Planning for adjustments to the 2022-23 budget is underway at the NC General Assembly. A Republican budget writer in the NCGA said the total spending figure will be between $29.5 billion and $30 billion. Legislators are considering raises for state employees and teachers beyond the 2.5% already allocated, though it is unclear whether they will match Governor Cooper’s request for an additional 2.5% for state employees and 7.5% for teachers through a salary schedule adjustment. They are also considering additional tax cuts, a reserve fund for capital projects, and an additional $100 million for broadband expansion.
On Tuesday the rules committee of the NC Senate passed the 2022 Farm Act (SB 792), which is expected to pass the full Senate next week. Of note in the bill is a passage that distinguishes hemp from marijuana based on its level of the psychoactive ingredient Delta-9 and excludes hemp from North Carolina’s list of controlled substances. North Carolina’s 2015 law legalizing the hemp industry is set to expire at the end of next month; this provision in the Farm Act will prevent hemp from being outlawed in the state when that happens. In addition, the bill initially included a “right to repair” provision that requires manufacturers of farm equipment to sell parts, manuals, and diagnostic tools to end users and independent shops at the same price that dealers receive. “Right to repair” is a national movement with significant support from farmer advocacy groups, but the provision received even more opposition from dealers, leading to an amendment to the bill to send the issue to a study commission instead.
On Thursday legislators in the NC House introduced a bill to limit PFAS levels in drinking water. “HB 1095 would authorize the state’s Environmental Management Commission to adopt a maximum contaminant level for one or more per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances [PFAS] compounds” (Lisa Sorg, NC Policy Watch). These compounds are known health hazards, with links to thyroid problems, kidney and testicular cancers, immune disorders, and reproductive and fetal development issues. Other states, including Michigan and New York, have already adopted maximum contaminant thresholds for types of PFAS compounds.
Health Care Policy
On Wednesday, Republicans in the NC Senate, previously fiercely opposed to Medicaid expansion, introduced their own bill that would expand coverage to more than 500,000 low-income adults. HB 149 would expand Medicaid coverage to adults up to 138% of the federal poverty line, bringing in people who have long been left in the coverage gap. The bill also includes measures that face significant opposition from industry groups, including a provision that would allow advanced practice registered nurses to work without supervision from a doctor and a change to the Certificate of Need law that governs the building and expansion of hospitals. However, the Republican senators who introduced the bill said it was unlikely to pass the NC House during the short session.
Gun Violence Prevention
On Wednesday Governor Cooper called for stronger laws to prevent gun violence following a school shooting in Texas that killed 19 children and 2 adults. Cooper spoke in support of universal background checks and asked the state legislature to close permit loopholes and to pass legislation allowing judges to take guns away from violent offenders and people with severe mental illness. Republicans in the General Assembly do not seem inclined to respond to Cooper’s plea for legislation.
Education and LGBTQ Rights
On Wednesday the NC Senate Education Committee held the first hearing for a Republican-sponsored bill similar to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. HB 755, which was introduced on Tuesday and called the Parents’ Bill of Rights, would prohibit the mention of sexual orientation or gender identity in the K-3 curriculum. While sponsors of the bill stressed that its text is limited to school curricula, rather than Florida’s broader language that could limit LGBTQ teachers from mentioning aspects of their home life, critics including teachers and community advocates said the bill could harm LGBTQ students by, among other things, requiring teachers to out students to their parents.