On Thursday the US Supreme Court ordered lawyers in the gerrymandering case Moore v. Harper to submit statements about whether the court can still rule on the case following the NC Supreme Court’s decision reversing its previous ruling. In their appeal to the US Supreme Court, Republican legislative leaders had pushed the Independent State Legislature theory, a fringe legal theory that state courts have no right to overturn state legislatures’ rules or laws for federal elections. Given that the original decision that led to the appeal has now been reversed, however, the case at the US Supreme Court may be moot. Lawyers have until May 11 to submit responses.
On Wednesday the NC House removed a provision in a bill that would have allowed Beaufort County Schools to use a controversial social studies curriculum. HB 23 is a bill to define reporting requirements for the MyFutureNC commission (a commission studying postsecondary educational attainment in NC), but Rep. Keith Kidwell, a Burke County Republican, had added the unrelated provision that would have authorized use of the curriculum. Beaufort County Schools had not asked for the curriculum to be authorized, but Rep. Kidwell added the provision to this bill and another unrelated bill (though he later retracted it).
On Tuesday the NC House Education Committee approved multiple bills governing charter schools. HB 219, Charter School Omnibus, would allow counties to raise funds for charter school capital projects and would prevent the State Board of Education from taking into account a charter school’s impact on its community when issuing or renewing a charter, among other provisions, but the most controversial provision that would have allowed charter schools to “double-dip” and take funding from public schools’ revenue streams was deleted. HB 618, filed by Rep. Tricia Cotham, would remove responsibility from the State Board of Education for approving or renewing charters and transfer it to the Charter School Advisory Board, which would be renamed the Charter School Review Board. HB 618 was approved by the House and sent to the Senate on Wednesday.
The NC House Education Committee also approved a bill that would dramatically expand North Carolina’s private school voucher program. HB 823 would make the “Opportunity Scholarship” program – a system of private school vouchers – available to anyone, rather than just low- and middle-income families. The bill would also boost funding for the program to over $400 million, increasing to over $500 million by 2032.
On Monday the NC Senate Education Committee approved a bill to change the governance of the state’s community colleges. The bill will transfer multiple state community college board and local trustee board appointments from the governor and local officials to the General Assembly. The committee amended the bill to remove provisions that would have given more power to the community college system president, following the recent hiring of a new system president through the previous process.
Health Care Policy
On Monday the NC Senate voted unanimously to give UNC Health immunity from federal antitrust laws. SB 743 would also allow the medical system to move away from the State Health Plan for new employees to a new benefits plan. State Treasurer Dale Folwell and the State Employees Association of North Carolina oppose the plan.
On Monday the NC Senate unanimously passed a bill to protect people with unpaid medical debt. SB 321 would set up an appeals process for patients, make financial aid information clearer and more readily available, and stop debts from transferring to family members after a patient dies. The NC Healthcare Association, the hospital lobby, opposes the bill.
Gun Violence Prevention
A bill to legalize carrying a concealed gun without a permit passed two NC House committees this week before stalling. HB 189 would let any legal gun owner conceal their gun, changing regulations that currently require a concealed carry permit involving a background check and proficiency and knowledge tests. While the bill was scheduled for a House vote on Wednesday, House leadership removed it from the calendar due to insufficient support, and Senate leadership also indicated that they would not take up the bill this session.
A bill that bans abortions after 12 weeks passed the NCGA this week. SB 20, which would make exceptions for rape, incest, life-threatening fetal anomalies, and medical emergencies, passed along party lines in the NC House on Wednesday (with newly Republican Rep. Tricia Cotham joining her Republican colleagues) and in the NC Senate on Thursday. The bill also adds new doctor’s visit requirements for obtaining abortion pills, rendering Planned Parenthood clinics operating in the state outside the new licensing requirements. While Governor Cooper said he will veto the bill, he likely does not have the votes to sustain a veto, though he and Democratic legislators are trying to find them.
On Wednesday the NC House passed a fast-tracked bill to ban gender-affirming surgery for minors. HB 808 as it was initially written would have also banned prescriptions of hormones above certain amounts, but that language was removed in committee. Democrats objected to the bill as bigoted and harmful to trans youth.
On Tuesday the NC Senate unanimously passed a bill that would increase penalties for disseminating obscene materials to minors. While Democrats had previously expressed concerns that the bill would target drag shows, school or library materials, or adolescents sharing pornographic material with their friends, Republican sponsors provided assurances that the bill merely increases criminal penalties for activity that is already illegal.
On Monday the NC House Judiciary committee approved a bill that would change regulations for the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. HB 790 would clarify the commission’s authority for using private grants and donations and establish deadlines for evidentiary hearings and prosecutor statements. An earlier version of the bill would have barred the commission’s director from accepting private donations altogether and would have limited the commission’s scope to only people who are currently incarcerated, but both provisions were removed. The commission was established in 2006, and has since reviewed over 3000 innocence claims and led to the exoneration of fifteen people.
On Monday a law went into effect that lets teens get a provisional license with less supervised driving time. New drivers previously had to have a learner’s permit for a year before getting a provisional license, but the new law changes that period to 6 months for the rest of 2023 (reverting back to the temporarily shortened waiting period implemented during COVID) and 9 months starting in 2024. Governor Cooper did not veto the bill, but he did not sign it out of concerns over road safety.