RALEIGH — Although local legislators say it’s uncertain what will be on their plate when they return Wednesday to Raleigh for the start of their long session, the three Democrats in Robeson County’s five-member legislative delegation agree that the session is going to be difficult.
“It’s going to be a volatile year,” said Garland Pierce, a Democrat who is the senior member of the county’s delegation. “There is a lot of bad blood between the governor (Democrat Roy Cooper) and the General Assembly.”
One of the state’s most divisive issues, House Bill 2, will certainly be revisited as a compromise that appeared to be in the works fell through late in December. Local lawmakers believe an effort to find a way to build new schools in Robeson County will be rebooted, an issue that was divisive in Robeson County during the summer.
Cooper took over as governor on Jan. 1 after narrowly defeating incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in the November General Election.
In a recent special legislative session, the Republican-controlled House and Senate passed bills that put restrictions on Cooper’s authority to execute his executive powers, including reducing the number of appointments he can make to state positions. Cooper and the Democrats contend that the laws are unconstitutional and they sued, winning a temporary stay.
“It’s going to be a contentious session,” Rep. Ken Goodman, a Democrat, said. “We are going to end up in court more than we want.”
Republicans control both the House and Senate with super majorities. Cooper’s vetoes of any bill passed by the General Assembly are likely to be easily overridden.
“I hope during the session differences can be worked out between the governor and leadership in both houses,” said Rep. Charles Graham, also a Democrat. “It’s going to take compromise to get anything done.”
Goodman said HB2 is going to “overshadow” everything the legislators do until a compromise is reached. HB2 has been blamed for the state losing millions of dollars of economic investment, hundreds and perhaps thousands of jobs, and the loss of prized athletic events and other entertainment, including musicians who won’t perform in the state.
“We have to do something to solve this,” said Goodman. “It’s hurting our state.”
Goodman thinks the time is right for a statewide bond referendum to provide money needed to pay for new construction and make repairs along the entire stretch of Interstate 95.
All three of the Democrats said they expect there will be something proposed that will provide a way for funding construction of new schools in Robeson County. A proposal last year by a Raleigh firm to close 30 schools and build 14 new ones in a lease-purchase agreement died when necessary legislation was not approved. That effort was embraced locally by the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, but the local school board split on the matter, making it easier for legislators to let the necessary legislation die.
Graham said that he hopes some legislation will be passed that will help the county schools recover from Hurricane Matthew. The central office, which is just west of Interstate 95 at exit 17, was swamped by flooding.
“My No. 1 priority with the schools is to see what they need and to take care of the pressing needs,” he said.
Pierce said that redrawing several voting districts across the state will occupy legislators as they try to make a court-mandated deadline of March 15 so elections in those districts can be held this year. Pierce’s District 48 is among those that must be redrawn.
The two Republicans who will be representing Robeson County are Rep. Brenden Jones and Sen. Danny Britt, both of whom will be freshman. Jones replaced Ken Waddell, a Democrat who did not seek re-election, and Britt, a local attorney, denied Jane Smith, also a Democrat, a second term.
Jones said economic development is the major issue that needs to be addressed for Southeastern North Carolina, a subject that Graham also said legislators need to focus on.
Britt could not be reached to comment for this story.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.