State lawmakers take oath, set direction on opening day of 2017 session

N.C. House and Senate re-elected Speaker, President pro tem posts, welcomed new members to Republican controlled legislature as policy focus was teased.

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Principal Clerk of the North Carolina House Denise Weeks

RALEIGH — The North Carolina General Assembly commenced it’s 2017 legislative session Wednesday to administer the oath of office to members, elect officers and clerks, and make select committee assignments in a largely ceremonial episode on Jones Street. While the the day’s business was mostly perfunctory, Republican legislative leaders gave overture to the policy agenda that begins in earnest when the lawmakers reconvene Jan. 25.Retiring Principal Clerk of the N.C. House Denise Weeks presided over the opening of the session preceding the election of House Speaker. It was the last time Weeks will perform the honors after a distinguished tenure of more than two decades in the role. Her deputy, James White, was chosen unanimously by the body to serve as the new principal clerk.Speaker of the N.C. House Rep. Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) was re-elected to the post as expected, but the understudy role of Speaker pro tem saw change. Former Speaker pro tem Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake) is retiring, and the chamber unanimously selected Republican Rep. Sarah Stevens of Mt. Airy to tackle the job.”My true legacy will be: nobody remembers I was Speaker pro tem, but the people who were here remember I helped them,” said Stevens in an interview. “I am Speaker pro tem of the House, not Speaker pro tem of the Republican caucus. I won’t forget the people for whom I was elected, but I generally would like to work with everyone in the legislature and I’ve usually found a way to do that.”She acknowledged bipartisan consensus is not always possible, but legislative philosophies can make a big difference in the end.”Certain issues, we’re just going to agree to disagree on, and I hope we can do it in a respectful, positive way. As in my previous training as a mediator we’ve got to look to our best alternative to a negotiated settlement,” said Stevens. “And that is, we can force it down on you as Republicans the agendas that we want to do. The question is do you want to join in with us, do you want to make a positive impact.”Adding, “To me that’s the greater philosophy; if you’re going to pass a law, let’s make it the best we can.”Stevens highlighted education as a a focus and opportunity for bipartisan efforts to raise teacher pay in a fiscally responsible way.”I have a daughter who is a teacher, so I’m clearly concerned about her ability to support herself and continue to go forward,” said Stevens. “I also do that with out breaking the backs of the tax payers.”Regulatory reform is also a top 2017 priority in the N.C. House according to Rep. Pat Hurley (R-Randolph).”Regulations are a hindrance to a lot of the businesses,” said Hurley in an interview. “So many of them have regulations that make it almost impossible to do their jobs, so we are definitely going to look at that again and anything we can do to help them create more jobs. We are very pleased with what’s been happening with N.C.’s economy and we want to keep on doing what we’ve been doing.” Hurley has been appointed to serve this session as the Liaison to the Joint Caucus with the N.C. Senate, a major role in facilitating inter-chamber accord on final policy and budget proposals.To that end, the N.C. Senate also reaffirmed Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) as President pro tem Wednesday who previewed that chamber’s focus for the coming session, listing continued tax and regulatory reform, conservative budgeting, and education as top priorities.”We’ll continue efforts to reform and improve public education for our students and have already committed to raising average teacher pay to $55,000 over the next two years,” said Berger,The Senate Leader clearly marked the path forward for the Republican super-majority in 2017.”In the coming session, we’ll maintain the budgeting and spending discipline, and the commitment to pro-growth tax policies, that have helped return our state to good fiscal health,” said Berger before asserting, “Let me be clear: we will not, under any circumstances, return to the failed tax and spend policies of the past that gave us the mess we inherited in 2011.The House and Senate adjourned Wednesday and will convene again on Jan. 25.