The Short Session and The Rest of 2020


By John Bussian

The General Assembly adjourned following its on-day special session on January 14.  The attempt to override the Governor’s veto of the Teacher Pay Act and the Regulatory Reform Act was one vote short of the necessary two thirds needed in the Senate.  No attempt was made in the Senate to override the Governor’s veto of the state budget bill, and lawmakers departed Raleigh announcing their plans to return for the “short” session on April 28.

While some observers believe that continuing negotiations will allow the General Assembly to pass a new budget bill in 2020 — which could include bigger teacher pay raises than lawmakers approved in 2019 before the budget veto —some say there might not be another vote on the state budget.  If that happens,  the state will essentially operate on the series of “mini budgets” passed in 2019.  And that could make the 2020 legislative session the shortest on record.

Of course, looming on the near horizon are the March 3, 2020 primary and the general election in November.

In the state house alone, voters will be asked to replace 14 sitting House members (including Rep. Linda Johnson, who passed away earlier in February).  Other House members not returning include Reps. McGrady, Dobson, Conrad, Beasley, Presnell, Horn, Montgomery, Holley. Grange, Speciale, Black, Fraley, and Barnes.  Notably, Rep. Dobson, with a long record of defending free press rights and government transparency, is running for NC Commissioner of Labor.

Ten state senate seats also have to be filled in districts where the incumbent won’t be returning. The retiring senators include Finance Committee Chair Harry Brown along with Senators Gunn, Van Duyn, Horner, Smith, Bryan, Wells, McKissick, Davis, and Alexander.   Senator McKissick has been appointed to the NC Utilities Commission; Wells and Van Duyn are running for Lt Governor; Erica Smith is running against Senator Tom Tillis for the U.S. Senate seat held by Tillis; and Davis is running for the US House of Representatives.

And, as in 2018, it appears that every returning incumbent member of the General Assembly will have an opponent on the ballot in 2020.

It goes without saying that the NCPA membership needs to watch the outcome of the March primary with an eye toward assessing the remaining November candidates’ commitment to the public’s right to know and to free press rights generally.  The NCPA’s future efforts to preserve those rights hang in the balance.

(John Bussian is a Raleigh-based media lawyer who serves as NCPA Legislative and First Amendment Counsel)