Like a Friday the 13th sequel, North Carolina’s legislature returns to Raleigh Wednesday. Horror is likely to ensue.
In the last episode, an HB2 repeal was axed and legislators took a chainsaw to the governor’s powers. Emboldened by November’s election results (albeit from safe gerrymandered districts), Republican leaders show no sign of slowing down this year.
Here are our top five fears, then our top five hopes (yes, we have some) for this year’s legislative session.
1. The legislature’s relationship with Gov. Roy Cooper will be even worse than the one it had with Pat McCrory. Cooper, a Democrat, knocked off McCrory, but if Sen. Phil Berger and the gang can pancake McCrory, think what they might do to Cooper. That Cooper is trying to ignore their law and expand Medicaid, and that legislators see him as sinking an HB2 repeal deal last month, does not get relations off to a promising start.
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2. Speaking of getting pancaked, Charlotte is at the center of the legislature’s griddle. Republican leaders have had an ongoing feud with the state’s biggest city and they don’t like Mayor Jennifer Roberts. Expect bullying, through tax redistribution, stealing more governing power and other methods.
3. HB2 sits untouched. It has done so much damage to the state, but its last chance at repeal for a while may have gone when the special session went off the rails in December.
4. Voting rights are attacked further. After a tight race with Cooper, McCrory did more than seek a legitimate recount. He alleged voter fraud in more than half the counties. Many see that as laying the groundwork for further restrictions targeting phantom fraud.
5. Redistricting gets nasty. The U.S. Supreme Court put things on hold Tuesday, but the General Assembly might yet have to redraw its election district boundaries. If it does, expect hardball, with individual legislators targeted across the state.
And our hopes:
1. The session will be relatively short and non-controversial. If legislators are indeed forced to hold a special off-year election for themselves, they’ll want to get home sooner to raise money and campaign, and they’ll be less likely to ignite political dynamite.
2. Teachers and principals will get pay hikes. Cooper has established raising teacher pay as one of his top priorities. The idea attracts bipartisan support, particularly in an election year. The details, as always, will be where things get sticky.
3. Teenagers will stop being treated as adults in North Carolina’s justice system. The state is one of only two that treats 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Bipartisan momentum is building to raise the age.
4. Mass transit gets a little love. The legislature has never been overly friendly to transportation beyond highways. The opposition might be weakening, though. Fast-growing population centers like Raleigh and Charlotte could use the help. Just ask anyone sitting on the interstate during rush hour.
5. Highways, roads and bridges get help too. McCrory proposed a $1.5 billion transportation bond in 2015 that never made it to the ballot. It could reemerge this year and would be a smart investment in the state’s future.