Raleigh, N.C. — As Republican lawmakers called themselves into yet another special session Wednesday afternoon with an unclear agenda, Democrats called the move unconstitutional.
"This is why people don't trust us. This is why they hate us," said Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, as he lodged a formal protest of the extra session.
Almost immediately after giving final legislative approval to a disaster recovery bill, both chambers adjourned the special session that opened Tuesday and reconvened a new legislative term.
House Speaker Tim Moore said that lawmakers wanted to avoid "crowding the issue" of the disaster session with any other matters. The General Assembly has been under intense scrutiny for the past month about what, if anything, it would do in addition to the $200 million disaster funding package.
House Democrats rose one by one to support Jackson's protest, which Moore later ruled out of order.
"I don't think this session is constitutional," Jackson said, noting GOP leaders didn't decide to call the extra session until Wednesday morning even though documents indicate they began planning for it on Monday.
He predicted legislators were courting lawsuits by "using hurricane relief as a reason to come back to Raleigh to do a lot of things because you lost an election by 10,000 votes."
House Minority Leader Larry Hall said trying to squeeze legislation in before the terms of Gov. Pat McCrory and some lawmakers end on Dec. 31 tarnishes the democratic process.
"This ain't right. You can't make it right. The people of North Carolina aren't being treated right. We owe them more," said Hall, D-Durham. "We will be the authors of our own demise unless we start taking responsibility ... and respecting our voters."
Moore, R-Cleveland, said Wednesday that a much discussed measure to add two justices to the North Carolina Supreme Court would likely not happen, but that still leaves legislators with a panoply of options.
Neither Moore nor Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger was willing to say what bills might come up. Both insisted that they wanted to speak behind closed doors with fellow Republicans before settling on a final plan. GOP leaders have placed an increasing premium on getting buy-in from their members before proceeding in public with, or even giving notice of, potentially controversial measures.
"As I've said several times, there are number of things that have been talked about. I am not in a position at this point to list or articulate exactly what they are because no decision has been made," Berger, R-Rockingham, said Wednesday morning.
Later in the day he told reporters that lawmakers would take up an elections-related bill, and would consider two appointments by McCrory to be special superior court judges to sit on the state's business court. As for the specifics of other legislation, Berger declined to comment until the measures were filed.
Both Berger and Moore said they believe a roster of bills being pursued by the legislature would be clear by the end of the day. A 7 p.m. deadline was set for filing new bills for consideration.
Rep. David Lewis, the chairman of the House Rules Committee, said he expects the General Assembly to "reassert its authority in areas that have previously been delegated to the executive branch."
When asked if that could include remaking how appointments to the State Board of Elections are handled, Lewis, R-Harnett, said "you're on the right track."
Asked why lawmakers needed to hold an special session now, he said, "Some of the changes will be effective Jan. 1."
Other items that have been openly discussed by members as potential candidates for consideration include a regulatory reform measure that fell just short of passage at the end of the legislature's summer session and a package of changes to the ability of the governor and other executive agency heads to hire and fire staff at will.
"We came to Raleigh with one purpose: to pass a recovery bill that would provide some relief to the people still struggling months after Hurricane Matthew," Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue said in a statement. "We don’t know what other pressing matters we need to address on behalf of North Carolinians.
"Our caucus is certainly interested in seeing what kind of surprise legislation Republicans will bring forth that focuses on improving the quality of life of North Carolinians. Anything beyond that is a pervasive insult to the taxpayers and to flood victims across this state," Blue, D-Wake, continued. "In our view, we have completed our business and should go home to enjoy the holidays."
Senate Democrats displayed their displeasure with an extended stay at the Legislative Building by voting against a resolution setting the rules for the new session.