News: CJ Exclusives

2017 session opens Wednesday, but real work starts later

After leaders elected, legislators expected to return home and get to work in late January

The 2017 long session of the General Assembly starts Wednesday, and the first day is likely to be more ceremonial than substantive.

Once members are sworn in and leaders in the House and Senate are elected, lawmakers will head home. They return Jan. 25 to get to work in earnest.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest will gavel the Senate into session at noon Wednesday. At the same time in the House, outgoing Principal Clerk Denise Weeks will call that chamber to order.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, is expected to be re-elected to his fourth term as president pro-tem. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, is expected to be elected to his second term in that chamber.

“I hope the Democrats will recognize that he’s been a good speaker and support him,” said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, and the House Rules Committee chairman. “But they have the right to nominate somebody else.”

Weeks is retiring, so the House will also elect a new principal clerk. James White, the current voting clerk for the House, will receive bipartisan support for that post.

“He’s going to be nominated by Majority Leader John Bell (R-Wayne) and seconded by Minority Leader Darren Jackson (D-Wake),” Lewis said.

Bell said the General Assembly will have many issues to tackle when lawmakers return in a couple of weeks.

Legislative redistricting could be one, although an order by the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday has at least temporarily put that issue on hold.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has challenged the General Assembly to expand Medicaid. The Republican-dominated legislature has eschewed the move.

“A lot of people are wondering why Governor Cooper was so eager to get sworn in so early,” Bell said. “Now we know. Governor Cooper was trying to push Obamacare down your throats.”

Bell said lawmakers will look at how tax reform efforts are panning out and will make sure they’re implemented correctly. He said lawmakers are looking forward to working with the new superintendent of public instruction, Republican Mark Johnson.

The budget is always a big item, and Bell said House members will look forward to seeing Cooper’s and the Senate’s plans.

“Then we’ll fix it all and make it better,” Bell joked in referring to the House budget.