There are plenty of questions about what new laws will be made during the Legislature's second special session of the year, but there's little doubt as to the main theme: Republican leaders will do what they can to influence the outcome of the 2012 election.
They made that goal clear as the previous special session ended in late July after the GOP slammed through its redistricting plans.
Last week House Minority Leader Joe Hackney called the session, which starts next Monday, Sept. 12, a thinly veiled attempt to protect Republican majorities, rather than to defend traditional marriage, as the GOP claims. (See related stories: "Hate and marriage" and "The right wing's twisted arguments against gay marriage.")
"Many of us recognize this unneeded amendment is not about rights or morality. It is part of the Republican political strategy to drive Republicans to the polls in 2012 while suppressing Democratic voting through voter ID legislation and cutbacks in early voting," Hackney said in a statement.
Under the adjournment resolution passed at the end of the previous special session, the ground rules for the upcoming session allow the General Assembly to consider bills that have been vetoed, legislation from conference committees, redistricting revisions, local bills and "any bills relating to election laws."
In July, the House calendar for the day of adjournment included a handful of bills vetoed by Gov. Bev Perdue, listed under the heading Unfinished Business. Among them were the voter ID bill and The Energy Jobs Act, which would clear the way for natural gas extraction through offshore drilling and inland fracking operations.
Of the three, only the voter ID bill, which would require voters to present either a driver's license or a state-issued identification card at the polls, came up for an override vote. It failed to get the required 71 votes (three-fifths of the 119 House members present). But a motion to reconsider the override, which only requires a simple majority, passed.
Last week, both House Speaker Thom Tillis and House Majority Leader Paul Stam said they did not think another override attempt on voter ID would happen in the special session. But at a packed town-hall style meeting in his hometown of Cornelius, Tillis said that doesn't spell the end of voter ID. The speaker said he was committed to the legislation and promised it would be resurrected, most likely in the 2012 short session, which he'll gavel next May.
Opponents are monitoring the bill for any last-minute legislative maneuvers. For example, the House leadership left itself another route for voter ID by moving dozens of local bills into the House Rules Committee on the final day of the July special session.
Under the adjournment resolution, lawmakers can pass local bills pending in the House Rules Committee. Voting rights advocates say since local bills cannot be vetoed, there may be an attempt to use them to circumvent the governor and pass voter ID rules in some counties.
"The voter ID bill on the table will do more harm than good by disenfranchising far more citizens than preventing any voter fraud," says Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina. "Maybe the average person doesn't think this is a big deal, but those who want it have failed to really explain why it's needed."
Also last week, Perdue and Tillis traded charges in a piece in the Greensboro News & Record by Mark Binker on who was more unwilling to compromise on voter ID. Tillis said the governor wasn't open to compromise. Perdue spokesperson Mark Johnson said she objected to the limited forms of acceptable ID, adding that she would not have vetoed the bill if it included a wider selection.
Meanwhile, fracking opponents are keeping an eye on the Energy Jobs Act. The bill, and its potential override, was a fixture on the calendar in the last session, but it never came up—a sign that it didn't have the votes.
Pittsboro Mayor Randy Voller is closely watching the issue because Chatham County is one of the areas in North Carolina where energy companies have considered fracking. He said opponents of the bill are keeping the pressure on conservative Democrats who might succumb to the allure of fracking as a quick fix for the economy. So far, enough Democrats have bought into the idea that SB 709 goes too far, too fast in shifting state energy policy. The bill includes a provision to change the name of the State Energy Policy Council to Energy Jobs Council and pack it with industry proponents; it also would open the state to hydraulic fracking and offshore drilling before either has been thoroughly studied.
"We need to slow down. Don't green-light something just to rush [the bill] through," he said.
Voller expects GOP leaders, who are eager to claim some kind of jobs victory, and the oil and gas industry, which has started making its case to local governments in the areas it wants to frack, to push for an override.
"My feeling is that if the Republican majority feels they have a shot at it, they'll do it," Voller said.
The September session is unlikely to be a complete partisan face-off. Look for compromise, if not outright consensus, on job-creating measures that involve actual, you know, jobs. Legislators said they might ask for an incentive package to seal a proposed manufacturing and distribution development on the border of Columbus and Brunswick counties. Proponents for the so-called Project Soccer say it could add up to 1,500 jobs, but the state Department of Commerce, which is negotiating the deal with the still unnamed company, has yet to spell out the details of the proposal.
In the western part of the state, proponents of expanded gambling at the Harrah's Cherokee Casino and Hotel hope the session could yield a deal on alterations to the state's compact with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. According to the tribal newspaper Cherokee One Feather, in an Aug. 10 meeting with tribal leaders, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca discussed allowing live games at the casino. Perdue has also signed off on allowing table games like blackjack and poker at the casino. Her spokesperson, Christine Mackey, told the One Feather that the governor believes the expansion could create hundreds of jobs in western North Carolina.