Regulatory reform, improving education in NC legislative crosshairs

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RALEIGH, N.C. -- Lawmakers got back to business, but only for the day Wednesday. They'll be taking a two week break before rolling up their sleeves for the long session.

The first day was mainly ceremonial with legislative formalities. Representative Tim Moore and Senator Phil Berger were re-elected to their leadership roles of House Speaker and Senate President Pro Temp, respectively.

New members were also sworn in, including long time Davidson County Commissioner Larry Potts.

"Having been the end user of the state laws at the local level, one of my first goals is to do no harm and not create any additional regulations and burdens either on local government or business," Potts said.

That goal is shared by Republican leadership, as members tried to push a regulatory reform bill last session. House Majority Leader John Bell says that will be a major platform to help economic growth, along with holding taxes where they are.

"Regulatory reform was one of the issues that we put forward and that we've taken on as a caucus and as our staple," Bell said.

A bipartisan issue this year is improving education across the state. Both Democrats and Republicans have called for increased broadband in North Carolina's rural areas, along with making technology more available in those areas and cities.

"From our perspective we want to put money back in the classroom, we want to get money back to teachers so teacher pay is a big issue," Bell said.

The last time lawmakers met was just weeks ago, in hopes to repeal House Bill 2. The deal fell apart after Republicans introduced a moratorium attachment to a clean repeal. That moratorium was a reaction to Charlotte City Council only partially repealing it's ordinance that spurred the legislation in the first place. Charlotte fully repealed its non-discrimination ordinance before the special session, but Republican leadership saw the move as an act of bad faith and did not trust other municipalities from enacting similar non-discrimination ordinances after a repeal of HB2.

Now the fate of the non-discrimination "bathroom bill" is uncertain heading into the long session.

"No one really knows where we are on HB2 repeal," said Senator Jeff Jackson, a Mecklenburg County Democrat. "There's clearly bipartisan will to repeal HB2. Some Republicans want a full repeal some want a partial, I think we'll find out in the next month if we'll get a full repeal."

"For some members it's a personal moral; it's a personal moral religious belief issue so you have that issue," Bell said, talking about the split within his own party on the issue. "You have the government overreach issue, you have the mistrust issue." The majority leader went on to say the topic needs to be fully discussed because of these complexities.

The budget will be one of the first things on lawmakers' plates when they get back to work on Jan. 25. Gov. Roy Cooper will have a chance to present his own budget. Republicans are making it clear they wish to continue controlled and responsible spending and building on the budget surplus.