• 70°

NC legislature opens session subdued amid virus, DC unrest

By Gary D. Robertson
Associated Press

RALEIGH — Amid worries about COVID-19 and physical security, the North Carolina General Assembly officially began its two-year session Wednesday, with much of the usual pomp subdued in the name of safety.

The gavels went down at midday on a House and Senate that remained in Republican hands after the November elections. But the GOP still lacks veto-proof majorities, meaning Democrats led by Gov. Roy Cooper, who also won reelection, will have much to say about what legislative initiatives become laws. Coronavirus relief spending, public education improvements after months of mandated online learning and redistricting are the likely top agenda items.

Unlike previous opening days, the families of senators and representatives were prohibited from joining the elected lawmakers on the floors for their swearings-in. The galleries largely were limited to relatives of first-term legislators and some members of the media.

Face coverings, while encouraged in the Legislative Building, are still not required. But all senators and all but a handful of House members wore masks — a marked increase compared with the last floor sessions held in September.

As expected, Republican Sen. Phil Berger of Eden was elected unanimously by his peers to a sixth term as Senate leader, while GOP Rep. Tim Moore of Kings Mountain won a fourth term as House speaker with Democratic support.

Moore, whose election ties him with Liston Ramsey and Jim Black for the most two-year terms won by a speaker in state history, acknowledged “challenging times” and “uncertainty” in his acceptance speech. But he and Berger said separately that prudent fiscal decisions put the state in a more favorable position to overcome them.

While Berger said the Republican majorities are the result of voters supporting conservative policies, he acknowledged Cooper’s reelection means “mixed party control” of state government and efforts by him and Cooper to find consensus on some matters.

“I intend to work with all to find, develop, and expand common ground where it may exist, and I know many of you feel the same way,” Berger said. “Gov. Cooper and I have had multiple conversations since the election, and he offered a similar commitment. I take him at his word.”

Berger is second in longevity as Senate leader only to then-Sen. Marc Basnight of Manteo, who died just two weeks ago and whom Berger mentioned prominently in his speech. Berger’s son — recently elected state Supreme Court Justice Phil Berger Jr. — administered the leadership oath to his father.

The Senate kept to traditions of a live national anthem performance and the presentation of flags by a high school ROTC group, but the House session was more muted.

As a sign of the dampened festivities, the deli platters and other food brought in by legislators for friends and constituents on opening day were replaced by tables carrying water bottles and prepackaged chocolate cookies — compliments of the Senate Republican Caucus.

With concerns about last week’s violence by supporters of President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol spreading to state capitals, the presence of law enforcement officers was slightly elevated at the legislative complex in Raleigh. But the Legislative Building was open to the public.

Wednesday also marked the first day for new Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a Republican, as the Senate’s presiding officer.

State law required the legislature meet for one day to organize, seat all 170 lawmakers and elect leaders. After Wednesday, they won’t return until Jan. 27, when the legislation begins in earnest.

Republicans hold 69 of the 120 seats in the House — a four-seat increase compared with the past two years. The Democrats picked up an extra seat in the Senate, but the GOP retains a 28-22 seat advantage.



Weak jobs report spurs questions about big fed spending


Judge limits footage that family can see of deputy shooting in Elizabeth City


Woodland, two others share lead; Mickelson plays much worse but will still be around for weekend at Quail Hollow


Former NHL player to open mobster themed bar in Raleigh


California population declines for first time


GOP leaders differ on bottom line for state spending


Police: Man killed in shootout with officers in Winston-Salem


Man charged after thieves rob would-be gun buyers of wallets, shoes


Blotter: Four added to sheriff’s most wanted list

High School

High school football: Some anxious moments, but Hornets win state title


Photos: Salisbury High Hornets win big in 2AA championship game


County manager outlines projections for the upcoming fiscal year budget, suggests uses for stimulus money


Miami-based Browns Athletic Apparel opens second screen printing location in Salisbury


At funeral, fallen Watauga deputies remembered as ‘heroes’


COVID-19 cluster identified at Granite Quarry Elementary


More than half of North Carolinians have now taken at least one vaccine shot


City hopes to cover expenses in 2021-22 budget with surplus revenue generated this year


Fallen tree proves to be a blessing for local nonprofit Happy Roots


Quotes of the week


Health department drops quarantine time from 14 to 10 days


Blotter: More than $100,000 in property reported stolen from Old Beatty Ford Road site


City fights invasive beetles by injecting trees with insecticide


City names downtown recipients for federal Parks Service grant

China Grove

China Grove Town Council weighs 2021-22 budget priorities, supports buying body cameras