Wednesday, 13 November 2019 13:01

Legislators return to Raleigh, will consider new congressional maps

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RALEIGH — They’re back.

Lawmakers will return to Raleigh Wednesday, Nov. 13, two weeks after adjourning a very, very long session.

For the next week or so, legislators will consider congressional map recommendations from a special redistricting committee. But leaders are noncommittal about whether they will take up other matters while in town.

On Monday, Nov. 11, Pat Ryan, a spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, told Carolina Journal lawmakers wouldn’t know until Nov. 13 whether they would deal with issues apart from redistricting.

Legislators will return in January to handle unfinished business. If not for redistricting, members wouldn’t be trekking to Raleigh just before the holidays, Ryan said.

But the resolution lawmakers passed Oct. 31 allows the House and Senate to consider issues other than redistricting. Legislators are allowed to take up conference reports, as well as legislative and gubernatorial appointments. They’re also allowed to pass a new resolution that would modify the types of business they could conduct before the end of the year.

Last month, legislators appeared ready to wait until January to handle bills vetoed this year by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Cooper overturned the state budget in June, battling with Republican leaders over Medicaid expansion. Since then, lawmakers have passed several mini-budgets, a piecemeal solution to the stalemate. While the House voted to override the budget veto in September, Senate leaders have been unable to gather enough votes.

In addition to the state budget, several key bills remain in limbo. They include one with emergency funding for the financially struggling N.C. Department of Transportation, and a farm bill with new regulations for the hemp industry.

Since Tuesday, Nov. 5, legislators have met in a special Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting, the result of an ongoing congressional redistricting lawsuit, Harper v. Lewis. In October, a panel of three Superior Court judges ordered a preliminary injunction against North Carolina’s existing congressional map. The 13 districts were subject to an extreme partisan gerrymander, they said.

While judges blocked the existing maps, they didn’t say lawmakers had to draw new districts.

But the filing period for candidates begins in early December. So, to prevent a delay in the filing period, legislators got to work drawing new maps.

The scene is similar to another redistricting lawsuit, Common Cause v. Lewis. That court battle, which involved legislative redistricting, led to judges ordering lawmakers to redraw legislative voter maps in just two weeks. 

Superior Court Judges Paul Ridgeway, Alma Hinton, and Joseph Crosswhite — the same judges presiding over Harper v. Lewis — told lawmakers they weren’t allowed to consider political or racial data.

The court reserved the right to approve the resulting maps. They did so in late October. Plaintiffs in the case have appealed that ruling to the N.C. Supreme Court.

Legislators are using a similar map-drawing process to create the congressional maps.