Members of the North Carolina Senate and House of Representatives were sworn in on Wednesday during a mostly ceremonial first day of the 2023 legislative long session. While the 30 Republicans and 20 Democrats in the NC Senate took their oaths of office, voted to re-elect Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) as Senate President Pro Tempore, and passed their governing rules for the session without much fanfare, it was a different picture in the NC House. As House members prepared to take their oaths, Rep. William Brisson (R-Bladen) was suddenly ushered from the House Chamber due to a medical emergency. While Rep. Brisson was able to return and participate in the swearing-in ceremony following a brief recess, the moment brought further attention to the temporary House rules, which would make attendance even more critical for House members, particularly Democrats.
Unlike the 2023 permanent rules passed in the Senate or the 2022 House rules, the 2023 temporary House rules allows re-elected House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) to schedule a veto override vote at any time during session without having to provide at least 24 hours notice to members from across the state. Because House Republicans are only one member short of having the three-fifths supermajority needed to override a veto by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, House Democrats would need to ensure every Democrat was in attendance at all times to defend Cooper’s veto power. According to House Minority Leader Robert Reives (D-Chatham), the rule change “holds people hostage,” as lawmakers could miss a vote if they need to temporarily leave the room to answer a call or go to the restroom.
Rep. Reives agreed not to debate the temporary rules during Wednesday’s session “in light of the kumbaya for today,” but noted his plans to oppose the permanent rules when the NCGA plans to begin its substantive work in February. Speaker Moore told reporters the rules are unlikely to be changed next month, as they could easily pass with the Republican majority in the House. Speaker Moore also stated that despite the proposed rules, he would notify all members if a vote was not planned for the following day. With hot topics such as education funding and abortion rights likely on the agenda and razor thin voting margins, the 2023 legislative session could prove one of the most eventful legislative sessions in recent years.