In a decision last week, the NC Supreme Court let a lower court ruling stand but unpublished it, preventing it from being cited as precedent. This unusual move, which has previously been something the court would do only in narrowly defined circumstances not in play in this case, is drawing fire as a power grab. Anita Earls wrote in her dissent: “The Court is making a hasty and unexamined, yet fundamental and radically destabilizing shift in the authority to determine legal precedent. It has far-reaching implications for the jurisprudence of this state.”
Two Republican-sponsored bills under consideration in the NC House would loosen or change charter school regulations. HB 618, sponsored by four Republicans including newly Republican Rep. Tricia Cotham, would shift responsibility for approving charter school applications, renewals, amendments, and terminations from a board appointed primarily by the governor to a board appointed primarily by the NCGA. HB 219, which is facing opposition from several NC school districts, would allow charter schools to access more district funding.
A bill filed in the NC Senate would transfer power over the state’s community college system from the governor and other executive branch offices to the NCGA. SB 692 would shift the governor’s ten appointments on the State Board of Community Colleges to the NCGA, shift eight appointments on each campus board from the governor and local school board to the NCGA, and remove student body representatives on both campus and state level boards. The timing of this bill means that the legislature might give itself veto power over the selection of the community college system president currently underway.
Economic and Housing Policy
A set of bills under consideration at the NCGA would provide more oversight of homeowners’ associations (HOAs). HB 542 would set a $2500 minimum for the amount of unpaid fees required to trigger the HOA putting a lien on the home. Currently, HOAs may put a lien on a home if the owner has any fees that are 30 days past due. The bill would also require HOAs to inform the homeowner of impending foreclosure via phone and email in addition to the currently-required mailed letter. Another proposed bill would create a division within the state attorney general’s office to oversee community associations and assist with disputes, while a third (HB 551) would exempt currently owned properties from changes to HOA rules, making those new rules go into effect only when ownership of the property changes.
The updated North Carolina Farm Act includes a language change that could allow hog farmers to choose not to use methane captured from waste lagoons for energy. SB 582, which has been referred to committee, would include the phrasing that methane collected “may be used” for energy, a change from the current language specifying that methane is to be collected “for use” as an energy source. This would allow farmers to instead flare off their collected methane, potentially leading to more emissions and waste.
Health Care Policy
A bill filed in the NC Senate would increase legal protections for anyone at the scene of an overdose. SB 485 is designed to strengthen the state’s Good Samaritan law, encouraging reporting of drug overdoses. The bill would also extend immunity to students calling campus security to report an overdose.
On Monday the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against North Carolina’s new “anti-rioting” law, saying it violates both the state and the U.S. constitutions. A previous case about a federal law found that criminalizing the act of encouraging someone else to riot – a provision also included in the new NC law – violates the First Amendment. The ACLU also says that the definition of “riot” in the law is overly broad and could lead to peaceful protestors facing criminal penalties.
In two opinions last week, the NC Supreme Court denied Batson challenges, where defendants challenge jury sentences based on unfair (often racially discriminatory) juror selection practices. Last year was the first time NC’s Supreme Court ruled on a Batson challenge, overturning an armed robbery conviction due to prosecutors’ actions during jury selection. In a dissent to one of last week’s rulings, Justice Anita Earls wrote, “Today, this Court returns to the practice of refusing to acknowledge what is in plain sight and turns a blind eye to evidence of racial discrimination in jury selection in this case by contorting the doctrine and turning the Batson test into an impossible hurdle.”