RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A look at North Carolina's 2013 General Assembly, which begins in earnest Wednesday.
ALREADY HERE: The General Assembly met Jan. 9 to elect House and Senate leaders and approve chamber operating rules. Legislators approved the one-day session last summer as a time- and cost-saving measure based on the idea that lawmakers would swiftly get to work upon reconvening. House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, each were re-elected unanimously to second two-year terms leading their respective chambers.
WHO'S ARRIVED: Republicans now outnumber Democrats 77-43 in the House, or a nine-seat GOP increase compared with the 2011-12 session. Republicans have a 33-17 advantage over Democrats in the Senate, or a net increase of two seats. More than 50 legislators this year are freshmen or are returning after absences. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who succeeded Democrat Beverly Perdue, will be the chief executive, receiving bills to sign and negotiating with legislators over the budget and other issues. New GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Forest will preside over Senate debate.
FIRST UP: Tillis said he expects that the first legislation approved will make clear that group homes can tap into nearly $40 million over the next five months to help them deal with Medicaid service rate reductions for their residents with mental illness or developmental disabilities.
WHEN THEY'LL LEAVE: The legislature will aim to adjourn this year's session by mid-June — about the same time the General Assembly went home in 2011.
OTHER ISSUES: General Assembly leaders will draw up a new state government budget through mid-2015, plan to approve changes to the unemployment insurance system, create ID requirements to vote in person and consider overhauling the tax system. Here are some other issues that are likely to come up in 2013:
— Medicaid: The legislature and McCrory will have to decide whether take on an additional 500,000 Medicaid recipients provided for but not required through the federal Affordable Care Act. Berger said his caucus is wary about increasing the state's Medicaid enrollment — even though the federal government would pay for nearly all the costs — when the Medicaid program keeps ringing up shortfalls. The governor and legislators also will work through what role, if any, it wants North Carolina to have in developing health insurance exchanges that the federal health care law requires.
— Regulatory reform. There was some surprising bipartisan support at times during the 2011-12 session for regulatory reform. Tillis said the House will take the lead in the General Assembly this year on the topic.
— Loosening teacher tenure. Berger wants to loosen the rules that make it difficult to fire poorly performing public school teachers, citing changes in Colorado as a possible model. An education overhaul bill Berger offered in 2012 would have ended tenure, but it got cut during final negotiations. Tillis said he's willing to consider legislation that school leaders say will be effective.
— Linking curriculum to jobs. Expect legislative leaders and McCrory to push legislation to ensure students are taught more specific skills that will allow them to land jobs in hard-to-recruit industries in the state.
— School choice. Some lawmakers want to revive a 2012 measure that would allow corporations to divert their state taxes to nonprofits, which would in turn distribute scholarships of up to $4,000 per student for private K-12 school tuition. Critics say the bill is just school "vouchers" by another name.
— Gun control: Republican legislative leaders don't sound interested in any measures that would place new gun ownership restrictions in the wake of the Connecticut elementary school shootings last month. It's too early to tell whether there's support for passing legislation to put more armed guards inside schools or to arm teachers.
— Right-to-work constitutional amendment: Tillis and Berger say they're open to a constitutional amendment that would affirm North Carolina's status as a "right-to-work" state, meaning people can't be required to join a union to get a job.
— Eugenics compensation. Tillis said he'll push again a measure that would give monetary compensation to living victims of North Carolina's previous forced sterilization program. A bill giving $50,000 to each survivor passed the House in 2012, but the Senate wouldn't support it.
— Abortion restrictions. House Speaker Pro Tempore Paul Stam, R-Wake, said legislation is being drafted that would exclude abortion coverage from the health insurance exchanges and outlaw abortions based on gender preferences. McCrory has been cool to regulating abortion further. Portions of a 2011 abortion restriction measure were struck down by a federal judge.