On Wednesday the NC House passed a Republican-sponsored bill that would allow local school boards to choose not to comply with the statewide school mask mandate this fall. SB 173 would take away Governor Cooper’s ability to issue a statewide mask mandate for schools. The bill now returns to the Senate for a final vote.
On Friday Governor Cooper allowed a bill to become law that would delay some municipal elections until 2022 due to a delay in the availability of census data for redistricting. Despite agreeing not to prevent SB 722 from becoming law, Governor Cooper chose not to sign it due to concerns over a lack of public input on permanent changes to Raleigh’s city elections. Affected municipal elections will generally take place next March along with state and national primary elections, instead of this November.
On Thursday the House Education Committee advanced a bipartisan bill that would tighten regulations on student loan companies. HB 707, the “Student Borrower’s Bill of Rights,” would mandate license and regulation of such companies, as well as fielding of borrower complaints, by the state Commissioner of Banks. The bill would also clarify responsibilities and prohibited activities of student loan companies.
Economic and Housing Policy
On Friday the Senate passed its budget proposal, with four Democrats joining all Republicans in voting to approve SB 105 despite the Republican majority not bringing multiple Democrat-proposed changes to a vote. The proposed budget, which at $25.7 billion leaves over $3.6 billion in state revenue unspent, includes several noteworthy components:
$4.9 billion in spending from federal COVID relief money, including additional grants to both small businesses that already received COVID relief and those that did not.
Language that would restrict the Governor’s powers, requiring approval of executive orders from the Council of State within 10 days of issuance. Multiple separate bills designed to accomplish similar restrictions on the Governor’s power failed to pass this year.
Transfer of election fraud investigations from the State Board of Elections to the State Bureau of Investigation. In addition to losing its investigations division, the State Board of Elections would see its staff cut by a third due to elimination of federal election security funding.
Extension of Medicaid from 60 days to a year for new mothers. The budget does not expand Medicaid, however, unlike Governor Cooper’s proposed budget.
A cut in personal income tax from 5.25% to 3.99% and a phasing out of the 2.5% corporate tax, both over the next five years. The tax cuts in the budget amount to $5.2 billion more than those included in a recent stand-alone Senate bill.
A 3% raise over two years for teachers and state employees, rather than the 10% proposed by Governor Cooper.
Provision of air conditioning for every prison bed in the state; 38% of prison beds in the state currently lack air conditioning.
Creation of a database to track use-of-force incidents involving law enforcement officers.
Close to $1 million to establish a new emerging compounds section of the state Department of Environmental Quality, which would create 10 new positions and address chemicals including PFAS.
On Wednesday the NC General Assembly passed a bill that would eliminate a weekly $300 federal supplement to unemployment benefits. SB 116 also adds $250 million to child care supplements, but it does not include a provision from an earlier version that provides $1500 signing bonuses for North Carolinians who get off unemployment by starting a job. The bill now goes to Gov. Cooper’s desk.
On Thursday the NC House passed the annual Farm Act. The bill, SB 605, includes a blanket permit process for hog farms wishing to set up methane collection systems. A controversial labor provision that would have made it more difficult for employees to blow the whistle or sue was also eliminated from the bill before its passage in the House. The bill now returns to the Senate for a final vote, and it is anticipated that the two chambers will need to negotiate a compromise version of the bill.
Health Care Policy
On Wednesday the NC Senate held a hearing to consider legalizing medical marijuana. SB 711, which has bipartisan sponsorship, would allow doctors to prescribe cannabis for multiple medical conditions and would align North Carolina with the majority of states in the country. Advocates for and against the bill, including veterans who have struggled with PTSD, doctors, and religious leaders, spoke at Wednesday’s hearing.
On Friday Governor Cooper vetoed a bill that would bar abortions motivated by race, sex, or prenatal diagnoses of Down syndrome. "This bill is unconstitutional and it damages the doctor-patient relationship with an unprecedented government intrusion," Cooper said in a statement about his veto of HB 453. Pro-choice advocates celebrated the veto.
On Tuesday the House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill that would raise the minimum age of marriage in the state from 14 to 16 years. SB 35 passed the Senate unanimously last month and is expected to pass the full House soon before being returned to the Senate for final approval.