Two Republican representatives in the NC House resigned from party leadership positions after making offensive remarks to Black Democratic lawmakers. Rep Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort) and Rep. Jeffrey McNeely (R-Iredell) both stepped down as deputy whips within the GOP after their remarks stirred controversy. Rep. Kidwell, speaking about Rep. Diamond Staton-Williams’ mention of growing up in a church during comments in which she discussed her decision to have an abortion, said she must have meant the “Church of Satan.” Rep. McNeely questioned Rep. Abe Jones about whether he would have gotten into Harvard if he hadn’t been an athlete and a minority. Following outcry over these remarks, the GOP caucus met and decided the two representatives should be removed from their leadership roles.
The NC Senate passed its budget in a 36-13 vote, with seven Democrats voting to approve the budget. Before the vote Republicans tabled or made substitutions for over a dozen proposed Democratic amendments, including an amendment that would have established a right to contraception, an amendment that would have removed sections of the budget that allow leaders in the NCGA to appoint 10 special Superior Court Judges, and an amendment that would have taken over $300 million from the private school voucher program to put toward community college scholarships. The Senate and House will now have to reach a budget compromise, which will include deciding how much of a raise to provide to teachers and state employees (the House has proposed 10% and 7.5% raises over two years, respectively, while the Senate has proposed 4.5% and 5% raises).
Both the NC House and NC Senate included provisions in their budget proposals that would prevent North Carolina from participating in the Electronic Registration Information Center, a multi-state organization that works to maintain accurate voter rolls. ERIC uses software to find voter matches that might indicate someone has moved states, has a duplicate registration, or has died, and it also uses driver registration information to send states information about potential eligible voters who are unregistered. The organization was the subject of right-wing conspiracy theories, and Republicans also argued that decisions by other states to drop out, including Florida, West Virginia, Missouri, and Virginia, meant that it would be less useful. Democrats and the State Board of Elections had urged the state to maintain membership in ERIC.
The NC House is considering a bill that would require a study of programs designed to increase the number of Black men teaching in NC schools. HB 833 would require the NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) to evaluate the impact of a series of existing state and national programs on enrollment of Black men in teacher education programs and employment of Black men in teaching roles. The bill has bipartisan support and will be taken up this week by the NC House’s K-12 Education Committee.
On Monday Governor Cooper declared an (unofficial) state of emergency for public education in North Carolina, launching a campaign against proposed education and tax legislation from the NCGA. Cooper said Republicans’ efforts to vastly expand the state’s private school voucher program while leaving public school teacher pay relatively low will exacerbate an ongoing teacher shortage and hurt students.
On Thursday Republicans in the NC Senate passed a bill that would shift 1,700 students from the Nash County school system to the Edgecombe County school system and shrink the Nash County school board from eleven members to seven. SB 248, which passed in a party-line vote, was opposed by the Nash school board and by the Rocky Mount City Council.
More on a bill discussed in a previous update: “Bill would mandate history course, prescribe curriculum at UNC universities, community colleges” – NC Newsline
Economic and Housing Policy
On Tuesday the NC House Commerce Committee reviewed a bill that would regulate video gambling machines and “sweepstakes parlors.” HB 512 would direct NC’s Lottery Commission to regulate these machines and would require operators to pay a tax that would go towards funding UNC institutions, HBCUs, forgivable loans for community college students, and law enforcement efforts to combat illegal gambling.
On Wednesday a committee in the NC Senate approved a bill legalizing mobile sports betting. The committee approved a version of HB 347 that included significant changes from the bill that passed the NC House, including increasing the tax rate on operators from 14% to 18% and allowing in-person sports betting at select locations. The bill must go through two additional Senate committees and is then expected to go to the full Senate for votes on May 31 and June 1.
On Wednesday the NC Senate Judiciary Committee approved a Republican-sponsored bill that would outlaw a tool that many local governments use for land planning. SB 765 would eliminate extraterritorial jurisdictions, or ETJs, which are designations for land outside current city limits that may be annexed into a city later as it grows. Cities regulate land use within ETJs, though people who live in ETJs are technically outside of city limits and do not pay city taxes. The League of Municipalities opposes the bill.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week that eliminated protections for many wetlands across the United States could significantly impact NC wetlands given a law under consideration at the NCGA. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Sackett v. EPA that wetlands must be “indistinguishable from a larger body of water” in order to receive protection as a “water of the United States,” meaning that seasonal wetlands would no longer be protected. The current version of this year’s proposed NC Farm Act, SB 582, includes a provision that would adopt national standards for wetlands protections, thereby removing previous state protections against paving over wetlands without a permit, among other protections.
Health Care Policy
On Wednesday the NC Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee advanced a bill that would allow Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina to restructure. HB 346 would allow the insurance giant to create a new holding company that would move much of the company’s money out of regulators’ reach. The bill has bipartisan support in the NCGA.
The NC Senate budget includes a measure requiring the prison system to submit reports on nursing staffing at prisons and crimes committed by prison employees while on the job. NC prisons currently have a 41% vacancy rate of nursing positions. The budget also includes an expansion of eligibility criteria for medical release from prison, rolling back the age limit for medical release from 65 to 55 and allowing release of people with a terminal illness who are likely to die within 9 months (the current law is 6 months).
On Thursday the NC Senate Rules Committee advanced two Republican-sponsored bills that would increase the power of prosecutors. HB 116 would allow district attorneys to recuse themselves from cases for “good cause,” allow the appointment of special investigators by prosecutorial districts, and specify that written materials from district attorneys to prosecutors and their staff is not subject to the Public Records Act. HB 87 would allow district attorneys to file a probation modification petition, allow judges to delegate decisions about shortening a probation period to probation officers, and clarify sheriffs’ authority to buy food for their county jail.