On Monday Governor Cooper announced that the state of emergency issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic will be lifted on August 15. The order was first issued in March 2020 and has gone through multiple iterations. Though other states lifted their emergency orders earlier, Cooper had kept North Carolina’s in place to ensure adequate health care systems staffing.
On Monday Governor Cooper signed the $27.9 billion state budget submitted by the NC General Assembly. Though the budget doesn’t include Medicaid expansion, Cooper cited the commitments given by legislative leaders to expand Medicaid when discussing why he decided to approve it. The budget does include an average raise of 4.2% for teachers, a 3.5% raise for state employees, a reserve fund to respond to increased inflation or a recession, renovations of the government complex in downtown Raleigh, and a transfer of sales-tax revenues to the state highway fund to make up for lost gas tax revenues.
Education, Gun Policy, and Immigration
Cooper vetoed four bills Monday. These include HB 49, a bill that would have allowed renewal of lapsed concealed carry permits without additional safety training, SB 593, a bill that would have shifted governance of North Carolina’s schools for the deaf and blind from the State Department of Education to a board mostly appointed by the NCGA, and SB 101, a bill that would have required sheriffs to cooperate with ICE – similar to a 2019 bill that Cooper also vetoed.
On Thursday the State Board of Elections ruled that elections officials should not compare absentee ballot signatures with those on file, denying a request from the NC Republican Party to grant permission to county elections boards to conduct signature matching. The NCSBE voted 3-2 along party lines to deny the request, agreeing with NCSBE executive director Karen Brinson Bell that signature matching goes beyond what is required by state law. Lawyers for he NC Republican Party indicated that they will challenge the decision in court. Notably, most of the 7,000 comments the NCSBE received prior to voting expressed opposition to signature matching.
On Thursday the North Carolina Green Party filed a federal lawsuit against the North Carolina State Board of Elections, seeking to have their party’s candidates listed on ballots that they have been kept off of due to a pending fraud investigation. The NCSBE voted on June 30 in a 3-2 party-line vote to keep the Green Party off the ballot, citing 2,653 signatures that were questioned as potentially fraudulent, a total that – if rejected – would put the Green Party under the 13,865 signatures needed for certification. While Green Party representatives claimed the move to keep their candidates off the ballot is politically motivated, the fraud investigation has turned up evidence of “an organized effort to falsify signatures,” according to state elections officials.
On Wednesday State Treasurer Dale Folwell said he would comply with a federal court order that requires the North Carolina State Health Plan to cover gender-affirming treatment for transgender people, though he said the Treasurer’s Office intends to appeal and request a stay. Members of the plan, which covers teachers, state employees, and retirees, had sued over three years ago to win this coverage, including gender-affirming surgery. While the primarily Republican trustees of the state health plan had voted to cover treatment for gender dysphoria when it was required to comply with federal antidiscrimination laws (with coverage beginning in 2016), they let the coverage lapse two years later and have not renewed it since.