The North Carolina General Assembly convened today, with both the House and the Senate holding what were largely ceremonial meetings. The only real business was the election of leaders, and in the House that meant the election of a new Speaker since the former Speaker, Thom Tillis, was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Leadership. The House Republican Caucus weeks ago chose the former Rules Committee Chairman, Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), as its candidate and, reflecting the large majority held by Republicans, the Democrats did not put forth a candidate for Speaker. Moore was unanimously elected Speaker for the 2015-16 session. Moore is an attorney from Kings Mountain, and he has served in the House since 2003.
Speaker Tillis appointed Moore as Rules Committee Chairman in 2011, and the Chairman of the Rules Committee is basically the traffic cop for the House — moving bills to and from the floor and assigning them to committees for consideration. Moore often chaired the full House when Speaker Tillis was out of the chamber. He was one of the senior leaders in the House over the last four years, and his experience as a House leader will no doubt make his transition to Speaker an easy one.
Moore’s election as Speaker is the latest example of how the center of political power in North Carolina has shifted westward. Tillis hailed from outside of Charlotte in Mecklenburg County, and the current Senate leadership also hails from districts farther west than the prior leadership when Democrats led that chamber. Senator Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson) will again chair the powerful Senate Rules Committee.
The only other leadership slots were the Speaker Pro Tem slot and the Clerk of the House position. Representative Paul “Skip” Stam (R-Wake) was reelected as Speaker Pro Tem, and longtime House Clerk, Denise Weeks, was again chosen as House Clerk. Stam is an eight-term House member, having previously served as Minority Leader and Majority Leader. Weeks has served as Clerk both when Democrats and Republicans were in the majority. She will be starting her 22nd year as Clerk of the House.
(The House and Senate both elect a Principal Clerk, who is responsible for all the administrative functions of the body, including keeping necessary documents and maintaining official records. The Principal Clerk is a professional position, directly overseeing a non-partisan staff of roughly half a dozen assistants. The Principal Clerk works in close, daily consultation with leadership and serves as the official certifying officer for the body. For more information, please read “How laws are made.”)
Legislation. Most legislators headed home quickly following the opening session with wintery weather in the area, but I filed one of the few bills filed on opening day: a bill to authorize a constitutional amendment to prohibit condemnation of private property except for a public use. House Bill 3 [Eminent Domain] establishes a higher standard than is required by federal law for the State and its local governments when acquiring property through condemnation. The bill explicitly requires just compensation and provides the right to a jury trial in condemnation cases.
House Bill 3 is almost the same bill that I introduced in the last session (House Bill 8, 2013-2014 Session) that passed the House by a vote of 110 to 8. The bill never was taken up by the Senate.
The proposed constitutional amendment is a direct response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court adopted a low constitutional standard for governments condemning property, but left the door open for states to adopt a stricter standard — and that is exactly what House Bill 3 proposes to do.
Aside from providing a higher bar for use of governments’ power to condemn property, the proposed constitutional amendment corrects two other omissions in the North Carolina Constitution. Among state constitutions, only North Carolina does not expressly state that a government must pay for the private property it takes. North Carolina also does not have a constitutional provision which guarantees for jury trials in condemnation cases. These omissions will be corrected if the bill passes and the amendment is ultimately approved by the state’s voters.
Keeping Track of the General Assembly (and me!) The General Assembly will come back into session on Wednesday, January 28 at noon. After that short week, we’ll get back into our normal routine. The typical week will include sessions on Monday night and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. Periodically, the House will be in session on a Friday or even over the weekend, but that doesn’t happen often. Typically, I drive over to Raleigh on Sunday night or Monday morning, and I drive back to Henderson County on Thursday night. That means I’m potentially available on Monday mornings, and usually on Fridays, and over the weekends back in Henderson County.
My contact information both in Raleigh and in Hendersonville is almost the same as before. If you should have any questions or concerns, the best way to contact me is at my legislative office at (919) 733-5956 or by email at Chuck.McGrady@ncleg.net. My Legislative Assistant is Laura Bone, and Sam Blanton is working with me as my Research Assistant. My office is still in the Legislative Office Building, but we’ve moved to 304.
You can listen to each day’s session, committee meetings, and press conferences on the General Assembly’s website at www.ncleg.net. Once on the site, select “Audio,” and then make your selection: House Chamber, Senate Chamber, Appropriations Committee Room, or Press Conference Room.
Some Closing Thoughts. My view is that one of the most important things that the legislature does is the adoption of a state budget. As with past sessions, you’ll see a mission statement in my office that states that my mission is to develop a budget for North Carolina which keeps spending in line with available revenues by identifying the proper and necessary functions of state government and then prioritizing them.
My commitment is to spend the next few months working to build consensus around budget-related issues. My hope is that the hallmark of my service will be my transparency in working on sometimes divisive issues and my constituency work on behalf of my Henderson County constituents.
My hope is that you’ll keep me in your thoughts and prayers and that you’ll communicate with me about any state issues. If you think we’ve veered off course, I expect you to contact me — but words of encouragement will also be appreciated. I also invite you to follow me on my Facebook and Twitter accounts for current legislative updates.