Raleigh, N.C. — Even before the gavels dropped to open the business session of the General Assembly on Wednesday, what could be the most controversial bill lawmakers face this session dropped in the Senate.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's bill would allow magistrates to back out of performing same-sex marriages by citing religious objections. The proposal follows the resignation of a few magistrates last fall after they were ordered to marry a same-sex couple following a federal ruling that overturned North Carolina's constitutional amendment barring gay marriage.
Gay rights advocates criticized the bill and a more sweeping "religious freedom" bill that Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, said he plans to file.
Meanwhile, the NAACP and other groups said they might fire up weekly "Moral Monday" protests for the third year if they don't see lawmakers softening their stance on issues such as voting rights, Medicaid expansion and unemployment benefits.
Also, the North Carolina Chamber weighed in on Gov. Pat McCrory's plan for a $1 billion bond for some rural infrastructure projects. Chamber officials said that is a short-term solution, and the state needs a revenue source for up to $10 billion in needs from highways to rail lines to ports.
Once the sessions actually started, House Speaker Tim Moore acted like a legislative Santa Claus, handing out 100 gavels to committee chairs and vice chairs.