North Carolina's business lobby kicked off this year's legislative session with an ambitious to-do list in a Republican-controlled statehouse.
The N.C. Chamber feted its members Tuesday at the N.C. Museum of History in downtown Raleigh with speakers, legislators and hors d' oeuvres.
The group hopes to achieve goals that were out-of-reach in past years when Democrats controlled both houses of the General Assembly.
"It's a new era," said Lew Ebert, the chamber's president and CEO. Ebert said the chamber will be pushing for a pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda.
Topping the chamber's priorities: limiting medical malpractice lawsuits, limiting workers compensation payouts to injured employees, and limiting the cost of complying with state regulations.
Some of the legislation the chamber is seeking is expected to be introduced as early as Wednesday, lawmakers said at the gathering.
The pro-business policies are taking shape against the backdrop of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, a statewide jobless rate of 9.8 percent and a projected state budget shortfall of $3.7 billion.
Two Democrats invited to speak -- House Minority Leader Joe Hackney and sen. Don Vaughan of Guilford County -- warned that the Democrats will fight some of the Republican initiatives.
Republican Senator Phil Berger, the Senate President Pro Tempore, endorsed the chamber's agenda.
"You're going to see significant movement on regulatory reform," said Berger, who represents Guilford and Rockingham counties. "We're looking to freeze most new regulations on business the business community in dollars. We're looking to slow down the regulatory environment in North Carolina."
After the meeting, the chamber's top lobbyist, John McAlister, said the chamber is still working out details on its legislative program and couldn't say how its proposed reforms might look.
But they would almost certainly mean reduced liability for business.
McAlister said that North Carolina has among the highest per capital payouts for workers compensation claims, in part because some workers comp payouts are made for the duration of the injured worker's life.
"It's not supposed to be a retirement program," he said. "In too many instances its' become more of a retirement program instead of taking care of a person until he's ready to go back to work."