On Tuesday the NC House Health Committee passed a bill that would prevent schools, state agencies, and local governments from requiring students or employees to get COVID-19 vaccines. The version of HB 98 that passed the committee on divided voice vote is somewhat reduced from what was originally proposed: it no longer includes a ban on mask requirements in schools, and it makes an exception that UNC Hospitals may require the vaccine for employees – allowing them to keep federal funding. The bill must go through two more committees before a full House vote.
On Tuesday an NC House committee passed a bill whose Republican sponsors said was designed to increase transparency in state and local government, but which may strip power from the governor. HB 205, which was written by State Treasurer Dale Folwell’s office, would change rules about how the governor must consult the Council of State (a body that currently has a 6-4 Republican majority), requiring a full council meeting rather than more informal communications in situations where the governor is supposed to consult the council. The committee passed a version of the bill many of the legislators had not seen or had only seen moments before the vote.
On Monday Republicans in the NC House introduced a bill that would end North Carolina’s participation in the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a nonprofit voter information sharing organization that helps states maintain accurate voter rolls. The introduction of HB 396 comes on the heels of a series of Republican-controlled states’ decisions to withdraw from ERIC, fueled by right-wing conspiracy theories about elections.
On Thursday a group of NC Senate Republicans filed a bill that would ban hemp products such as CBD, Delta-8, and Delta-9 from school grounds. SB 366 also bans the synthetic counterparts of these substances. Delta-8 and Delta-9 are hemp-derived products manufactured from the cannabidiol (CBD) in hemp that have some psychoactive effects, but less than marijuana. Both are legal in North Carolina for residents 21 and older.
On Tuesday a bill to limit teaching about systemic racism passed the NC House Rules Committee. HB 187 bans teachers from “promoting” a set of ideas in their classrooms, including the idea that anyone should feel guilty for past actions by people of the same race or sex, the idea that people have privileges based on race or sex, and the idea that the United States is a racist or sexist country. Democrats spoke out against the bill due to its potential to chill classroom speech, and Governor Cooper has previously vetoed an identical bill.
On Tuesday the NC House Rules Committee favorably reviewed a bill that would require state agencies to compile data on training pathways for trades such as plumbing and welding. HB 282 would require departments and agencies to consider the establishment of high school training programs for the trades and to file reports on the current and projected labor force in the trades in North Carolina.
On Thursday three bills designed to address the housing shortage by reducing delays in the permits required for home construction passed an NC House committee. HB 332, which drew the most questions, would let local governments contract with private companies to conduct inspections on multifamily housing, potentially reducing significant permit delays. HB 320 would streamline inspection roles so that it’s not always required for both a code inspector and a building inspector to inspect a building. HB 252 would allow developers building across city and county boundary lines to work with one city or county rather than all.
Health Care Policy
On Thursday the NC House passed Medicaid expansion. The vote, which lasted only two minutes, saw every Democrat and 46 Republicans voting yes. Governor Cooper’s signature will make North Carolina the 40th state to approve Medicaid expansion, which will go into effect if the budget passes.
A bipartisan bill filed earlier this month, HB346 (=SB296), “would allow Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina to transfer at least some assets to a new nonprofit holding company that could operate without many regulatory constraints imposed by state law.” [Source: BusinessNC, 3/13/2023] (NB: While this bill has bipartisan support, the NC Justice Center opposes it. Their information sheet on it is here.)
Gun Violence Prevention
On Friday Governor Cooper vetoed a bill that would repeal pistol permit regulations. SB 41 would allow purchase of pistols without permission from sheriffs, and Cooper had previously vetoed a version of the bill in 2021. Given that the bill passed with the support of three House Democrats, the NCGA may be able to overturn Cooper’s veto.
On Wednesday Democrats in the NCGA filed “The RGB Act,” a bill that would remove North Carolina’s existing abortion restrictions. SB 353/HB 439 would eliminate the state’s 20-week abortion ban and 72-hour waiting period, among other restrictions. While the bill’s sponsors don’t expect it to gain any traction in the majority-Republican NCGA, they used the opportunity of the bill’s release to bring in many doctors to speak about the impact of North Carolina’s existing restrictions and urge against further restrictions Republicans are considering.
On Tuesday an NC Senate committee approved a bill that would allow survivors of domestic abuse to testify remotely. SB 51, known as “Kayla’s Act” in honor of Kayla Hammonds, who was murdered last fall by her ex-boyfriend and who had feared appearing in court due to threats to her family, would also extend the statute of limitations in misdemeanor domestic violence cases from two years to 10 years.
On Tuesday the NC Senate unanimously voted to ban TikTok, WeChat, and Telegram from all state-owned devices and networks. The bill is part of a push among government entities across the United States to ban TikTok because of concerns that its Chinese-owned parent company may improperly access app users’ data. Governor Cooper recently issued an executive order banning TikTok on state devices, but the bill adds a ban of the apps on state-owned networks (such as school Wi-Fi).
On Tuesday the NC House Commerce Committee approved a bipartisan bill that would legalize sports betting in North Carolina. HB 347 would allow gambling on both professional and college sports, taxing it at 14% and using revenue to fund youth sports and gambling addiction education and treatment.