On Wednesday the NC Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill to limit the governor’s emergency powers. SB 346 would require any emergency declaration longer than 10 days to receive approval from the Council of State and longer than 45 days to receive approval from the General Assembly. A similar bill, requiring the governor to seek approval from the Council of State within 7 days of declaring an emergency, recently passed the House.
On Thursday a NC Senate committee approved a bill entitled Prohibit Collusive Settlements by the AG. SB 360 would require the Attorney General’s office to get approval for settlements of suits dealing with state law or constitutional provisions from the NC House Speaker and leader of the NC Senate when those leaders have intervened on behalf of the General Assembly or are party to the suit. A spokesperson for the AG’s office described the bill as unconstitutional.
On Wednesday the NC House Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform Committee moved forward HB 605, which would require that signs with answers to several FAQs about the voting process be posted at all active voting sites. The bill, which would also fund expanded staffing for the State Board of Elections hotline, has bipartisan support.
Economic and Housing Policy
On Thursday the NC House passed tax breaks that are now stalled in the NC Senate. HB 334 would allow businesses that received Payroll Protection Program loans to “deduct...expenses covered by those loans,” and this week a provision was added to the bill that would waive state taxes on the first $10,200 of unemployment income for people who received unemployment benefits. A Republican representative was removed from her finance committee leadership position earlier this week when she publicly opposed the bill and complained that several state lawmakers who owned businesses would benefit financially from the bill. Given that Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger indicated that the Senate would not act on the bill in “the next week or two,” it is unclear how the possible changes will work with the upcoming May 17 state income tax filing deadline.
Health Care Policy
A bill was introduced in the NC Senate this week to limit “surprise billing,” where patients receive significant medical bills they were not expecting for out-of-network procedures. SB 505 would “require clinics or hospitals to let patients know 72 hours in advance of a planned procedure if they’ll be using any out-of-network providers.”
On Wednesday the NC House voted unanimously to pass HB 370, the No Veteran Left Behind Act. This bill would provide $1 million to set up Veterans Justice Intervention programs -- designed to keep veterans out of the criminal justice system by connecting them with services, including mental health resources -- in 10 counties. Before voting for the bill, House members gave a standing ovation to wounded veterans in attendance, and afterward Governor Cooper hosted those veterans for the signing of HB 138, which declares April 24 North Carolina’s Wounded Heroes Day.
Gun Violence Prevention
On Tuesday a bill that would repeal existing pistol purchase permit requirements passed the NC House Judiciary Committee. HB 398 would no longer require purchasers of handguns to go through a background check and permitting process via a local sheriff, relying instead on a national electronic background check system.
Women’s Rights and LGBTQ Rights
The most extreme of a set of bills targeting transgender youth will not move forward, according to a spokesperson for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger. SB 514 “would have banned treatment for transgender people under 21 and required teachers and other state employees to notify parents if their child displayed ‘gender nonconformity.’” The bill would also have legally protected “conversion therapy.” Two other bills that target trans youth, SB 515 (allowing health care professionals to refuse care or service “on the basis of conscience”) and HB 358 (banning trans women and girls from competing in school or college sports), are still being considered by the General Assembly.
On Tuesday lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill that would limit the use of shackles on incarcerated pregnant women and new mothers. HB 608 would also prevent the isolation or restrictive housing of pregnant women and women who have given birth within the previous six weeks, require they be provided with nutritional and hygiene products, limit their contact with male correctional officers, and specify how they should be undressed and body searched.
On Tuesday lawmakers introduced a bill that would prevent hospitals from billing sexual assault victims for forensic examinations. HB 626 would fine hospitals $25,000 if they bill a sexual assault victim or the victim’s personal insurance for a forensic exam. The bill has bipartisan sponsorship.
On Wednesday the NC House State and Local Government Committee approved a bill that would allow judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers to request that their local governments remove personal information from online government records. HB 304’s sponsors say that allowing these officials to remove home addresses and phone numbers from online records will keep these officials safe from personal targeting.
On Wednesday the NC Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would change the status of mugshots as public records. Under SB 660 media sources wishing to publish mugshots would have to file an affidavit with a law enforcement agency, which would then determine whether to release them. Supporters of the bill cite websites that publish mugshots and charge people to take them down as a problem addressed by this bill.
On Thursday the NC Senate unanimously passed a bill, SB 183, that would eliminate the waiting period for repeat-offender drunk drivers to get an ignition interlock system in their vehicles. An ignition interlock system prevents a driver from starting their vehicle until they have passed a breath-alcohol test. The law previously mandated a 6-week waiting period before installation of the system, during which drivers were restricted to limited hours and reasons for driving. The bill has the support of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association and other groups.
On Wednesday HB 213 passed the NC House Judiciary Committee. The bill would allow law enforcement to track people’s cell phone location data without a warrant in emergency situations involving “an imminent risk of death or serious harm.” Previous iterations of the bill have failed in the General Assembly due to privacy concerns.
Several police reform bills were introduced in the NC House this week. Among these are a bill that would require both pre-hiring psychological screening and on-the-job mental health training (HB 436), a bill that requires officers to intervene when they see a fellow officer using excessive force (HB 536), and a bill that would require a sheriff or organization certifying a police officer to check for record of previous de-certification of that officer in a national database (HB 547). Stronger reform provisions supported by Democrats did not make it into the bills, which as introduced are mostly supported by policing groups.