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NC lawmakers back in session Wednesday to tackle redistricting & veto overrides

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By Gary D. Robertson
The Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. -- State lawmakers who rushed out of Raleigh last month after completing the state budget and most of their work gradually are returning this week to tackle redistricting and to try to override Gov. Beverly Perdue's vetoes.

The reconvened session at the General Assembly begins Wednesday with the Senate voting on at least three bills that the Democratic governor vetoed in recent weeks. They include changes to medical malpractice litigation, how to regulate the environment and potential underground energy exploration and who resolves conflicts between state agencies and citizens and business.

The Republican-led Senate originally approved the bills by wide veto-proof margins, so they are likely to get the three-fifths majority needed to override the measure, said Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.

"I feel very confident the votes are there and our folks still believe that those bills need to go forward," Berger said Monday. Three other bills that originated from the Senate may also be considered, he said.

But the House will be largely empty in a meeting that's largely a formality and will begin the parliamentary clock on three House bills that were vetoed. After Wednesday, House and Senate members don't plan to take any significant action on legislation until July 25.

House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, already has said his chamber plans to take an override vote on legislation that would mandate potential voters to show photo identification before they can cast an in-person ballot. But based on earlier votes, several House Democrats would need to switch sides to cancel the veto.

Another House bill that would place time and medical restrictions on women before they could obtain an abortion would need one or two additional votes of supports or Perdue's veto would be upheld.

Perdue issued nine vetoes over about two weeks, giving her momentum after she failed to stop the enactment of a Republican-written two-year state budget. Five House Democrats joined Republican to override what's considered the most significant veto in state history. She was the first governor to use her veto power on the budget since given the power in 1997.

Tillis and Berger will have to work together and get cooperation from some Democrats to prevent her from building on recent gains as she begins her re-election bid in 2012, said David McLennan, a political science professor at Peace College in Raleigh.

"The worst thing that could happen to them is not being able to override some of the vetoes," McLennnan said. "You don't want to give a governor any more power that she has going into an election year."

The primary order of business for the work session would be to approve new boundaries for state House and Senate districts and the state's 13 U.S. House districts by July 28. The once-a-decade remapping is based on Census figures showing North Carolina's population increased by 1.5 million people since 2000. Both the legislative boundaries and congressional districts must have essentially the same number of people living within them to meet legal requirements.

Proposed maps already released by Republicans in charge of the redrawing for the first time in decades are projected to boost GOP political fortunes through the 2020 elections. The proposed U.S. House map would increase Republican voter registration percentages in four districts currently represented by Democrats, which currently have a 7-6 advantage in the delegation.

Drafts of more than 30 legislative districts - all comprised of majority-black voting age populations - already have been released. The release of the remainder of the 170 districts was delayed until Tuesday.

"This is a matter of drawing fair and legal districts and making them competitive," said Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, the Senate Redistricting Committee chairman.

Democrats - stuck in the minority in both chambers this year for the first time since 1898 - and their allies are suggesting potential legal action unless changes are made to maps they say accumulate black voters in districts to lessen their overall political influence. Democrats also argue the districts have been gerrymandered to give Republicans the opportunity to win 10 of the 13 congressional seats.

"They must be talking about increasing competition in Republican primaries," said Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe. "That's not going to create the kind of competition that people really want, which is competition between parties."

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