On Wednesday the NC House approved two resolutions that call for a national convention to propose changes to the US Constitution. If the resolutions pass the NC Senate, North Carolina will join 19 states of the 34 needed to call a “convention of states,” one of the methods of constitutional amendment permitted by the US Constitution. One of the resolutions focuses on term limits for national elected office, while the other calls for amendments that would limit government spending power and “prevent government overreach.” The push for a constitutional convention has mostly been driven by Republicans, although a few Democrats in the NC House supported one or both of the resolutions.
On Wednesday Democrats in the NC General Assembly announced a significant voting rights bill filed in both the state House and Senate. The bill, called the Freedom to Vote bill, would create a nonpartisan redistricting commission, allow online voter registration, increase funding for NC elections offices, and toughen penalties for those who either intimidate voters or falsely tell voters they are ineligible to vote. Though the bill is unlikely to pass given Republican control of both chambers, Democrats emphasized the importance of protecting voters given Republican attacks on elections and voting rights.
Republicans in the NC General Assembly introduced two bills that would restrict mail-in and early voting. One of the bills, similar to a previous bill vetoed by Governor Cooper, would prevent elections offices from accepting mail-in ballots received after 7:30 PM on Election Day. The other proposes a state constitutional amendment to limit early voting to seven days.
On Wednesday the NC House unanimously approved a bill that would change how members of the Wake County Board of Commissioners are elected. Two days earlier, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Erin Paré – Wake County’s only Republican state lawmaker – had reached a compromise agreement with the current Wake County Board of Commissioners. The bill would change the seven Board of Commissioner seats currently elected by the county at large to elections by district beginning in 2024 and would add two additional at-large seats in 2026. However, unlike the original bill proposed by Rep. Paré, elections would still be partisan.
On Friday Superior Court Judge James Ammons, appointed in December to oversee the Leandro case, gave attorneys in the case a deadline of March 15 to file briefs on the dollar amount required to fund the third year of a comprehensive school plan. The hearing took place a week after the NC Supreme Court reinstated a lower court order blocking Superior Court Judge David Lee’s November ruling that would have required the state to fund the first two years of an eight-year school improvement plan.
On Monday Republican Sen. Danny Earl Britt (Robeson) filed a bill in the NC Senate that would restore extra pay for teachers and instructional support personnel with graduate degrees. SB 202 would restore master’s pay, often used to recruit highly trained teachers, reversing the Republican-led NC General Assembly’s elimination of master’s pay in 2013.
On Thursday a bipartisan group of state lawmakers introduced a set of bills to support North Carolina’s understaffed daycare industry and address infant and maternal mortality. A key bill in the package calls for $300 million in state subsidies to make daycare worker wages more competitive. Other bills include a change in the daycare and preschool rating system, additional subsidies for child care in rural areas, a pilot program to test alternate ways of financing daycare, and an increase in prenatal care covered by Medicaid.
Economic and Housing Policy
On Tuesday the NC General Assembly passed a bill that would give hotel managers or innkeepers more latitude for removing long-term guests who are violating rules of the hotel or inn. SB 53/HB 41 would eliminate landlord-tenant rules for someone staying in a hotel, motel, or RV park for less than 90 days, making it easier for proprietors to remove occupants within that time frame. The bill, which had some Democratic support in the NC House, now goes to Governor Cooper, who vetoed a similar bill in 2021.
Health Care Policy
This week the NC Senate Health Committee approved a bill to expand Medicaid, following the compromise arranged the previous week by Republican leaders in the NC House and Senate. As agreed upon in the compromise deal, the bill includes changes in certificate of need laws preferred by Republicans in the Senate. The Medicaid expansion portion of the bill would be void if there is no new state budget in place by June 30, which could place pressure on Governor Cooper to sign a budget he doesn’t like.
On Wednesday Governor Cooper announced a plan to improve mental health care and substance abuse care in North Carolina. The $1 billion plan, which is part of Cooper’s forthcoming budget proposal, would include an increase in mental health services for schools and jails, a spending bump for inpatient and supplemental mental health care, and an update of Medicaid reimbursement rates for mental health care. Republican leaders in the NCGA announced their own agreement on budget spending limits the same day, planning for a $29.7 billion budget for the coming fiscal year, a 6.5% increase from the current year.
On Friday Governor Cooper signed into law a bill that will allow a state-run hospital in Butner to transition from an adult substance abuse facility into an adolescent mental health hospital starting this summer. The bill had unanimously passed the state legislature. The new facility, which will start with 54 beds and increase to 90, will address the shortage of youth mental health care beds in the state.
On Wednesday Democrats in the NC General Assembly filed bills that would add North Carolina to the list of states supporting ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Democrats have filed similar bills for the past three years, but they haven’t received enough Republican support to pass. A total of 38 states have ratified the amendment, meeting the 3/4 requirement for adoption; however, given that some states have rescinded their support and the long delay since the amendment was originally put forward in 1972, its path to adoption is complicated.
On Tuesday a NC Senate committee unanimously approved a Republican-sponsored bill that would increase penalties for trafficking fentanyl and heroin. SB 189 would increase fines for trafficking these drugs, redefine death by distribution offenses, and establish a task force to enforce fentanyl and heroin violations. Before approving the bill, the committee added amendments to expand the Good Samaritan immunity law designed to encourage people to call 911 in response to overdoses.
On Monday Democrats in the NC House filed a bill that would eliminate cash bail for people charged with low-level crimes. HB 271, whose primary sponsors include former judges Rep. Marcia Morey and Rep. Joe John, would prohibit judges from imposing cash bail for someone charged with one or more Class 3 misdemeanors, the lowest level of misdemeanor crime, potentially preventing people from being stuck in jail if they can’t pay.
On Thursday the NC Senate gave final approval to a bill to increase punishments for riots. The bill, which had passed the NC House with the support of six Democrats, would increase existing penalties for participating in or “urging” a riot (potentially a lower standard than incitement) and for causing injury or property damage during a riot, and it would add a felony penalty for participating in a riot that leads to a death. Democrats and civil rights groups argue that the bill could have a chilling effect on free speech by deterring peaceful protests. The bill now goes to Governor Cooper, who vetoed a similar bill in 2021.