North Carolina Republicans just announced a surprise, last-minute lawmaking session, and Democrats are freaking out

North Carolina Democrats are worried over speculation that state Republicans will try to limit Governor-elect Roy Cooper’s power before he even takes office.

The state legislature had convened in Raleigh this week for a special session — ostensibly to address relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Matthew.

But shortly before the session was due to end Wednesday, Republicans called for an additional special session, which kicked off at 2 p.m. Wednesday. The session was approved by the Republican-dominated legislature.

GOP lawmakers declined to explain the specific purpose for the last-minute meeting, although House Rules Chairman David Lewis dropped a hint suggesting Republicans may try to tinker with the authority of incoming Democratic governor Roy Cooper.

“I think to be candid with you, that you will see the General Assembly look to reassert its constitutional authority in areas that may have been previously delegated to the executive branch,” said Lewis, a Republican, according to Raleigh’s News and Observer. He added that Republicans may “work to establish that we are going to continue to be a relevant party in governing this state.”

Pressed on whether lawmakers would seek to change the governor’s power to appoint officials, including members of the state elections board, Lewis said, “I think you’re on the right track.”

Cooper narrowly defeated Republican incumbent Pat McCrory in November’s gubernatorial election, potentially representing a road block for North Carolina’s conservative-leaning General Assembly. In McCrory, Republicans found a champion for their hardline conservative legislation, including a voter ID law that a federal court struck down for targeting black residents “with almost surgical precision.”

The call for a surprise session immediately hearkened back to March, when Republicans ushered through the contentious House Bill 2 during a one-day special session. The bill, which limited protections for LGBT residents of the state, was signed into law by McCrory later that night with virtually no time for public input.

Democrats were quick to blast Wednesday’s extra session, which was announced around noon on Wednesday, but had apparently been in the works as early as Monday, based on the date of a petition requesting the session.

“We thought that the representatives and senators were being called to North Carolina because of the hurricane and wildfire relief, but it seems that they are planning something bigger and something more unexpected than we anticipated,” Ben Graumann, communications director for the advocacy group Equality NC, told Business Insider. 

Before the start of this week’s session, House Speaker Tim Moore fiercely rejected speculation that Republicans would attempt to add two seats to the state Supreme Court in an attempt to undermine the court’s soon-to-be liberal majority. Moore said such a proposal is unlikely to come up in the extra session Wednesday evening, according to the News and Observer.

“I do not expect to see the court packing that people are talking about,” he said.

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