The North Carolina General Assembly returned to Raleigh Wednesday, Jan. 13, to convene its 2021-22 legislative biennium. As is customary, lawmakers were only in town for ceremonial purposes and stand in recess until Jan. 27 when they will return to begin their legislative work in earnest. As we prepare for the coming long session, here’s everything you need to know ahead of the General Assembly’s Jan. 27 return date.

Key Dates, Deadlines & Timelines

While the focus of Wednesday’s session was primarily to swear in new and returning legislators, each chamber also passed rules resolutions outlining major deadlines for the year:

  • Jan. 27: Lawmakers return to begin legislative business in earnest
  • March 11: Local bill filing deadline in the Senate
  • March 25: Local bill filing deadline in the House
  • April 6: Senate bill filing deadline for most bills that don’t address constitutional amendments, appointments, or election laws
  • April 20: House bill filing deadline for non-budget and non-finance bills
  • April 27: House bill filing deadline for budget and finance bills
  • May 13: Crossover deadline for bills to have passed either the House or the Senate to remain eligible for consideration throughout the duration of session

As usual, substantial legislative work won’t start until later this month. Per Senate Leader Phil Berger, the General Assembly will likely take up noncontroversial measures in the early weeks of session before diving into state budget work in the spring.

Session Priorities

Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 relief and related response measures are top of mind for Republicans and Democrats alike. This will include allocating the most recent tranche of federal coronavirus relief dollars for state spending, which will hinge on forthcoming federal guidelines. House Speaker Tim Moore expressed hope Wednesday that the General Assembly can continue to pass coronavirus relief unanimously as it did in 2020. 

Education, economic development, and broadband infrastructure are among other priorities lawmakers hope to address. And, of course, passing the state budget will be perhaps the biggest focus of the session. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic lawmakers expect to face a significant shortfall in state revenue this biennium, and it’s unclear exactly what impact this will have on appropriations decisions. North Carolina has not had an operating state budget since the 2017-18 session due to a stalemate over Medicaid expansion, and instead lawmakers passed a series of “mini budgets” to fund critical programs. While healthcare will be an important issue this year, it’s still to be determined whether Medicaid expansion will remain a sticking point.

Legislative Leadership

2020 saw a flurry of legislative departures for a number of different reasons and, as a result, legislative leadership this session is a mix of familiar faces as well as some newer ones.

Tim Moore was reelected House Speaker by his colleagues on Wednesday and Sen. Phil Berger will continue to serve as Senate President Pro Tempore. Rep. John Bell was reelected House Majority Leader and, following longtime senator Harry Brown’s retirement, Sen. Kathy Harrington was elected Senate Majority Leader. Sen. Dan Blue will continue to serve as Senate Minority Leader and Rep. Robert Reives was elected House Minority Leader. 

Updated committee assignments have also been released for the most part, with the House revealing chairmanships Wednesday and the Senate rolling out its full assignments earlier this month. You can find a list of House committee chairs here, and a list of full Senate committee assignments here.

Situational Awareness

North Carolina will continue to operate under divided government for yet another legislative biennium. Legislative Republicans managed to make it through the 2020 general election with both chambers’ majorities still intact, albeit with a thinner margin in the Senate, and Democrat Roy Cooper won reelection to his second term as Governor. Republican Mark Robinson will serve his first term as Lieutenant Governor, making him the Senate President and, as such, a possible tie-breaking vote.