While it’s not expected to be a major policy-heavy legislative session in the North Carolina General Assembly, key legislative priorities remain in limbo as both chambers push agendas while they still hold a Republican supermajority. 

The General Assembly’s short session officially begins on April 24 and is scheduled to run through July 31 tentatively. With high-stake elections at the center of the 2024 political stage, state legislators are prepared for a somewhat uneventful session because short sessions in the North Carolina General Assembly permit only minimal legislative action.

As outlined in General Assembly documents, the parameters of the short session are specifically tailored to try to keep the flow of business down, restricting actions mostly to budget-related adjustments. However, crossover bills can make the cut, even if they don’t fall under appropriations or finance.

Crossover bills allow legislation from the previous year to be considered during the subsequent short session. This year, more than 250 bills are considered eligible during the 2024 short session, meaning they passed one chamber in 2023 and are eligible under the specific prerequisites. But eligibility doesn’t guarantee progression.

Potential Legislative Actions

The primary focus of the short session is on the state budget and any issues that could affect it. As fiscal policy analysts at the John Locke Foundation pointed out, the state’s $30 billion 2023-2024 budget only tells part of the story. There’s more than $7 billion in other allocations set up as reserves for future use.

House Majority Leader John Bell, R–Wayne, told the Carolina Journal that flood mitigation implementation and funding is an area that he’ll be keeping a close eye on. The NC Flood Resiliency Blueprint seeks to reduce flooding impacts in North Carolina. In 2021, the General Assembly appropriated $20 million to the Department of Environmental Quality, but the agency has only spent $1.9 million to develop flood mitigation strategies for the Neuse River basin. Bell has focused on ensuring flood mitigation efforts are executed properly as a member of the House Committee on Disaster Recovery and Homeland Security.

“I’ll be making sure that funding is appropriately spent and if there are any types of bureaucratic red tape or any type of regulations that need to be handled to move that forward in a very expedited manner,” Bell explained. 

Of the state’s $30 billion budget, nearly $2 billion was allocated to over 200 individual water and sewer-related projects, another key area for Bell.

With record-breaking demand for North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, increased funding is a potential budget modification. Lawmakers appropriated $177 million for the program’s reserve fund for the 2023-2024 school year. Nearly 72,000 applications were received for the expanded Opportunity Scholarship program by the close of the priority application window on March 1.

On the House side, legislators confirmed they are discussing the possibility of increasing funds. On the Senate side, officials remain open to discussing potential funding changes. 

“The surge in Opportunity Scholarship applications is the latest sign that North Carolina families value having choice in education,” said Lauren Horsch, spokesperson for Senate Leader Phil Berger. “Just like any other budget item, legislators will discuss potential funding changes as they make budget revisions during the short session.”

If an item doesn’t fall under appropriations or finance, it could still be considered if it cleared one chamber in 2023 and was eligible for crossover. The House passed significantly more legislation in 2023 that awaits action by the Senate, including an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bill. The legislation passed the House last March and would mandate all sheriffs cooperate with ICE. Latest polling data shows immigration is the number one issue for North Carolinians. 

Officials in the General Assembly say House Bill 10 is a hot topic issue that will likely see action in the coming months on the Senate side. Berger’s office confirms he is in favor of taking up the legislation surrounding illegal immigration and ICE, indicating probable advancement with the leader’s heavy influence. 

ICE legislation was held up by the Senate last year in hopes of pushing the House to pass Senate Bill 3, legislation surrounding medical marijuana. The NC Compassionate Care Act would legalize medical marijuana in the state, but it did not clear the House. It remains viable in the 2024 session.

Action could also be taken on hot-button topics such as casinos, which didn’t make it through the House last year. Leadership intends to bring casinos back up in a later session for more discussion.

The short session will be Speaker Tim Moore’s last term as he runs for a seat in the US Congress. When the leader of the chamber is running for a higher office, it has an effect on the entire chamber. 

“I think the consensus that everybody seems to have is they want a very short session with the Speaker running for Congress and a lot of contested races,” Bell said. “On the other end, you’ve got a lot of people that are not coming back and so there will be a lot of new faces coming into the General Assembly. So I think a lot of people want to go and finish out the year strong.”

Despite restrictions in the short session, avenues exist for new ideas. Bills may undergo changes, including the insertion of new ideas, before being sent back for concurrence. Additionally, conference sessions offer another opportunity for new concepts. But most importantly, leadership plays a key role in shaping the direction of the 2024 session.