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North Carolina lawmakers gather for one-day organizing meeting

RALEIGH (AP) — In another nod to government efficiency, the North Carolina General Assembly opens its two-year session Wednesday on the earliest date in nearly 60 years.
Lawmakers will go home after just one day of electing chamber leaders, approving debate rules and handing out gavels to committee chairs. They’ll adjourn until Jan. 30, when they can begin introducing bills and passing legislation in hopes of adjourning for the year in June.
The Republican-led Legislature approved a law last summer creating the early organizational meeting for the first time. Many legislators argued they had been performing little substantive work in the first weeks of each two-year session.
Legislative leaders often spent that time developing committee rosters, doling out office space to members based on seniority, and getting staff to draw up bills. These and other responsibilities can now be finalized without having to keep all 170 members in Raleigh.
Hopefully the organizational session will “make us more efficient early in the session,” said Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, who is expected to be elected to his second two-year term as Senate president pro tempore Wednesday. “When we come back to Raleigh and begin the official session, we’ll be able to hit the ground running.”
The House is also expected to elect Rep. Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, to another two years as speaker. House and Senate Republican caucuses, which expanded their majorities during the November elections, already have met and nominated Berger and Tillis to the leadership posts.
Tillis said Tuesday the organizational session also made sense when it became clear there would be a new governor — ultimately Republican Gov. Pat McCrory — to have leadership in place earlier in January. McCrory also plans to visit both the House and Senate on Wednesday’s opening day, a spokesman for the new governor said. The legislative and executive branches are now in Republican hands simultaneously for the first time since 1870.
Legislators officially out of session for the three weeks won’t be paid $104-per-day expense checks when they aren’t in Raleigh on official business. During the session, legislators can receive the per diem seven days a week, even when they’re back home on the weekends.
Also expected to be elected Wednesday is Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, to the post of House speaker pro tempore, and Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, as deputy president pro tempore. Republicans and Democrats in each chamber already have elected their caucus leaders.
Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, a deputy minority leader, said he doesn’t see any harm in having the one-day session but believes it would be more cost effective to convene using the pattern set since 1991, when the Legislature convenes on the third Wednesday after the second Monday in January.
“I think people are ready to get started,” McKissick said.
North Carolina is one of 14 states holding organizational sessions to begin their 2013 legislative session, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The year 1955 was the last time the first day of the North Carolina General Assembly’s session began before Jan. 9, according to legislative research.
Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who was sworn in Monday, will preside over the Senate session for the first time. The lieutenant governor is also the Senate president but lacks formal power in the chamber beyond managing debate.
Wednesday marks a milestone day for more than 50 new lawmakers to the House and Senate as they get sworn in with spouses, children and grandchildren watching on the floor.
Incoming Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, at age 29 the youngest senator on the floor starting Wednesday, said he’s been busy since Election Day getting ready for his new position, and not just for politics. His wife gave birth to their first child a month ago, but John Franklin Barefoot will remain at home to stay protected from the flu, his father said.
First-term GOP Rep. Andy Wells of Catawba County said he’s visited the Legislature several times since last spring to stay abreast of issues even though he still had to beat a Democratic opponent in November to become a legislator. Wells sounded like he’d just as soon not have to wait another three weeks.
“I’m ready to go to work,” Wells said after attending a revenue law oversight committee Tuesday.

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