As various members of the N.C. General Assembly point their cars towards Raleigh for their — could it be? — eighth mini-session tomorrow (Feb. 16), they carry the extra weight of a January Public Policy Polling tally that found only a 19 percent approval from voters for their last time together. That was when the surprise, post-midnight seventh session was held in January to override Gov. Bev Perdue‘s veto of a bill (SB 727) preventing state educators from having N.C. Association of Educators dues automatically withheld from their paychecks.
The Raleigh-based pollsters discovered that 65 percent of the state’s voters were considerably disgruntled by that wee-hours-of-the-morning session on Jan. 5, while only 19 percent found the session appropriate. The meeting in question was convened following a special session (the sixth) of the Legislature on Jan. 4, called by the governor for the specific purpose of considering her veto of a bill (SB 9) voiding the state’s Racial Justice Act. The Senate voted to override, but the House could not muster the necessary numbers and passed the bill off to a committee. Thus ended the anticipated one day of legislative business, but that was followed by the unanticipated post-midnight session, where the vote count was more favorable to the education dues override.
Court action is being pursued regarding the constitutionality of the late-night session. And because of the bad taste left by that midnight maneuver, Democrats in the state are not willing to believe the Republican leaders who have told them there will be no votes taken during the Feb. 16-18 mini-session. (An email announcement from Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis calls this a “Skeleton / NO VOTE” session for which it is unnecessary to appear unless it is for committee business.) The three-day session was originally put on the calendar in order to deal with potential redistricting issues. However, despite legal challenges to the new districts in the state, there has been a ruling that for purposes of primary voting on May 8, the new maps will be in effect.
So off they go for the eighth short session to follow the original six-month legislative session that began in January, 2011, each short session racking up a cost of $50,000 per day. And for all those legislative efforts, Public Policy Polling found a 27 percent approval rating for the Republican majority, with a 47 percent unfavorable ranking, with a slightly better 36 percent approval for the minority Democrats, who still achieved 41 percent disapproval.
Technically, any topics that might be considered in a mini-session are limited to the resolution creating that mini-session, which in this case was redistricting, gubernatorial vetoes and election laws. Vetoes that could be called for override votes include the so-called Voter ID bill (HB 351), which would require voters in the state to show a photo ID at the polls, and the Energy Jobs Act (SB 709), which would push forward the controversial practice of “fracking” in search of natural gas in the state.
But at least those legislators who make the journey for mini-session eight will receive a “warm” welcome. An 11 a.m. rally is planned on Jones Street near the Statehouse to protest that midnight mini-session seven.
by Nelda Holder, contributing editor