State lawmakers are heading home until August. After reaching a state budget deal, lawmakers passed a flurry of bills this week and departed early this morning. House speaker Tim Moore told reporters the legislature will be "in and out for the rest of the year," which is uncommon, but not unprecedented.
Lawmakers will return in August to override any gubernatorial vetoes and again in September to approve new legislative maps. They could take up other matters at those times as well.
The House closed the five and a half month session shortly after 2 a.m., about a half-hour after the Senate gaveled out its members. Legislators had been working since Thursday morning, shuffling favored bills between the two chambers.
More than 100 measures approved in the session's final days this week will wind up on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's desk.
In their final hours of work Thursday night and early Friday, the legislature approved bills expanding a 2015 law allowing Sunday hunting with guns, affirming nonprofits and some private companies can hold casino nights and allowing school boards to issue civil penalties against motorists who are caught on stop-arm cameras illegally passing a stopped school bus.
House and Senate Republicans also reached a compromise involving a detailed bill that changes how Duke Energy purchases solar and biomass electricity. The deal includes the loosening of some solar guidelines as desired by the House, as well as a 18-month moratorium on wind farms, sought by the Senate. The utility estimates the change will save $850 million over 10 years in what it would pay for renewable energy, and should help undergird solar energy growth.
But the final product contained a moratorium on state permits for wind energy facilities sought by the Senate in the name of protecting air space used by eastern North Carolina military bases for training missions. The 18-month pause is less than the 3 1/2 years originally demanded by the Senate. Renewable energy groups have been worried two pending wind farm projects could be scuttled.
Cooper has until late July to sign the bills, veto them or let them become law without his signature.
With vetoes in mind - Cooper already has issued five of them since taking office in January - the GOP-controlled General Assembly unveiled a schedule before leaving town that has them returning in early August to consider overriding additional vetoes.
But they also left open the ability in August to revisit key measures that got stuck in negotiations, particularly on environmental regulation, between the House and Senate.
The General Assembly's schedule also includes legislators returning in early September. The schedule says the meeting time could be used to consider revising nearly 30 legislative districts that federal courts have thrown out as illegal racial gerrymanders. But the redistricting could be moved up or back depending on what a three-judge panel directs legislators to do, especially if they order special elections in 2017.
Republicans, who prefer to wait until holding elections under new maps for the first time in 2018, said a remapping session would begin no later than mid-November.
Adjournment occurred after House Republicans decided they wouldn't debate or vote on a last-minute resolution to create a committee that would investigate Democratic Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and could consider impeachment articles. GOP Rep. Chris Millis of Pender County has accused Marshall of breaking the law by allowing undocumented residents to become notaries. Marshall has denied any wrongdoing and considers the accusations politically motivated. While the House did not advance the effort last night, House Speaker Tim Moore indicated discussions are continuing.
Moore said that House leadership has reached out to an independent prosecutor, but declined to name the independent investigator at this time. Moore said that the legislator has the authority to seek prosecutorial assistance.
The session, which began in early January, was marked by bitter relations between the GOP-controlled legislature and the new governor. Cooper, the former attorney general, has fought Republican leaders at nearly every turn, going to court to block legislation that has eroded his powers. The legislature, meanwhile has overridden, all of his vetoes, including the two-year state budget.