On Thursday, the NC House passed a bill that would give the leaders of the NC General Assembly the power to prevent the settlement of a lawsuit that targets laws written by that Assembly. Republicans filed HB 606 in response to a settlement that changed the state’s absentee ballot rules in the lead-up to the 2020 election. Republicans had argued the settlement was unconstitutional, usurped legislative prerogatives, was reached without their input and countermanded decisions made by the legislature.
Two bills sponsored by NC House Republicans passed a House elections committee with party-line votes: HB 782 would require that absentee ballots be received at county elections offices by the close of Election Day and counted no later than the day after the election. HB 766 would ban election boards from soliciting or receiving private funding, including grant monies from foundations.
The NC House approved a bill “requiring school districts with more than 400 students to post educational materials used by teachers ‘prominently’ on school websites.” Teachers would be required to post a list of all materials used in their classroom as well as the previous year’s lesson plans. The bill comes after the state adopted controversial curriculum standards requiring that diverse viewpoints of American history are taught. Critics contend HB 755 is a thinly disguised attempt to prevent students from learning harsh truths about slavery, racial discrimination, and systemic racism. The NC Association of Educators opposes the bill, saying it imposes a completely unnecessary burden on teachers and administrators.
HB 657, which passed the NC House on Wednesday, would create “threat assessment teams” to help teachers and other school personnel flag students whose behavior poses a high or imminent risk of violence or physical harm to themselves or others.
The NC House, along party lines, approved legislation removing language from state law that specifies violations not serious enough for a long-term school suspension. Opponents of HB 247 expressed concern that removing these exceptions, which include inappropriate language, noncompliance, dress code violations and minor physical altercations, will have disproportionately negative consequences for students of color, those with disabilities and those most marginalized. Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Orange) tried unsuccessfully to have the four exceptions put back into the bill. While the bill now goes to the NC Senate, the bill did not get enough support in the House to suggest the legislature could override a potential veto by Gov. Cooper.
On Thursday the NC House unanimously passed a bill that waives the requirement for a teacher to help cover the cost of finding a substitute teacher for personal days. If HB 362 becomes law, teachers who provide a reason to their principal for taking a personal leave day will no longer have to pay $50 out of pocket. If no reason is provided, the teacher would have to pay the full cost of hiring a substitute. The bill now goes to the Senate.
Health Care Policy
The NC Senate approved a bill ensuring people in hospitals and adult care homes can have visitors even during a pandemic. SB 191, the No Patient Left Alone Act, passed with some bipartisan support and was referred to the House for consideration. A second bill, HB 447 forbids hospitals from blocking hospital visits from clergy during a disaster or emergency. Hospitals can still require clergy to follow infection control rules. The measure passed the House 98-19 and was referred to the Senate for consideration.
NC House Republicans are sponsoring HB 572, which prohibits a vaccine mandate “by executive order, rule or agency.” Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange) called the bill “unworkable,” saying it would make it difficult for the Governor and other public health officials to make decisions in emergency situations where the public good is at stake. Gov. Cooper has not called for a vaccine mandate, focusing instead on education to combat vaccine hesitancy. The bill passed both the House Health Committee and the House Rules Committee on Thursday and is expected to get a floor vote in the House on Monday.
NC House Republicans are supporting a bill that would prevent state and local government agencies from firing or retaliating against workers who refuse to get a vaccine for any coronavirus. HB 686 says that government workers in all state and local agencies — as well as applicants for those jobs — would have “the right to refuse any of the coronavirus vaccines without being subjected to termination or retaliation.” State health officials have alerted lawmakers that the bill as written fails to make any exceptions for workers in government-run health care facilities, where a COVID-19 vaccine could soon be required under federal rules for infection control.
SB 408, a bill that would make “patient brokering” in referrals to addiction treatment facilities a felony, passed the NC Senate Judiciary committee unanimously and will move to the Senate floor. Patient brokers use complex schemes including false advertising, overbilling and low or no treatment to recruit patients with substance abuse disorders into treatment facilities. Brokers receive financial kickbacks from the treatment facilities.
The NC Senate passed three health care bills that proponents say will ultimately lower costs and improve health care access in the state. SB 505 will reduce “surprise” medical billing by requiring in-network providers to notify patients in advance if they are to be billed for out-of-network care. SB 228 would let small businesses offer exclusive provider benefit plans to employees, and SB 462 would streamline the government approval process for new equipment and services. All three bills have been referred to the House for consideration.
Three bills dealing with safety issues affecting North Carolina firefighters and first responders are on track to be voted on in the NC House. HB 355 would ban potentially toxic chemicals from use in the training of firefighters; HB 448 would allow firefighters to use blue flashing lights when responding to an emergency and parked on the side of the road; HB 492 would allow firefighters, police, EMTs, and 911 dispatchers to receive worker’s compensation benefits for job-related PTSD, not just physical injuries. The bills are likely to pass the House, but the likelihood of approval in the Senate is unclear.
Two bills that would impact how and where alcoholic beverages would be available advanced in the NC House. HB 693 would create a special permit for charter buses to serve alcohol beverages on trips of 75 miles or longer. HB 781 would allow North Carolina cities or counties to create "social districts" for drinking in a defined outdoor area. Legislation passed in 2020 allowed people inside shopping malls to carry around alcoholic drinks purchased at mall restaurants, and this bill expands the permit to downtowns and other designated areas. Both bills have bipartisan support. The charter bus measure is still being considered by House committees, but HB 781 passed the House and has been referred to the Senate.
Under a bill filed by state House Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford), all state agencies, in particular the NC Dept. of Environmental Quality, would be required to consider environmental and public health justice when deciding whether to approve monies for publicly funded projects. HB 784 would require the responsible agency to deny permits if projects disproportionately burden low-income communities of color protected by Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Women’s Rights and LGBTQ Rights
Two abortion-related bills advanced in the state legislature on Thursday. HB 453 would make it illegal to get an abortion specifically because of the presumed race of the fetus or because of a Down syndrome diagnosis. Six Democrats voted with all House Republicans to pass the bill and send it to the Senate for consideration. SB 405 would make it a misdemeanor for a doctor not to provide care for an infant born after a botched abortion and would create a duty for other health care professionals to report any such failure to act. Democrats sustained Gov. Cooper’s veto of a similar bill two years ago.
Gun Violence Prevention
The NC House passed a bill that would eliminate the state’s pistol purchase permit system. Proponents of HB 398 say federal background checks are sufficient, but critics fear a background check loophole for private sales of firearms will lead to an increase in murders and suicides. The bill moved forward on a 69-48 vote, with two Democrats voting yes and one Republican voting no. If the measure passes the state Senate, it could be vetoed by Gov. Cooper.
HB 674, a bill expanding a North Carolina crime database to include common domestic violence offenses, passed the House Judiciary committee on Tuesday. The bill would require the submission of a DNA sample to the database by anyone charged with assault on a female or child or who violates a domestic violence protection order.
The Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a bill filed by Senate Democrats, was referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations. SB 439 would expand protections and increase penalties for hate crimes in part by requiring law enforcement agencies to report these crimes to the SBI monthly, providing the means to identify and track hate crimes more consistently.
A bill proposed by NC House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) would make “rioting” a felony when it causes significant property damage or someone is injured or dies. Moore proposed the bill in response to what he perceived as rioting in downtown Raleigh in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in police custody. The ACLU and other civil rights advocates argue that the bill, HB 805, would discourage people from participating in legitimate protests by punishing individuals for the destructive acts of others. The bill is scheduled to go before the full House today, May 10.
The NC House passed a bill that would impose new mandatory minimum sentences if prisoners expose themselves to guards or plot to escape. The NC Dept. of Public Safety had requested the bill. Republicans said the measure shows support for correctional officers, but some Democrats expressed concern about mandatory minimums. Sen. Joe John (D-Wake), a former judge, arguing in favor of judicial discretion, said, “While they may seem the same, no two cases are ever, ever alike.” HB 560 passed the NC House 89-27 and will head to the Senate for further debate.
A package of police and criminal justice reforms cleared the NC Senate Judiciary committee on Tuesday. SB 300 passed the committee with unanimous, bipartisan support. Democrats in both the House and Senate would like the final bill to include a number of more progressive changes they have offered in other bills, but there is significant overlap with SB 300. The Republican sponsor of the bill, Sen. Danny Britt (R-Robeson), plans to meet with Democrats to discuss possible changes to the state’s body camera law, not currently included in SB 300.