RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina General Assembly reconvened Tuesday, with Republicans advancing their chief objective during the lame-duck session of passing a voter identification law to carry out a new constitutional amendment mandating photo ID.
The Senate and House gaveled in the session three weeks since Democrats won more than 15 additional legislative seats and broke the Republicans' veto-proof majorities come January.
But united GOP legislators still can pass legislation and override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's vetoes until year's end. And GOP lawmakers contend they're obligated to pass the voter ID details as soon as possible, given that more than 55 percent of the voters also approved the voter ID referendum on Election Day .
By late Tuesday, a Senate committee recommended a measure that laid out a wide variety of qualifying identification cards and exceptions. It largely expands on a voter ID requirement contained within a 2013 law that included several voting restrictions. The voter ID and other portions of the law got struck down by federal judges, who ruled they were approved with discriminatory intent.
Republicans strongly disagree, and sought the constitutional requirement in part to gain public support and put them in a better legal position.
"Our goal with this legislation is to follow through on that clear mandate to secure our elections process, while also making sure that the ID requirement is not an impediment to those who are legally eligible to vote," GOP Sens. Warren Daniel of Burke County and Joyce Krawiec of Forsyth County, some of the bill's co-sponsors, said in a statement. The bill is expected to reach the Senate floor Wednesday.
Well over 100 people opposed to a voter ID law rallied outside and inside the Legislative Building. Many of them had fought successfully against the 2013 law. Protesters said voter ID would disproportionately harm minorities and the poor. They demanded legislators use the session instead to help people still suffering after Hurricane Florence by expanding Medicaid and raising the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
"We call on you to stop the political disenfranchisement, stop the economic exploitation and stop terrorizing the people with your constitutionally illegitimate powers," NAACP state president Rev. T. Anthony Spearman said. He argues that the voter ID amendment is void because dozens of current legislators were elected from racially gerrymandered districts, making their actions to put it on a ballot unlawful. A lawsuit making such an allegation is pending.
The updated voter ID proposal would add student identification cards at public and private universities and community colleges, as well as employees in local governments, to the list of qualifying IDs, provided the cards meet certain security thresholds. There also would be new, free photo voter identification cards created by county elections boards that registered voters could obtain.
There would also be many exceptions, including people with religious objections, those who lost their card during a natural disaster and others with "reasonable impediments" to obtaining an ID. The voter ID requirement would take effect with municipal elections next year, but people unaware of the requirement wouldn't be prevented from voting until 2020.
Other legislation addressing economic incentives and Florence aid also surfaced Tuesday. The Senate Finance Committee voted for a bill that would more than double state tax breaks offered to certain companies that promise to bring lots of high-paying jobs.
And senators unveiled how to spend $300 million already sitting in a special Florence recovery fund. The measure , expected in the Senate budget-writing committee Wednesday, would earmark $240 million for a program already approved by legislators designed to make direct payments to farmers whose crops and livestock were destroyed during September's historic rains and flooding. Another $25 million would assist with public school repairs and food replacement.