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The General Assembly reconvenes today: What could lawmakers discuss?

The North Carolina General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. today in Raleigh, and the number of items on the agenda appears few.

Sen. Dan Barrett, R-34, said talks could include judicial redistricting and electoral reform.

The redistricting stems from population changes that have not been addressed in over 50 years, he said.

That has led to some districts where two judges are responsible for 450,000 residents, he said. In other districts, two judges are responsible for 150,000.

The uneven divisions are more than just a big disparity, he said: they could also be subject to constitutional challenge.

Barrett has served the last several weeks on the Senate Judicial Reform Committee, which is studying new district lines and alternate election methods for judges. The work, he said, has been a “very eye-opening experience.”

The senator, who represents parts of Rowan, Davie and Iredell counties, said a number of legal scholars and academics have been consulted as the committee considered new maps and election models.

The issue will come up, he said, but he remains uncertain whether action will come during January’s special session.

“We’ve got some alternatives, but it’s going to require the House to work through them to see if we can come to a consensus,” Barrett said.

State Rep. Harry Warren, R-77, said he believes the focus will be on alternative judicial election methods rather than redistricting.

“While judicial redistricting might also be discussed, I doubt any votes will be taken on new maps at this time,” said Warren.

Michael Bitzer, professor of political science as Catawba College, said changing the electoral process for the judiciary will cause controversy no matter what is proposed.

“Is there going to be an appointment system, a merit system?” Bitzer asked. “This is really Republicans seeking to put their stamp on the third branch of government.”

Barrett said other topics will include the contaminate GenX and the Chemours wastewater spill into the Cape Fear River.

“We’re working to make sure all of our waterways are safe,” he said. “I think that’s going to come in front of us.”

Barrett said the agenda also could include the confirmation of committee appointments.

With Gov. Roy Cooper pushing the issue, Bitzer said the General Assembly may address mandated classroom size maximums.

“Whether they’re willing to work with Cooper on the issue is part of the great unknown at this point,” he said.

The special session work may now include congressional redistricting. Federal judges ruled late Tuesday that the boundaries violate the U.S. Constitution and unfairly favor Republican candidates.

The judges gave the General Assembly until Jan. 24 to come up with a replacement, though Republicans could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to block enforcement until a ruling is reached in a similar case from Wisconsin.

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