RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina General Assembly returned to Raleigh on Wednesday after its usual two-week January break and turned to the business of legislating — filing bills on several topics familiar to veteran lawmakers.
The House and Senate held midday floor meetings, marking when the two-year legislative session begins in earnest. The legislature held one-day organizational sessions on Jan. 11 to reelect House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger. Committees aren’t expected to begin hearing measures until at least next week.
Republicans in charge of both chambers are expected to grapple this year with key issues from 2022 that didn't get resolved. That includes whether to accept Medicaid expansion, license sports gambling and legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
A medical marijuana measure identical to the one that passed the Senate last year was filed Wednesday morning in the chamber.
Sen. Bill Rabon of Brunswick County, one of the bill's chief sponsors and chairman of the powerful rules committee, said Wednesday he anticipated the bill would advance early in this year's work period.
The House didn't take up the marijuana bill last year, but Speaker Tim Moore told reporters on Wednesday that there's some support within the chamber's Republican caucus for such legislation, particularly if the regulations involve physicians and tight controls.
“I tell you there's a chance it may happen," he said.
Other legislation on leftover issues filed Wednesday include a House bill that demands North Carolina sheriffs learn the immigration status of their jails’ inmates and make an effort to hold those who federal agents want to pick up. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper successfully vetoed legislation creating similar directives in 2019 and 2022.
And Rep. Hugh Blackwell, a Burke County Republican, filed a bill similar to legislation also vetoed by Cooper last year. It would shift governance of the state’s two residential schools for the deaf and one for the blind away from the State Board of Education, and toward new trustee boards.
Compared to the past four years, Cooper should have a harder time keeping his vetoes upheld during the upcoming session after Republicans gained a veto-proof majority in the Senate and are one seat short of the same majority in the House.
His efforts to keep House Democrats united will be tested should Republicans advance new abortion restrictions since the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated federal abortion protections last June.
Cooper, a strong abortion-rights supporter, said he'd consider extreme any bill that would ban abortion after less than 20 weeks of pregnancy, which is the current law.
Some Republicans — Berger included — are interested in moving the ban to 12 or 13 weeks, with new exceptions for rape and incest. Others would be interested in extending the ban beyond roughly six weeks.
Moore said that House GOP caucus members have been surveyed internally and “it seems that there’s probably a consensus position somewhere between the extremes." He said any legislation that emerges will be in line with what Senate Republicans want. No abortion bills authored by Republicans were filed Wednesday.
House and Senate Democrats scheduled a Thursday news conference to promote their own legislation filed Wednesday that would codify previous Supreme Court standards on abortion access stemming from the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that was overturned. Chances for a hearing on such bills are slim in the GOP-controlled General Assembly.
Passing a two-year state government budget also will be one of the legislature's chief tasks for this year's work period, which usually ends in early summer.
Gary D. Robertson, The Associated Press