Budget negotiations in the NCGA are still underway, despite an original July 1 deadline. Republican legislative leaders said it was unlikely the NC House and NC Senate would agree on a budget within the next week, as significant disagreements, including over tax cuts, remained. Medicaid expansion in North Carolina depends on the passage of a budget, so delays in the budget negotiations impact implementation of Medicaid expansion.
On Tuesday the NC Senate voted to override Governor Cooper’s veto of an anti-DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) bill. SB 364 would ban trainings about racism and other forms of bias for NC government workplaces and would prevent state employers from asking prospective employees about their political opinions.
On Tuesday the House Judiciary Committee 1 held a hearing about a bill that would propose a constitutional amendment to tie NC government spending to inflation and population growth. HB 146 has not yet received a vote, and to be added to the ballot it would need a three-fifths vote for approval in both NCGA chambers.
On Tuesday the US Supreme Court ruled against North Carolina Republicans in Moore v. Harper, rejecting the “independent state legislature theory” in a 6-3 opinion. The decision affirms the opinion by the previous Democratic-majority NC Supreme Court, though the subsequent Republican-majority NC Supreme Court overturned that decision. Because of that state-level reversal, there was some question about whether the case in the U.S. Supreme Court was moot, but the court decided to rule nonetheless (though Justice Thomas argued that the case was moot in his dissent).
On Wednesday the NC Senate passed two Republican-backed elections bills. Among several other changes, SB 747 would require mail-in ballots to be received by Election Night, while SB 749 would alter governance of the State Board of Elections to remove appointment power from the governor and give it instead to the NCGA. On Thursday the executive director of the NC State Board of Elections, Karen Brinson Bell, spoke to the NCGA in two hours of testimony about elections integrity in North Carolina, emphasizing that voter fraud is a miniscule problem in the state.
A pair of Republican-backed bills governing charter schools are moving through the NCGA. On Tuesday the NC House passed HB 618, which would transfer charter school oversight powers from the State Board of Education to a newly created Charter School Review Board. On Thursday the NC Senate approved HB 219, the Charter School Omnibus Bill, which would allow counties to dedicate public funding to charter schools for capital costs. An amendment to the bill would also allow charter schools to offer preferential enrollment to students from certain preschools.
The NCGA is considering a bill that would require middle school and high school civics classes to include education about the Civil Rights Movement. HB 686 received a favorable hearing in the NC House K-12 Education Committee on June 21, and the bill has bipartisan support.
On June 21 the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill regulating CBD and hemp-derived consumable products. HB 563 would require parental approval for sale of hemp-derived consumables to children under 18, ban sales of CBD products with servings over 200 mg, and establish licensing and packaging guidelines.
On June 19 Governor Cooper vetoed two consumer finance bills that would allow companies to charge higher interest rates, along with a bill that would penalize local governments that fail to turn in state-mandated audits on time by withholding sales tax revenue (SB 299). SB 331 would allow cash advance businesses to charge higher interest rates, while SB 329 would increase interest rates for vehicle purchases and other installment purchases.
On Tuesday the NC House voted to override Governor Cooper’s veto of the Farm Act, removing protections for 2.5 million acres of wetlands in North Carolina. SB 582 ties wetlands protections to national requirements, which were recently gutted by a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
On Tuesday the NC House passed a public safety bill that includes an exemption on truck weight limits for trucks carrying “wood residuals,” including “wood pellets.” Environmental advocates criticized this inclusion because the wood pellet industry primarily uses whole trees, rather than wood residuals, and contributes to deforestation. Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford County) introduced an amendment to remove the exemption, but the amendment failed by a 40-65 vote.
On Wednesday the NC Senate passed an amended version of a Republican-backed regulatory reform bill that environmental lawyers had called a “polluters’ wish list,” removing the most controversial provision that would have limited state regulation of PFAS (“forever chemicals”) in waterways. HB 600 had received criticism in part for that provision, but the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Legislative Counsel, Brooks Rainey Pearson, emphasized that it is still “an environmentally damaging bill.”
Health Care Policy
On Wednesday the sponsor of a bill to legalize medical marijuana employed a parliamentary maneuver to try to get his bill passed, attaching a provision to a popular unrelated bill that stipulates that bill can only pass if the medical marijuana bill passes. The other bill, which would allow physician assistants more leeway to practice outside of a physician’s supervision, unanimously passed the NC House. Sponsors of the medical marijuana bill have struggled to secure sufficient support in the Republican majority.
On Wednesday NC Senator Lisa Grafstein (D-Wake) announced that she has filed a discharge petition to force a vote on her bill that would affirm a right to contraception. SB 540 was written to head off any potential Republican-led efforts to restrict contraception, though Republicans insist they do not intend to do so.
North Carolina’s 12-week abortion ban went into effect on Saturday, with one provision temporarily blocked by a judge. In response to a lawsuit challenging the bill, the NC Senate had approved a series of changes to the bill, including stating that legal abortion is not fetal homicide and clarifying that abortion pills can be prescribed through 12 weeks. After the changes were implemented, Governor Cooper signed the bill into law Thursday afternoon. U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles ruled on Friday that the law can go into effect, with the exception of a provision that requires doctors to identify the specific location of a pregnancy within a patient before proceeding with a medical abortion. That provision is under an emergency freeze for 14 days.
On Thursday the NCGA passed the so-called “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” which requires schools to disclose students’ pronouns to parents. SB 49 would also ban discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation for classrooms 4th grade and below. Child advocates expressed concerns about the potential harm to students who, for instance, may come from intolerant or abusive families. The bill now heads to Governor Cooper, who is expected to veto it.
On Wednesday the NC House gave final approval to a Republican-backed bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors. HB 808 would prohibit doctors from prescribing puberty blockers, hormone treatments, or surgery for transgender youth, even if the child’s parents give permission for those treatments. Democrats spoke out against the bill, which advocates say could contribute to depression and self-harm among trans youth. The bill now goes to Governor Cooper, who is expected to veto it.
On Thursday the NCGA passed a bill that would ban transgender girls and women from playing women’s sports. HB 574 prohibits trans girls and women from playing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity in middle school through college. The bill does not restrict trans boys and men from playing on men’s sports teams. Governor Cooper is expected to veto the bill.
On Wednesday a committee in the NC House added language to a bill that targets drag shows. The original bill, which increased felony penalties for exhibiting sexual obscenity in front of a minor, passed the Senate unanimously after bill sponsors addressed concerns about potential unintended consequences. The new language added by the NC House, however, would restrict adult entertainment on public property and make “sexual contact with a minor” a new state crime. Democrats questioned the broadness of some of the new language.
On Tuesday the NCGA passed the Pretrial Integrity Act, which allows people to be jailed for up to 48 hours if they were charged with a serious crime or arrested while on pretrial release for another crime. HB 813 would allow judges to set bail rather than magistrates before the 48-hour period. Critics, including Democratic lawmakers, called the bill unconstitutional because it allows for punishment before someone is convicted of a crime. The bill had been successfully amended the previous Thursday to exempt people arrested for low-level traffic misdemeanors.
On Tuesday the NC Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill that would expand the state’s felony child abuse laws. HB 748 would make it a Class D felony for a child’s caregiver to commit a sexual act with that child or allow one to be committed by someone else. It would also make “routinely inflicting physical injury” on a child or withholding food, clothing, or shelter from a child into a Class B2 felony. The bill passed the House in April.
On June 22 the NC Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill that critics contend could make it harder for innocent people to have their wrongful convictions overturned. HB 790 was altered from a previous version which would have imposed more restrictions on the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, but the bill still includes a controversial provision that would require that the North Carolina Rules of Evidence apply at an evidentiary hearing before a three-judge panel.
On Wednesday the NC House passed a bill that would make driving in a “street takeover” an A1 misdemeanor. The crackdown on street racing was included in SB 91, an otherwise unrelated bill governing civil and criminal court procedures. The bill passed the NC House in a 107-1 vote and now goes to the NC Senate.