First Posted: 1/15/2009
RALEIGH - State Sen. David Weinstein of Lumberton is notorious for preferring Robeson County to Raleigh, often complaining when the General Assembly's sessions run long.
But Weinstein said the upcoming short session, which began today at noon, may end too soon. He said the House leadership has made it clear that it will address the budget and not much else.
“From what I hear, they will make the necessary changes to the budget and get out of there,” Weinstein said. “But we've got some important issues to address and, if that takes some extra time, so be it.”
The Lumberton Democrat said some of those pressing issues include the lottery, a proposed cigarette tax and a bill limiting medical malpractice lawsuits.
“There is no reason we shouldn't stay and address these issues,” he said. “The people haven't sent us up there to walk in and walk out.”
But local House members said the General Assembly will still accomplish several initiatives, even with an abbreviated session.
“I suspect we will have plenty of time to do what we need to do,” said Rep. Ron Sutton of Pembroke.
Sutton added that, while he expects the short session to end by the first week in July, the House will use that time more efficiently because the dual speakership has cut out much of the time-consuming political wrangling.
“We will be able to get quite a bit accomplished … ,” Sutton said. “Both parties get along better and we are able to get issues on the table. Neither side can ramrod anything down the other party's throat.”
Rep. Donald Bonner of Rowland said one reason for a potential shorter-than-usual session is the upcoming primary on July 20.
“Some of the House members have more difficult races than the senators,” said Bonner, who is not seeking re-election. “Campaigning is a necessary evil. If we don't do it, we won't be here to carry out any business anyway.”
Bonner said with the state revenue picture improving, the General Assembly should be able to improve teacher salaries, do something to help rural economies and address schools affected by the federal “No School Left Behind” legislation.
“I'm optimistic that, with the revenues above what was expected, we will have a chance to do some of the things that we've needed to do,” Bonner said.
Sutton said he expects the legislature to tackle the budget and several crime initiatives, including a bill dealing with methadone production and domestic violence.
He also expects the General Assembly to address a moratorium on the death penalty, which he has opposed.
“Don't expect to see a lot of new legislation, but old ideas like the lottery and helmets for motorcycle riders will be addressed,” he said.
Sutton said one issue that won't get a hearing is a same-sex marriage bill. Sutton, who chairs the House Judiciary III Committee, said he would make sure the bill never makes it to the House floor.
“I hope it comes to my committee,” he said. “It will never be heard from again. It will die a natural death in my filing cabinet. One senator from Chapel Hill has promised to bring the bill. I think the idea is ludicrous.”