House committee chairs get ready for their official portrait after the gavels were handed out last week. Kirk Ross/Carolina Public Press

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North Carolina House committee chairs get ready for their official portrait in Raleigh after the gavels were handed out last week. Kirk Ross/Carolina Public Press

RALEIGH — It’s a week of firsts at the N.C. General Assembly, starting with today’s first meeting of an appropriations committee, but it won’t include the first vote.

House Rules Chair Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) announced last week that no floor votes would be held this week as the chamber prepares for the annual visit from the governor and the State of the State address, which will be held Wednesday night at 7 p.m.

That doesn’t mean the action this week will be limited to listening intently and applauding politely.

With some bill filing deadlines a little more than a month away, legislators have been keeping the bill drafting staff busy. As of today, Tuesday, 35 bills have been filed in the House and 14 in the Senate.

MORE: Carolina Public Press will feature a breakdown of local bills and others filed by Western North Carolina’s delegation each week in Raleigh Report starting next week.

Coal ash, academic-related budget fix up first

Although the regular schedule for most committees won’t start until next week, two bills are already scheduled to be heard indicating a potentially quick trip through the process.

At today’s Senate Appropriations Committee meeting, legislators will look over S14, a multipart budget fix that will provide funding for the state’s Coal Ash Management Commission and the Academic Standards Review Commission. The coal ash commission, which was set up last year as part of coal ash cleanup legislation passed in the waning days of the session, needed the fix to guarantee a source of funds for the commission’s work from a new fee on coal ash residuals. The legitimacy of the commission, which is housed at the N.C. Department of Public Safety, has been challenged by Gov. Pat McCrory.

McCrory filed a lawsuit last November over the appointment process for the commission, which the governor asserts is unconstitutional because the appointments are dominated by the legislature.

It is one of three legal challenges to boards and commissions appointed by the legislature to oversee the work of executive branch agencies. McCrory was joined in his lawsuit by former governors Jim Martin and Jim Hunt.

Also scheduled for a committee hearing is Rep. Chuck McGrady’s bill seeking a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment tightening the use of eminent domain. McGrady, a Henderson County Republican, filed the bill on the first day of the session.

He said his main concern is that, right now, the power of eminent domain could be used to condemn land for private development. His proposed constitutional amendment would require that eminent domain only be used to acquire property for public uses.

Gerrymandering debate

A bipartisan push for an independent redistricting commission gets rolling today with a noon press conference by McGrady and fellow GOP Reps. Paul Stam and Jon Hardister and Democrat Rep. Grier Martin. The group are joining with Common Cause in advocating the state shift responsibility for the process away from legislators by setting up a independent commission to handle the process.

North Carolina’s 2011 redistricting is considered one of the most partisan in the nation. Critics have noted that, although vote totals were was almost evenly split in statewide races for president and the most recent U.S. Senate contest, the lines drawn in 2011 by the GOP dominated legislature have created a lopsided advantage for Republicans in the General Assembly and in Congress. North Carolina’s congressional delegation shifted from six Democrats and seven Republicans in 2008 to ten Republicans and three Democrats after redistricting.

The idea of an independent commission faces tough scrutiny. In an interview this week with the Associated Press, Senate leader Phil Berger said he did not think it was a good idea, questioning how independent an independent commission would be.

Kirk Ross

Based in the Triangle, Kirk Ross is the capital bureau chief for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at kross@carolinapublicpress.org.

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