Forecast for Legislature’s short session is … short!

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(The Center Square) – State lawmakers will likely avoid controversial bills during an election year, opting instead to stick with basic budget adjustments in a 2024 short session that starts in late April, political observers predict.

Lawmakers convened the first of four nonvoting sessions this week as they prepare for a session slated to run April 24-July 31. Other nonvoting sessions – which lawmakers set with limited parameters to address litigation, gubernatorial appointments, vetoes and other matters – include Feb. 14-15, Mar. 13-14, and Apr. 10-11.

Senate Joint Resolution 760, approved by the General Assembly in October, sets out the limited scope of the nonvoting sessions, as well as matters up for consideration during the short session.

The resolution restricts the short session to legislation on the state budget; constitutional amendments; bills that passed third reading in 2023; bills to implement recommendations from committees; local bills; appointments; and other matters authorized by a joint resolution approved by two-thirds of members in both chambers.

Thomas Mills, a Democratic political consultant and analyst, told The Center Square the March 5 primary will likely have little impact on the session, which he expects will be short and uneventful.

State lawmakers in contested races “don’t want the Legislature to get too mixed up with the politics of the governor’s race,” he said. “If they started pushing very controversial stuff, it could blow up in their face going down the stretch.”

“I would expect an uncontentious session, but I’ve been surprised,” he said. “I think the big question is if they bring up the casino stuff again.”

Senate Republicans attempted unsuccessfully to incorporate language to authorize casinos in the current budget that has faced backlash from members of both parties, as well as local residents in areas they would likely locate.

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director for the right-leaning American Majority, offered a similar take on the 2024 short session.

“I expect it to be simple and quick,” he wrote in an email to The Center Square. “While it is possible big issues are tackled, I don’t expect that. I think they look at some deregulation bills, maybe some small state employee bonuses, but I don’t expect any large issues to be confronted.”

Catawba College professor of politics and history Michael Bitzer agreed “the intensity of this year’s campaign and the focus of Super Tuesday’s primary” will likely limit the General Assembly’s work mostly to revisions to the state budget for the coming fiscal year.

“My expectation is that the session will likely be budget focused, with few ‘controversial’ issues dealt with until after the November elections,” Bitzer wrote in an email to The Center Square. “With Medicaid expansion done and abortion legislation passed, the ‘leftover’ items from last year will likely be the focus, such as ‘Compassionate Care Act’ to legalize medical marijuana, the changes to physician assistants supervision, and perhaps the reemergence of casinos.”

Bitzer noted Senate Bills 747 and 749 to reform the state’s election laws and process are being challenged in court, but he doesn’t expect lawmakers to rework the bills if they’re overturned through litigation.

“I’m not sure if the legislature would necessarily take those up again this year with the November general election looming, but rather wait until the 2025 long session to address those,” he said. “Of course, anything that passed third reading in 2023 can be considered starting at the April 24 start of the short session, but my suspicion is that with new districts, several state legislators running for higher offices, and the push to get the general campaign underway, the short session may indeed by ‘short’ this summer.”

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