- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The General Assembly geared up Tuesday, the eve of its next two-year session, with lawmakers arriving to set up offices in Raleigh and Republicans already fundraising two months removed from the last election.

Only about 20 new lawmakers - compared to more than 50 in 2013 - will take their seats for the first time Wednesday when the House and Senate gavel in a one-day organizational session to elect their leaders and approve debate rules. The House also will let their lawmakers file bills. Everyone returns Jan. 28 to introduce more bills and begin debating legislation.

With the GOP still firmly in control of both chambers after November, Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, is expected to be re-elected by his peers to a third term as Senate leader. House Republicans also haven’t wavered since choosing Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, as their nominee for House speaker, replacing now U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis. Moore already has moved into Tillis’ old corner office at the Legislative Building.

“I’m optimistic it’s going to be a great session, I’m looking forward to seeing us get back to work,” Moore said in a brief interview in between meetings. “I’m honored for the privilege to hopefully be elected tomorrow as speaker.”

About the only drama may be whether Democrats vote for Berger and Moore and whether the weather - freezing rain and icy roads were possible overnight - could delay leadership votes until later Wednesday. The weather late Tuesday caused the state NAACP to postpone by one week a scheduled march to the Legislative Building rotunda for demonstrations by those who’ve opposed recent Republican policies.

The organizational session was implemented for the first time two years ago to let lawmakers go home while leaders made committee assignments or performed other housekeeping duties.

Berger and Moore hosted a late Tuesday afternoon joint fundraiser for their respective campaign committees at a club inside a Raleigh skyscraper for an event at which Tillis also attended and introduced his former colleagues. House Republicans scheduled another fundraiser for its caucus following the joint event, and Moore also was holding a barbecue fundraiser Tuesday evening.

The chamber leaders traditionally have been expected to raise large amounts of campaign money, which then gets funneled through their respective parties to the campaigns of other candidates.

“I’ve been fundraising (since) the day after the election to build up for next year because we have to do that to get our folks re-elected,” Moore said. “I imagine we’ll continue to fundraise within the time periods allowed by law.”

The House and Senate Democratic caucuses and the Senate Republican Caucus scheduled fundraisers just before Jan. 28, the date in which lawmakers are barred from receiving donations by organizations with legislative lobbyists until this year’s work ends, probably this summer.

Since the previous session adjourned in August, the House chamber underwent a face lift, with new white walls nailed over its special-form masonry blocks and some of its double doors. The changes match similar renovations the Senate performed in 2006.

The House also replaced its electronic board to tally legislators’ votes.

Workers were putting the finishing touches on the House chamber Tuesday morning as Moore swore in Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, to his 11th term, only for Starnes to resign less than an hour later. Starnes was to begin a job Wednesday in State Treasurer Janet Cowell’s office. Legal experts said Starnes couldn’t resign the seat he won without taking his oath first, according to the House clerk’s office.

Tillis, who served in the legislature for eight years and the last four as speaker, also planned to attend the Wednesday morning House session, spokesman Daniel Keylin said.

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