On Tuesday NC Representative Tricia Cotham announced that she was switching from the Democratic to the Republican party, giving Republicans a veto-proof majority in the NC House. Cotham represents a heavily Democratic district in Mecklenburg County, where Biden won over 60% of the vote in 2020, and state Democrats and other organizations called for her resignation following her announcement. Though Rep. Cotham previously voted in support of abortion rights, she refused to say during her press conference whether she opposed Republican proposals to restrict abortion after 6 or 12 weeks of pregnancy. Other areas that are more vulnerable to right-wing legislation in the wake of Cotham’s party switch include transgender rights (see LGBTQ Rights section below) and charter school regulation.
On Thursday the NC House approved its two-year budget proposal. The budget proposal includes a combined average raise of 10.2% over two years for teachers and 7.5% for state employees, significant spending on infrastructure and construction, income tax cuts, a change to charter school governance, a hand hygiene pilot project for hospitals, increased funding for education for incarcerated people, and funds to implement voter ID requirements even though the NC Supreme Court has not yet ruled on those requirements. In addition to all of the Republicans present, nine Democrats voted in favor of the proposed House budget. The proposal now goes to the NC Senate. (Read more about the budget proposals from the NC House and Governor Cooper in the Daily Tar Heel.)
On Thursday NC Senate Republicans passed a bill to strip appointment powers from the governor. SB 512 would shift appointment power of nine boards, including the N.C. Utilities Commission, the Board of Transportation, and the Environmental Management Commission, from the governor to the General Assembly. The bill passed along party lines only three days after it was introduced.
On Tuesday a NC House committee approved a bill that would restrict absentee voting. HB 304 would eliminate the three-day grace period for mail-in ballots, instead cutting off acceptance of absentee ballots at 7:30 PM on Election Day, and it would also not allow absentee ballots to be dropped off at early voting locations. A similar bill was vetoed by Governor Cooper in 2021.
On Tuesday a committee in the NC Senate approved a bill, HB 149, that would grant a one-year extension to the pilot program allowing the state’s two virtual charter schools to operate. The schools have earned “D” state performance grades every year since they opened in 2015, but Republicans advocated for their continued operation. A separate NC House bill approved Thursday would remove the schools’ pilot status, making them permanent but also subject to the same scrutiny as other schools. HB 149 would also require NCGA approval of the president of North Carolina’s community college system. Currently the president is selected by the 20-member State Board of Community Colleges. Democrats criticized the bill as another instance of Republicans in the NCGA overreaching in education governance.
On Monday a bill to shift control of North Carolina’s public residential schools for the deaf and the blind became law without Governor Cooper’s signature. The law moves control of these schools from the State Board of Education to newly-created boards of trustees appointed primarily by the NCGA. Cooper had vetoed a similar bill less than a year ago, but this time he only put out a statement criticizing the bill as an attack on the State Board of Education.
A group of Democrats in the NC Senate filed a bill Monday that would raise the hourly minimum pay for school workers to $17. SB 483, which proposes to increase minimum pay for teachers’ assistants, bus drivers, custodians, and cafeteria workers from the current minimum of $15 an hour, would allocate $144.7 million in recurring funds to the increase. North Carolina school districts have had difficulty filling bus driver positions and other school jobs.
Republicans in the NC Senate introduced a bill aimed to improve performance of ReBuild NC’s disaster relief program. SB 438 would put into law ReBuild NC policies prioritizing more vulnerable homeowners, including low-income families, people over 62, families with children, and people with mental or physical disabilities. It would also limit how many home projects a given contractor could be awarded in one package and establish strict construction timelines, preventing contractors from sitting on awarded contracts without building.
On Wednesday the NC Senate Transportation Committee unanimously approved a bipartisan bill to increase transportation funding through multiple sources. SB 354, which lawmakers envisioned as a way to boost transportation funding at a time when increased fuel efficiency has lowered gas tax revenues, would add a per-ride tax to rides through services like Uber and Lyft, increase the state’s electrical vehicle registration fee to $180, impose a new $90 annual registration fee for hybrid vehicles, remove the tax cap on vehicle purchases, and increase the number of toll road projects allowed through public-private partnerships from three to six.
On Wednesday three Republicans in the NC House filed a bill that would outlaw abortions entirely. HB 533 bans abortion at conception without exceptions for rape or incest, though it does include language excepting situations for saving a mother’s life, and it would make performing or attempting to perform an abortion felony offenses. It is unlikely that such an extreme bill will pass, given that other Republican legislators in the NCGA have primarily been discussing abortion bans after the first trimester.
Republicans in the NCGA filed six new bills targeting transgender youth in advance of Thursday’s filing deadline. SB 631 and HB 574 would prohibit transgender youth from playing on sports teams in accordance with their gender identity, while SB 636 specifies that transgender women may not participate in women’s sports. Another set of bills targets health care for transgender youth, with SB 560 restricting gender-affirming care for minors, banning telehealth provision of gender-affirming care, and preventing providers of gender-affirming care from receiving public funds; SB 639 completely outlawing gender-affirming care for minors; and SB 641 allowing providers to refuse care if they have religious objections. Representative Tricia Cotham’s switch to the Republican Party, giving Republicans a veto-proof majority, likely emboldened Republicans to introduce more extreme legislation.
On Thursday the NC Senate approved a bill that would let law enforcement release information about juveniles accused of violent crimes while they are at large. SB 303 provides an exception to existing laws that prohibit law enforcement from identifying a juvenile accused of a crime, requiring law enforcement to get permission from a judge before releasing information and stipulating that any information released must be scrubbed once the individual is taken into custody.
On Wednesday a committee in the NC Senate approved a bill that would add benefits for public safety workers killed going to or from work. HB 363, called the Gabe Torres act in honor of a Raleigh police officer killed in a shooting when he was on his way to work, would cause such deaths to be counted as line-of-duty deaths, allowing families to receive death benefits. The law would apply retroactively back to January 2022, allowing Gabe Torres’s family to receive benefits.
On Wednesday state lawmakers filed a bipartisan bill that would improve state oversight of child abuse investigations. SB 625, called Christal’s Law in honor of Christal Lane, an 8-year old Nash County girl who was beaten to death by her grandmother, would allow NCDHHS to monitor social services investigations by DSS, which currently oversees its own investigations.
On Tuesday the NC Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would force the state auditor to provide some internal files to law enforcement. SB 80, which is designed to facilitate criminal investigations that began as audits, would eliminate some authority of the state auditor to withhold documents from officials. Current NC auditor Beth Wood said she is concerned that the bill would allow organizations beyond law enforcement to access files that could be used maliciously or misleadingly.
A bill introduced in the NC Senate would set statewide safety measures for parades. The Shine Lake Hailey Parade Safety Act, named in honor of 11-year-old Hailey Brooks, who was killed when a parade float driver in the 2022 Raleigh Christmas Parade lost control of his brakes, would require vehicles driven in a parade to have proof of recent inspection and be driven by someone over 25 with a valid license and registration.