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NC legislators ring in start of 2023 session

North Carolina Legislative Building at sunset.
Elijah Mears

Updated at 7:45 p.m.

The North Carolina General Assembly formally opened its 2023 legislative session in Raleigh Wednesday. The long session will feature work on a two-year budget as well as legislation on some hot-button issues. While mostly ceremonial, with the naming of chamber leaders, there was already a partisan stir-up by the Republican majority in the House.

That chamber's GOP majority adopted a rule change that would allow Republicans to call a vote to override Democratic Governor Roy Cooper's veto with no prior notice. Overrides require a three-fifths vote by those present in each chamber. House Republicans are one seat shy of a numerical super-majority in the 120-seat chamber.

Speaker Tim Moore says it's not a plan to ambush Democrats.

"There's nothing to worry about and guess what, we're going to be operating under these temporary rules for a few weeks and I think once we do folks will settle down and realize there's nothing to it," said Moore.

But House Democratic Leader Robert Reives says it makes the legislature less functional, accountable, and trustworthy. Republicans in the state senate hold a veto-proof majority.

The House and Senate gaveled down the one-day organizational meeting required by law to seat all 170 lawmakers and elect leaders, in particular again picking Rep. Tim Moore as speaker and Sen. Phil Berger as Senate leader. The session — and the legislating — will begin in earnest in two weeks.

The Legislative Building contained more pomp compared to the 2021 opening, when COVID-19 health concerns prevented family members from joining new legislators on the House and Senate floors for the swearings-in.

Tax cuts, abortion and Medicaid are issues to watch in 2023 session

For Berger, easing the tax burden on North Carolina residents and businesses is a top priority in the long session.

"Further reduction in the personal income tax. I'd personally like to see us get it down below three," he said.

The Rockingham County Republican controls a veto-proof majority in the state senate. He says he supports restricting abortions to the first trimester, or about 12 weeks, with exceptions for cases involving rape or incest. State law currently bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“Twenty weeks is in essence five months into a pregnancy. I think if you look at where the people of the state of North Carolina are, they think that that’s too long,” Berger said.

House Speaker Tim Moore said he believes there is support for such legislation in his Republican-majority chamber.

Moore suggested later Wednesday that support was emerging in his chamber for a proposal backed by Berger to advance legislation prohibiting abortion after the first trimester — 12 or 13 weeks of pregnancy— with new exceptions for rape and incest.

Cooper, who campaigned in the fall for legislative candidates largely on blocking additional abortion restrictions, has said further lowering the 20-week limit would be extreme legislation.

The legislature and Cooper could find common ground within a two-year state government budget bill — this year’s chief task. Medicaid expansion — a recurring plea for Cooper since he became governor in 2017 — could finally happen after the chambers passed expansion legislation in 2022.

Rusty Jacobs is WUNC's Voting and Election Integrity Reporter.
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