Legislative Report December 20, 2021
Redistricting court cases here are about as unpredictable as North Carolina’s weather, and that was on full display over the past few weeks. In our last report, we shared the news on the three-judge Superior Court panel’s decision to decline a request to delay the 2022 primaries. Since then, a panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed that decision. Their decision would have halted filing for the U.S. House and state legislative races on the very day that filing was set to begin. Later that day, the panel’s decision was overturned by the full 15-member appeals court, which voted to lift the stay on filing and hold a hearing on the motion. From there, challengers appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. This brings us to the latest order, which suspended candidate filing for the 2022 primary elections and ordered that the primaries be delayed until May 17th rather than the scheduled March 8th. This ruling goes a step further than the initial ruling, which would have halted filing for the U.S. House and legislative races, and shuts down all candidate filing and delays all state primary elections, including local races. Read the full report.
Legislative Report December 9, 2021
Last week the General Assembly completed their business for this calendar year... or so they are telling us. The plan is to hold skeleton sessions until December 10th, and return on December 30th if needed to address any court action regarding the state’s new maps, or if there are any necessary technical corrections or vetoes to consider. This ends the second-longest session in state history. It’s the longest ever in calendar days, but in legislative days it falls a hair short of the state’s 2001 regular legislative session, in which business was conducted for 179 days. This session has had 165 legislative days.
These long sessions (that seem to be growing longer) have taken its toll on legislators throughout the state. North Carolina is supposed to have a part-time legislature, but in five out of the past seven years long session has extended beyond its traditional early-summer adjournment. We’re seeing the impact now, as there have been some unexpected retirement announcements from current members leading up to candidate filing for 2022, which begins on December 6th and ends on December 17th.
Rep. Brian Turner, a Democrat from Buncombe County, cited the increasing demands on legislators as part of the reason he will not be seeking re-election. “During my tenure I have seen our legislative session lengthen to the point where session in October, November, and December (well past our planned adjournment at the end of June) has become the norm.” Rep. Turner said, “This is unsustainable.” Democratic Rep. Susan Fisher, who also represents Buncombe County, announced her retirement this week, as well. Read the full report.
Legislative Report November 22, 2021
After years without a new comprehensive budget, our state officially has a new state budget! Gov. Cooper signed his first budget into law since taking office in 2017 after a roller coaster of negotiations. Although it did not expand Medicaid as the Governor had hoped, it does extend Medicaid benefits for low-income mothers for up to a year after a child is born, and it provides raises and bonuses to teachers and other state employees. "While I believe it is a budget of some missed opportunities and misguided policy, it is also a budget we desperately need at this unique time in the history of our state," Gov. Cooper said.
The budget passed both chambers with strong bi-partisan support. Senate Bill 105, 2021 Appropriations Act, passed the House 104-10, with 40 Democrats voting in favor alongside all of their Republican colleagues. The budget passed the Senate 41-7, with 7 Democrats voting in support, as well. It’s been a long road to get this budget done and House budget writer Rep. Donny Lambeth compared it to “a fine wine that was months or years in the aging process.” Read the full report.
Legislative Report November 13, 2021
After a busy week at the legislature, the state has new maps! The once-a-decade redistricting process has resulted in new congressional and legislative maps based off of changes in population from the U.S. Census. Although the General Assembly approved them, that may not be the final word on these maps. Legal challenges to the fairness of these maps are already beginning. Civil rights groups filed suit before they were even voted on, saying the failure to use racial data reduced minority representation in Congress and the General Assembly. The court fight that is just beginning is sure to be watched closely by policymakers, advocates and potential candidates alike.
Critics argue that the maps provide a disproportionate advantage to Republicans, who have the majority in both chambers and led the redistricting process. They argue that, under these maps, a nearly 50/50 partisan-split state will have Republicans holding 10-11 Congressional seats to Democrats’ 3-4 seats. According to experts, these new maps could also result in Senate Republicans picking up two seats for a veto-proof majority in the Senate.
Republican leadership has held that there was no wrongdoing. Senate Redistricting Chairman Ralph Hise said the process was the “most transparent process as anywhere in the country and ever in North Carolina,” a sentiment that has been shared by House counterpart, Chairman Destin Hall. “We drew a fair and legal map," Hise said Wednesday. "We drew a map without consideration of racial data, and we drew a map without consideration of political information or data." Read the full report.
Legislative Report October 19, 2021
Believe it or not, we are still in the legislative session that started in January, 2021. While budget negotiations continue, redistricting public comment has been going on around the State and very little other legislative work is being done. Please see below for a breakdown of what's been happening on Jones Street.
House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger ironed out the remaining differences between the chambers and have announced that their consensus budget is ready to be sent to Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. Leadership has been trying to keep the details of their agreement under lock and key, believing this will help promote more transparent and frank negotiations with the Governor. Speaker Moore did say that the package would have record spending for transportation, capital, and public education, as well as a tax cut package. Read the full report.Legislative Report September 27, 2021
While the corner offices negotiate the budget and public hearings are being held across the state for Redistricting, legislative activity on Jones Street has been a bit slow over the past few weeks. Although there hasn’t been much bill movement, there is still a flurry of activity happening behind the scenes between budget negotiations and work on major pieces of legislation that lawmakers hope to pass before session comes to a close, like the Senate’s rumored new version of the House’s energy bill. Please see below for a run-down of what has happened at the General Assembly over the past few weeks.HOUSE BILL 103, Automatic Renewal of Contracts. Several changes were made to this bill on the Senate floor, and the bill as amended was approved by the full Senate. The House did not agree to the changes made in the Senate and a Conference Committee was appointed to work out a compromise version of the bill. The Conferees are: Rep. Sarah Stevens (Chair); Rep. John Szoka; Rep. Lee Zachary; Rep. Destin Hall; Sen. Chuck Edwards (Chair); Sen. Bill Rabon; Sen. Todd Johnson; and Sen. Paul Lowe. Read the full report.
Legislative Report September 9, 2021
We hope no one has made any vacation plans around the legislature's latest budget timeline, because an agreed upon budget by mid-September is looking less and less likely. The negotiations, which are still ongoing between the corner offices and behind closed doors, have hit a wall. "There are a number of things that we’re talking about that we have not resolved. I don’t think we have to resolve all of those things in order to begin making progress. But at this point I would say we’re not making really much progress," Senate leader Phil Berger said when asked about budget negotiations. Sen. Berger specifically noted that the chambers are going back and forth on the tax package, spending for the State Capital and Infrastructure Fund, and the amount of money in the rainy-day fund. Read the full report.Legislative Report August 27, 2021
After a long week of committee debate, amendments galore, and hours of fiery floor speeches on both Wednesday and Thursday last week, the House has passed their version of the budget, 72-41. Senate Bill 105, 2021 Appropriations Act, will now go over to the Senate where the bill will receive a nonconcurrence vote. From there, conferees from both chambers will be appointed and work on the final proposed budget will begin. Republican leadership has promised there will be trilateral negotiations in preparing the final version between the Republican-led House and Senate, and our Democratic Governor. This was in response to House Democrats, who were clear this week that they needed a seat at the table in crafting the budget if Republicans expect their support.
That said, nine Democrats did break with their caucus and voted in favor of the measure this week. Those Democrat ‘yes’ votes were: Reps. Cecil Brockman (Guilford), Brian Farkas (Pitt), Charles Graham (Robeson), Howard Hunter (Gates, Hertford, Pasquotank), Marvin Lucas (Cumberland), Garland Pierce (Hoke, Scotland), William Richardson (Cumberland), Shelly Willingham (Edgecombe, Martin), and Michael Wray (Halifax, Northampton). While the House budget passed with a veto-proof majority, there is no guarantee that this many Democrats, or any at all, will split from their caucus and vote to override if a final budget proposal is vetoed by Governor Cooper. That would be a first since the Governor has taken office, and there is immense pressure to pass a budget this year. The state has not had a comprehensive budget in over two fiscal years and would need one to spend billions of dollars in federal aid and an unprecedented state surplus of over $6.5 billion. Read the full report.
Legislative Report July 29, 2021
We are now almost one month past the start of the fiscal year for North Carolina and not only do we not have a budget – we do not even have a draft budget proposal from the House! The past three weeks have included some bills moving but everyone seems to be waiting on the House budget and both chambers seem to be slowing down bills as a way to “encourage” the other chamber to follow their bidding. This week both the House and Senate are not meeting (the House did have a session on Monday night briefly) so that the budget writers can finish their work and so that some members can attend a popular right leaning conference out of State. The House is expected to provide a timeline and move their budget proposal through committees in August. Of course, that only starts the negotiations with the Senate and the Governor. Read the full report.
Legislative Report July 1, 2021
Budget season is in full swing! Republican Senators held a press conference last week to announce their long-awaited budget proposal. Senate Leader Phil Berger explained that their proposal can be summed up in two ways: cutting taxes and constructing the state's post-pandemic future. In typical Senate speed they revealed their budget and moved it quickly through committees and onto the Senate floor where it was approved by a vote of 32 to 17. Read the full report.Legislative Report June 16, 2021
The weeks after the crossover deadline moved slowly as the House and Senate continued their behind the scenes battle about how much the State should spend (not the details, just the number). Things were going nowhere as the House was not moving Senate bills and the Senate was not moving House bills until the House made the bold move to go ahead with the budget process on their own. Speaker Moore made it clear that, with or without the Senate's proposed budget, the House would begin the budget process and would vote on a budget this session. This announcement seemed to get things moving again and the chambers resolved the final budget spending level so that the Senate can continue their proposed budget. We expect the Senate budget to be rolled out the week of June 21st and the House to roll out their proposal in July. Of course, the Governor still has a veto stamp, that he has shown he is more than willing to use, but probably wondered if he would even have a chance to use it with the Republicans battling themselves. Here are some of the other stories from the last two weeks. Read the full report.Legislative Report May 29, 2021
It has been a quiet two weeks at the General Assembly following many busy weeks at the legislative building for Crossover. With the gas shortage last week and the budget impasse this week, legislators had very light weeks with very few votes or even committee meetings. We now head into the long Memorial Day weekend, one which is especially loved by politicians of all stripes, as we celebrate the men and women in the armed services and the sacrifices they have made and continue to make for our country. Although it has been a difficult year and a half, many are welcoming getting back to some sense of normalcy and enjoying the long weekend. Read the full report.
Legislative Report May 21, 2021
Crossover 2021 has officially passed. This is the deadline for policy-related bills to cross from one chamber to the next in order to remain at play this session. The deadline always results in a flurry of activity and late nights at the building in the weeks leading up to Crossover, and this year was no exception. In the past two weeks, House Rules heard 195 bills in seven lengthy meetings. The House clerk estimated that the House heard approximately 180 bills, not counting all the bills that were keeping the Senate busy this week. Although it’s more of an uphill battle now for policy-related bills to be passed this biennium if they didn’t make the deadline, it’s not altogether unheard of and as we know strange things can happen at the General Assembly! Sometimes bill language from a “dead” bill can make its way into another piece of legislation that passed before the deadline or is otherwise exempt. That is why this time of year, it is especially important to keep a lookout for amendments and Proposed Committee Substitutes (PCS), because you never know what may end up in a bill! Read the full report.
Legislative Report May 12, 2021
With Crossover this Thursday, the General Assembly has been hard at work moving as many bills from one chamber to the next in order to keep them in play for this biennium. Last week was full of long voting sessions and late-night Rules Committee meetings, and we expect a lot of the same for this week leading into Crossover. It is a dangerous time as bills move quickly and with very little notice and public comment is restricted. Read the full report.
Legislative Report May 5, 2021
Last week was exciting for North Carolina, with the huge announcement of Apple choosing North Carolina for its $1 billion-plus East Coast campus and engineering hub. The 1-million-sq-ft. building in the Research Triangle Park will employ over 3,000 people in areas related to machine learning, artificial intelligence, software engineering, and other cutting-edge industries. The jobs are expected to have a minimum starting salary of $133,520. Over time, the company expects the average minimum salary to be $187,001.
State political leaders on both sides of the aisle celebrated this opportunity for the state, and the great bipartisan effort it took to seal the deal and attract such businesses to the state. Gov. Roy Cooper, Senate Leader Phil Berger, Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, House Speaker Tim Moore and House Democratic Leader Robert Reives issued a joint statement:
“Innovation has long been North Carolina’s calling card and Apple’s decision to build this new campus in the Research Triangle showcases the importance of our state’s favorable business climate, world-class universities, our tech-ready workforce, and the welcoming and diverse communities that make so many people want to call North Carolina home. This announcement will benefit communities across our state and we are proud to work together to continue to grow our economy and bring transformational industries and good paying jobs to North Carolina.” Read the full report.
Legislative Report April 30, 2021
A disagreement over Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans resulted in the longest-serving member of the North Carolina House being stripped of her chairmanship on the House Finance Committee last week. Speaker Tim Moore removed Representative Julia Howard from her position, saying in a statement that Representative Howard was removed because she failed to move the measure “expeditiously” through the Finance committee as desired by the House Republican Caucus. “While we respect different viewpoints, committee chairs must be willing to put personal agendas aside and move forward with the will of the caucus,” Moore, Speaker Pro Tempore Sarah Stevens and Majority Leader John Bell said in the statement. Read the full report.
Legislative Report April 23, 2021
The legislature didn’t skip a beat getting back to work after returning from their “spring break.” Many committees had packed-full agendas, full of mostly noncontroversial bills and also local bills. One notable bill that quickly swept through the House was House Bill 334, Temporarily Align Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Treatment to Federal Treatment. Typically, loans are considered taxable income, but this bill would align North Carolina with 47 other states and the federal government by providing businesses a tax deduction for expenses they paid using forgiven PPP loans. This program was a part of the CARES Act last year and was aimed at helping struggling businesses continue to keep their employees on the payroll. The bill passed the House with a nearly unanimous vote of 111-2. Republican Reps. George Cleveland and Julia Howard were the only no votes. In an unusual twist, the long time Chair of the House Finance Committee, Rep. Julia Howard, publicly criticized the Speaker and other Republican Leadership in the House for supporting the bill if their businesses received PPP Loans. This despite a determination that it was not a conflict of interest and that many issues may impact legislators and their businesses, but as long as not targeted to them specifically generally there is no conflict. It will be interesting to see how this conflict plays out. Read the full report.
Legislative Report April 12, 2021
On the General Assembly’s last week before Spring Break (March 29 – April 2), legislators ran a busy schedule of committee meetings and sent numerous bills off to the Governor to sign into law. Most of the bills heard that week had bipartisan support; however, some did not. House Bill 264, Emergency Powers Accountability Act, passed through the House this week with a vote completely along party lines, with 69 Republicans voting in favor and 50 Democrats voting against. The bill would require the Governor to seek concurrence from other elected officials on the Council of State to continue a state of emergency beyond seven days, and again every 30 days following. Read the full report.
Legislative Report April 1, 2021
Gov. Cooper has proposed a $27.3 billion spending plan for North Carolina’s budget this biennium. The budget includes 10% raises over two years for teachers, increased education funding, and putting a $4.7 billion general obligation bond on voters’ ballots this fall. This bond would provide funds to public schools, the UNC system, the community college system, health and safety projects throughout state government, and parks, zoos, museums, and state historic sites. Notably, the contentious issue that has held up past budgets, Medicaid expansion, has not been included in the budget proposal. The Governor expressed an interest in that matter being heard, but said that it can be taken up at any point in session. Read the full report.
Legislative Report March 23, 2021
Senate Redistricting and Elections Chairmen, Senators Daniel, Hise, and Newton, have filed an election bill that would address absentee ballot deadlines and other election procedures. Absentee ballot deadlines have been highly contested since the State Board of Elections’ policy change last fall. The State Board of Elections made the change to address U.S. Postal Service delays and the record-breaking number of absentee voters due to the pandemic. This change was made merely days before the 2020 election and resulted in ballots being accepted 12 days after the election if they were postmarked by Election Day. Senate Bill 326, Election Integrity Act, would prevent the collection of any absentee ballots after 5 p.m. on Election Day or the date of the primary, regardless of when the voter mailed the ballot. Along with changes to the absentee deadline, the bill would also provide $5 million to fund photo identification for anyone who needs it, and would prevent Boards of Elections from collecting money from outside sources to pay for temporary employees. Read the full report.
Legislative Report March 16, 2021
After a drawn-out debate and several bills filed, Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and leaders of the Republican-led House and Senate have reached an agreement on a bill that will allow schools to reopen for daily, in-person instruction. The bill quickly passed through both chambers and was signed into law by the Governor last week, and has been commended by both sides of the aisle as a great bipartisan effort to help our state’s students. The Senate used an already-filed bill on CPR graduation requirements, Senate Bill 220, as the vehicle to put the school reopening language in by removing the original text of the bill. This “gut and amend” approach, where legislators take an existing bill and change its content to a new bill, is a way to speed up the legislative process and will be seen more and more as we get further into session. Read the full report.
Legislative Report March 9, 2021
The latest COVID-19 bill is on its way to the Governor after unanimously passing both chambers this week. House Bill 196 is a $1.7 billion-dollar package, spending federal COVID-19 money and making some COVID-related policy changes like extending virtual options for services like notarization. It includes $600 million for COVID-19 testing and related needs, as well as $390 million for K-12 and higher education as they look towards safely reopening. Although the bill passed with unanimous support, there were some procedural concerns expressed by members, as well as some who said the bill should do more. Read the full report.
Legislative Report March 1, 2021
This week, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that several COVID-19 restrictions would be eased. The Governor made the announcement as the state’s number of new cases continued to drop since the start of the year. “We’re sticking with the science and the data,” Cooper said, “and that is what has told us to ease these restrictions the way we have.” Executive Order 195 went in to effect on Friday at 5 p.m. and will last until March 26th. The Republican General Assembly is taking credit for these changes as several bills to ease restriction are moving through the process with a great deal of support. Read the full report.
Legislative Report February 22, 2021
The House passed Senate Bill 37 this week, requiring schools to open following Plan A for special needs students and either Plan A or B for all students. Plan A only requires masks, while Plan B calls for masks and social distancing. The bill still provides for an online option for students throughout the state as well. There has been some controversy with this bill, largely partisan in nature, concerning older students returning with minimal social distancing. House Democrats have responded to these concerns with their own bill, House Bill 112. This bill would allow for school districts to open with Plan A or B for elementary students, and allow middle and high school students to return solely under Plan B. Senate Bill 37 has already passed both chambers however, with three Senate Democrats voting in support and eight House Democrats voting in favor, the bill passing the final House vote with a 77-42 veto-proof margin. While the bill is on its way to the Governor, its fate is unknown. Gov. Cooper said earlier this week that he would not sign the bill unless Republicans agreed to make some changes. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the Governor will veto the bill. He may allow the bill to become law without his signature. Read the full report.
Legislative Report February 15, 2021The state’s recently released revenue forecast shows that North Carolina has fared relatively well economically throughout the pandemic. The two-year forecast’s expected revenue collections surpass the expectations of May 2020’s forecast by $4.1 billion. The forecast explains this surplus was heavily impacted by an increase in sales tax collections and delayed tax payments; it also suggests that the economic state of North Carolina will continue to improve over the coming years. However, there are still segments of the state’s workforce who are underemployed or unemployed due to this pandemic. Gov. Cooper responded in a statement that “while state revenue is strong, people across our state are still hurting and we must use these funds to help them recover from this pandemic.” Read the full report.
Legislative Report February 9, 2021
The General Assembly got down to business this week, and as promised, legislators prioritized getting their first round of COVID-19 relief funding off to the Governor’s desk. Other bills began to gain traction at the legislature this week, including a bill to reopen schools and a bill to give bar owners a reprieve on their ABC permits. See below for an update on this week at the legislature. Read the full report.
Legislative Report February 1, 2021
Legislators returned to Raleigh on January 27th to officially get started with the 2021 "long" session. Wednesday marked the first day bills were allowed to be filed in either chambers, and thus far a total of 35 bills have been filed in the House and 28 in the Senate. During the previous biennium session, the chambers saw 1,236 and 873 bills filed, respectively. This session's bills are beginning to be referred to policy committees as well, another sign things are truly getting underway. Despite the uptick in action, don’t expect too many floor votes on bills just yet. Speaker Moore doesn’t expect to hold any voting sessions until Wednesday and Thursday of next week. On those days, leadership anticipates mostly taking up time-sensitive, priority legislation, such as a COVID-19 technical funding bill. Read the full report.Legislative Report January 18, 2021
The General Assembly kicked off the 2021-2022 biennial session on Wednesday, January 13th with opening day speeches, organizing and the approval of the rules that will be used throughout the session. Just like everything else in our world, this day was unlike previous first days as family and friends were not present and the usual celebratory mood was muted. The legislative complex is open to the public, but social distancing rules are in effect and temperature checks are required before entering the building. Masks are not required but were more common among legislators than in the spring and it appears that the leadership of both chambers are highly encouraging members to wear them. Read the full report
2020 Final Legislative Update
Frankly, I have run out of words to describe what is happening in our country and our state – unprecedented, extraordinary, once in a lifetime, shocking, unbelievable. Read the full report.