House Speaker Thom Tillis has said next week's special session will probably be only three days long. At this rate, state lawmakers may have to stretch to get three days out of it.
According to the resolution authorizing the special session, legislators can only take up certain kinds of matters next week. The main focus of the session is supposed to be constitutional amendments, but veto overrides and redistricting bills can also be considered.
The three constitutional amendments considered most likely to come up next week are a proposal to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions, a proposal to limit the number of years a member can serve as House or Senate leader, and a proposal to limit government's power to take private property for public use, known as Eminent Domain.
Under state law, local governments can take private property for public use or public benefit. That ensures government's ability to build roads, schools, water infrastructure and other facilities needed by the public.
But in Connecticut in 2004, city officials in New London used eminent domain to take private property away from one owner and sell it to another for the purpose of economic development — a "public benefit," they argued. That case, Kelo v. City of New London, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found the city's action to be legal.
The amendment moving through the legislature, House Bill 8, would forestall any such case in North Carolina by removing the term "public benefit" from state law, and adding a line to the state constitution spelling out that government can only take land for public use.
The House approved it back in April and sent it over to the Senate, where it's been sitting in committee, waiting for this session. But Senate Judiciary 1 chairman Pete Brunstetter (R-Forsyth) says it isn't as simple a fix as it appears.
Brunstetter says he's concerned the removal of "public benefit" could have unintended implications, particularly for certain infrastructure projects built by private interests for the public good, like utility lines or toll roads.
Reached by phone today, Brunstetter said he didn't expect to move the amendment out of his committee next week, preferring to "let J1 kick the tires a little more in the short session" starting in May 2012.
"If you put this into the Constitution, you want to make sure you know what you're doing," he said.
Another high-profile issue won't get an airing next week, either. Tillis says the House won't have time to vote on Gov. Perdue's veto of Voter ID. An attempt to override that veto failed in July, but the bill was resurrected by a parliamentary maneuver by House Majority Leader Skip Stam, R-Wake. Tillis said there's a good chance it could come back up in the short session, too.
Under the terms of the resolution, legislators could also take up some election laws next week. But some members on the House side say they'd rather come back to handle those in a separate session, maybe in November.