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Journalists Look Back On A Challenging Legislative Session

Police stand outside the capitol during a Moral Mondays protest.
Matthew Lenard

The North Carolina Legislature stayed up late last night to make a few last minute decisions before the end of session. The Senate finished it's business at 2 am, and the House reconvened this morning to squeeze a few final votes in. Now an abortion bill and an election bill are both headed to Governor Pat McCrory.

McCrory has already said that he would sign the elections bill, which would require voters to provide identification and restrict early voting.  But what about the abortion bill that's currently on his desk?  Women's rights advocates are reminding the Governor of his campaign promises.

"Of course, when [Governor McCrory] was a candidate, he said he would not sign any bill that restricts a woman's right to choose...So if he signs that bill, most people will say that he's going against a promise he made as a candidate," said Dave Dewitt, WUNC’s Raleigh Bureau Chief, in an interview on The State of Things.  

A panel of journalists joined Frank Stasio on The State of Things to discuss the challenges of covering this past year at the North Carolina General Assembly.

Tim Boyum is the host of Capitol Tonight on News 14 Carolina.  He has been covering the state legislature for seven years now, and he considers this past year the most challenging in his career.

"We're in new territory in this state.  A hundred and forty years since Republicans have had control...They're taking on things like Medicaid, unemployment insurance and tax reform that are incredibly challenging and complex.  On top of that, we're getting more spin than ever.  So in those ways, it's made it incredibly difficult," said Boyum.

However, critics of the Republican-led legislature say that the sweeping changes that this session's bills imposed were rushed.  

"I am surprised that they have not been more careful with rolling it out.  They acted like they only had six months to get everything done that they wanted to do.  In fact, they have four years at least, and with gerrymandered districts in this state that they drew up, they really have 10 years," said Bob Geary, a freelance journalist for the Independent Weekly who has been covering the North Carolina legislature for 15 years.  

However, the legality of the recent bills passed by North Carolina may be called into question by the Justice Department.  There have been murmurings that the Attorney General Eric Holder will pursue legal action against North Carolina on the elections bill and the ban on gay marriage that was passed last year.

In preparation for a possible federal case, the legislature hastily voted to give the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate equal standing with the Attorney General to represent the state.  

"We have been told that North Carolina's same sex marriage ban has been targeted for a federal case.  And if that happens, I think they're lining things up so that if the [North Carolina] Attorney General [Roy Cooper] chooses not to defend it, then they would automatically have the standing to defend it on their own,"  said Laura Leslie, the Capitol Bureau Chief at WRAL.  

Will the federal courts recognize the legal standing appointed to Representative Thom Tillis and Senator Phil Berger by the North Carolina Legislature?

"As a lawyer friend of mine said, 'Asserting standing does not make it so,'" said Leslie.   

Shawn Wen joined the staff of The State of Things in March 2012 and served as associate producer until February 2014.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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