On January 14, Governor Cooperannounced a change to the state’s vaccination plan: in order to mesh with new federal guidelines, vaccination – already open to health care providers and people 75 and older - will now be available to people age 65+. This will add as many as a million more people to the priority list. However, there will be a delay of at least several weeks before vaccine supplies can meet the expected increase in demand.
North Carolina remains one of the slowest states to distribute the vaccine. Some Republican legislators, critical of the pace of vaccinations, have called for more centralized control, suggesting it was a mistake for the state to rely on local health departments to set up their own vaccination procedures. Dr. Mandy Cohen told legislators, “We needed to rely on the infrastructure we had,” and Sen. Mike Woodward, (D-Durham) reminded Republican colleagues that they are generally opposed to the state using centralized control.
Several measures restricting in-person court operations statewide expired on Friday , and Paul Newby, newly elected chief justice of the NC Supreme Court, issued a new emergency directive order allowing local judicial districts more latitude in making decisions about reopening courts. Judge Newby asserted that these decisions are “best addressed by local judicial officials.” His order replaces one issued by former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley in mid-December that suspended non-essential in-person court hearings for 30 days.
North Carolina Chief Justice Paul Newby’s administration moved to immediately replace five top officials in the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), the agency of approximately 6,400 employees that oversees state judicial branch administrative services. A spokesperson for the AOC said, “The transition occurred in leadership positions such as you would expect when any leader of a branch of government wins an election.” All five officials had been appointed by former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and served “at will,” meaning they could be terminated at any time. However, the precipitous nature of the replacement was highly unusual. All five employees were asked to leave and logged out of their computers within hours of being informed of their terminations.
2021 NC General Assembly Long Session: What to Expect
The NC General Assembly reconvened Jan 13 for the start to the legislature’s long session. After a largely ceremonial meeting, the legislature adjourned until January 27, when the opening of bill filing will start the process of lawmaking and budgeting. Governor Cooper will be looking to get approval from the NC Senate for four new Cabinet appointees, and some key legislative priorities have already been identified:
NCGA leaders have pointed to coronavirus issues, particularly those tied to education, as a top priority, and Governor Cooper has expressed hope for finding common ground with Republican leaders this session.
With the impending release of data from the 2020 Census, redistricting will again be on the agenda. The Republican-led legislature will be drawing new maps defining congressional and legislative voting districts. Governor Cooper indicated that while he expects more cooperation between Democrats and Republicans on some issues during this session, he does not think redistricting will be one of them. Public opinion polls have shown that most North Carolinians want to de-politicize the redistricting process.
There is some indication that Republicans are now willing to consider Governor Cooper’s request for issuing a major state infrastructure bond for school construction and other infrastructure needs.