the state but also ruined whatever trust that Democrats had left for Republican legislative leaders after a contentious session last year.
An email from a business lobbyist obtained by N.C. Policy Watch seemed to indicate that lawmakers might discusses changes to the state's unemployment insurance system in the special session.
There have also been rumors of business incentive deals that might come up. Then there are the other gubernatorial vetoes that Republicans have failed to override but kept alive with arcane legislative maneuvers.
Tillis' email seems to put all those rumors to rest, but seeming and being are two different things, especially in the current General Assembly.
The WRAL story also quotes Apodaca saying that "his confidence level that no votes will occur is only as high as it can be when it comes to the business of legislating" and that nothing is ever certain in politics.
That's not very reassuring.
Tillis too seemed to leave the door open to mischief last Friday at a town hall meeting in Asheboro as he was flailing to defend the infamous midnight session.
Tillis said that "on any given day when I am in session, I will use any device available to me ... to override her vetoes."
It's not clear if an email promising no meaningful votes is one of those devices, but don't bet against it. Democrats thought they had Tillis' word in January that only the Racial Justice Act would be discussed.
Regardless of what happens next week, Tillis still has a lot explaining to do. The best solution to all the secrecy and confusion is to cancel the special sessions and not meet again until the regularly scheduled session in May.
Failing that, Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger ought to at least agree to the request made this past week by the N.C. Coalition of Government and Lobbying Reform that the public receive notice of what issues will be discussed and what committees will meet at least five days before a special session convenes.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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