Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory has called lawmakers back to Raleigh for a special session dealing with disaster recovery efforts and "any other matters" lawmakers decide to consider.
The governor opted for a broadly worded proclamation despite urging from other statewide officials, who said McCrory should at least try and limit the topics that lawmakers will handle.
McCrory said earlier this week he would declare a special legislative session next Tuesday to respond to damage caused by Hurricane Matthew and the western North Carolina wildfires. But the timing of the session, combined with McCrory's re-election loss and the current General Assembly's penchant for rapid and unexpected lawmaking – see House Bill 2 in March – have prodded the capitol's rumor mill into overdrive.
The most persistently floated rumor among many – all of which have been repeatedly denied by top Republican lawmakers and their staffs – is that legislators plan to expand the state Supreme Court by two seats in order to reverse Democratic gains on the seven-member court. That would allow McCrory, a fellow Republican who leaves office on Jan. 1, to appoint the two new jurists.
Before McCrory can call for a special session, the state constitution says he must seek the advice of the Council of State. In an email to other statewide elected officials on Thursday, McCrory General Counsel Bob Stephens said the governor was planning to call a special session for the purposes of "authorizing financial assistance necessary to aid the recovery from both Hurricane Matthew and the western North Carolina wildfires, making any changes in law to facilitate the recovery, and addressing any other matters the General Assembly elects to consider."
That last phrase appears to have caused concern among both Democratic and Republican members of the Council of State. Several urged him over the past day to more narrowly tailor the session call.
State Treasurer Janet Cowell, a Democrat, for example, said that the call of the session should be limited to measures necessary to appropriate money for the emergencies or laws needed to respond to the hurricane and wildfire.
"I do not consent to, join in, or advise any extra session with a broader purpose," she wrote.
Of the nine officials who responded, Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest all sent short notes simply saying they agreed with the need for the special session. The remaining six, like Cowell, all urged McCrory to limit the call.
It's seems unlikely that McCrory could entirely box in legislators. During Gov. Bev Perdue's term, for example, lawmakers used some parliamentary sleight of hand to convert a session called to address one veto into a session that dealt with an unrelated piece of legislation. Once gathered in Raleigh, lawmakers would also have the ability to call themselves back into a separate, concurrent session to deal with anything they want.
However, a limited session call by McCrory plus the cautionary notes from fellow statewide officials could somewhat temper any drive toward a more expansive session.
Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper, the current attorney general, said through his assistant that McCrory "should limit the purposes of the special session to aiding the recovery from Hurricane Matthew and the western North Carolina wildfires only."
Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, a Democrat, advised McCrory, "the special session should be called strictly for the purpose of aiding the recovery from Hurricane Matthew and the western North Carolina wildfires only."
Republican Labor Commissioner Cherrie Berry sent word through her chief of staff, Art Britt, that she also believes the session should be limited.
"Commissioner Berry concurs with the Governor’s request to call a special session however, it is her opinion that the special session should be limited to the stated purpose of authorizing financial assistance necessary to aid the recovery from both Hurricane Matthew and the western North Carolina wildfires and making any changes in law to facilitate the recovery, only," Britt wrote in an email.