As partisan rancor flared in Washington during congressional debate over the second impeachment of President Donald Trump, state lawmakers in Raleigh sounded a note of cooperation at the start of this year's North Carolina General Assembly session.
Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) has been re-elected as President Pro Tem and told reporters that lawmakers would likely take up COVID-19 relief legislation soon to allocate funds recently approved by Congress.
"I've talked directly with the governor, I know the speaker has talked directly with the governor, and we've had staff-to-staff conversations as well," Berger said. "I'm hopeful that we'll be able to move that forward pretty quickly."
Berger also said he hopes lawmakers will have a two-year state budget plan in place by the end of June just before the new fiscal year.
Berger wore a mask as he spoke with reporters, just as he and other senators did during Wednesday's session, a voluntary practice he said was likely to continue as COVID-19 infections rage across the state.
"I think individual members decided that it was the appropriate thing for them to do at this time," Berger said.
On the House side, Republican Tim Moore was re-elected for his fourth term as speaker. He told reporters he hoped lawmakers would work together to address urgent issues like helping kids who may have fallen behind because of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Maybe coming up with a way of testing them and then just fully funding a summer learning program," Moore said.
House Minority Leader Robert Reives (D-Chatham, Durham) told his colleagues people want legislators to find common ground.
"They don't want to hear us bickering this year, they don't want to hear us fighting," Reives said on the House floor during Wednesday's session.
Even if lawmakers from both parties manage to come to terms on a budget plan this year, things could get dicey later this summer. That's when they'll take up a new round of redistricting once new census data comes in.