- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The Latest on the North Carolina General Assembly meeting to consider a relief package following Hurricane Matthew and wildfires (all times local):

6:40 p.m.

Senate Republicans are proposing dramatic changes to North Carolina elections laws in the General Assembly’s current special session.

A bill filed Wednesday evening would merge the State Board of Elections with the State Ethics Commission. The bill envisions creating a new eight-member board, with four appointees picked by the governor and the General Assembly. There would be four Democrats and four Republicans. Current law gives a majority of the state elections board’s five members to the governor’s party.

County election boards would become four-member panels, compared to three today.

The legislation would make elections for the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals seats officially partisan again, with party primaries. It also would direct the Court of Appeals to meet “en banc” with up to 15 judges to rehear cases heard by three-judge panels.

A Senate committee could hear the measure Thursday morning.


6:05 p.m.

Republican lawmakers are offering some hints about what they may debate and try to pass at the Legislative Building before adjourning its new special session.

Senate leader Phil Berger said Wednesday he anticipates his chamber considering two nominations to the North Carolina Business Court by outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory. He also expects an elections law bill considered in committee Thursday.

House Republicans already filed a regulatory bill that contains many provisions agreed to by lawmakers during this year’s work session but never became law. The legislation would reduce the number of counties where motorists must undergo vehicle emission tests.

More bills are expected to be filed before House and Senate deadlines early Wednesday evening. Democrats say the special session violates the state constitution and are worried Republicans want to scale back the power of Gov.-elect Roy Cooper when he takes office Jan. 1.


3:35 p.m.

A new special session of the North Carolina General Assembly is underway, still with few specifics about what Republicans running the House and Senate want to debate or pass before leaving Raleigh.

The legislature adjourned Wednesday afternoon the session that Gov. Pat McCrory called primarily to approve money for relief after Hurricane Matthew and wildfires in the mountains. But GOP leaders had accumulated enough signatures from colleagues to call themselves back to work minutes later.

Lawmakers had until late Wednesday to file bills. Speaker Tim Moore told House members they would know later whether action would be taken on bills Wednesday evening.

House Democrats lodged a formal protest against the new session, saying the method through which Republicans convened is unconstitutional. Democrats and their allies are worried GOP leaders will rush through legislation that could weaken the next governor, Democrat Roy Cooper.


1:35 p.m.

A Hurricane Matthew and wildfire relief package completed by the North Carolina General Assembly is heading to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk.

The House on Wednesday agreed unanimously to a small change the Senate made to the bill now being sent to the outgoing governor, whose signature is expected. McCrory spoke to House and Senate committees this week to push for the roughly $200 million proposal. No one in the House and Senate voted against the legislation.

The legislature’s work apparently is not done. Republican lawmakers are calling themselves back into session after ending the current session that McCrory called. Exactly what legislation they want to debate is unclear, but Democrats and their allies are worried there will be mischief.


12:25 p.m.

Passage of a relief package for cleanup and repairs following Hurricane Matthew and mountain wildfires is almost done.

The Senate gave unanimous approval Wednesday to the $201 million proposal. The measure is designed to get more displaced residents into housing, give local governments help building infrastructure and provide the state forest service money for firefighting expenses.

The bill now only needs final approval from the House on some minor changes before going to Gov. Pat McCrory for his expected signature. The House approved unanimously a slightly different version Tuesday.

The disaster aid isn’t the only thing lawmakers will consider before going home. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger announced plans to adjourn the special session that McCrory proclaimed Tuesday and convene a new session requested by three-fifths of the lawmakers in each chamber.

Moore and Berger gave few specifics about legislation being considered during the new session starting Wednesday afternoon.


10:45 a.m.

A $200 million relief package for Hurricane Matthew and mountain wildfires is nearing final passage after a pair of Senate committees signed off on a plan already approved unanimously by the House.

The Senate appropriations and finance panels voted Wednesday for the proposal, which emphasizes getting displaced residents in rental housing and helping local governments with infrastructure repairs. About one-third of the funds would help match hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid already coming to North Carolina. The bill writers emphasized more financial aid would be coming from the legislature in early 2017.

Gov. Pat McCrory addressed the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday and urged lawmakers to act quickly to give people harmed by the historic flooding more hope entering the Christmas holidays. McCrory called the legislature back into session Tuesday to approve a state package.

Senate floor debate was expected later Wednesday.


6:40 a.m.

The legislature is making quick work of a package to rebuild eastern North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew and to fight recent wildfires in the mountains. Whether that means more time for Republicans to consider unrelated legislation before going home remains unclear.

Two Senate committees planned meetings Wednesday morning to discuss a roughly $200 million relief proposal that the House approved unanimously late Tuesday. Senate leader Phil Berger says he anticipates his chamber to approve the package.

Gov. Pat McCrory called the General Assembly back to Raleigh for Tuesday’s special session, with disaster relief the priority.

Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said separately they’re considering other legislation but aren’t saying much about what else they may consider. Anti-Republican activists are waiting in the Legislative Building to try to fight that.

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