Opinion: The Woodshed

General Assembly session now expected to last deep into fall

Members of the North Carolina General Assembly will take a couple of extra days off over the Labor Day weekend. No votes are planned before September 8. However, the long session has now touched nine different months, with no end in sight.

As of Friday, September 3, the North Carolina House will have conducted business on 120 “legislative days” and 126
“legislative days” for the state Senate. The first day of the session was January 13, 2021.

The N. C. House and Senate have yet to agree to a two-year spending proposal. The state has been running on autopilot based on last year’s budget since July 1.

Currently, the General Assembly meets in regular session, or the “long session,” beginning in January of each odd-numbered year and adjourns to reconvene the following even-numbered year for what is called the “short session.”

Though there is no limit on the length of any session, the long session typically lasts for 6 months and the “short session” typically lasts for 6 weeks. Beginning in 1973-1974 the General Assembly began meeting every year.

Prior to 1957, the General Assembly convened in January at a time fixed by the state constitution. From 1957 through 1967, sessions convened in February. The assembly now convenes on the third Wednesday after the second Monday in January after the November election.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, North Carolina is one of only 11 states that does not place a limit on the length of regular sessions. In the remaining 39, the limits are set by the constitution, statute, chamber rule, or indirect method.

For example, Virginia’s Constitution limits its assembly to meeting for 30 days in the odd year and 60 in the even year.

N.C.’s Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, told reporters on September 1 that budget negotiations with the House would likely take all of September.

“I think we’ve narrowed down the items we need to agree to in order to start in earnest hammering out final provisions in the budget, Sen. Berger told the News and Observer.  “I am hopeful we will be in a position early next week to have our subcommittees working to try to come up with a conference report.”

Working on the state budget throughout September charts the General Assembly on a crash course with redistricting deadlines.

The Senate and House redistricting committees announced 13 upcoming public hearings, beginning just after Labor Day.

The General Assembly should continue to wind down non-budget legislation over the next couple of weeks.  Sometime in late September to early October, a final budget will be presented to Gov. Roy Cooper.

Should Gov. Cooper veto the budget and the GOP be unable to gain enough Democrat votes to override the budget veto, Republican legislative leaders could then begin crafting a series of “mini-budgets” that include “must-pass” budget updates. These are often issues dealing with access to federal funds that require certain actions by the legislature.

The budget “slow-mate,” combined with redistricting, means the General Assembly is now expected to be in Raleigh through most of October.

Tempers will be short. Frustrations long.  The coolness of fall will not reach Jones Street, as the summer heat of an extremely long legislative session will continue.

When the General Assembly finally adjourns the long session sometime before Halloween, lawmakers will have just 4-6 weeks from the end of the session until they must file for reelection. During that 4-6 weeks they will likely be on a fundraising sprint to raise campaign dollars.