On Friday, in the wake of new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gov. Cooper issued an executive order ending “all of North Carolina's capacity limits and social distancing requirements as well as masking mandates in most circumstances ‘effective immediately.’”
A bill that would prohibit nonprofits in the state from revealing donors’ names, including to the government, without their permission passed the NC Senate in a party-line vote. Republicans claim SB 636 is needed to protect people from censure if they make charitable donations to causes not supported by their neighbors. Democrats raised concerns that the bill would shield political contributions. The bill now heads to the House for debate.
Without any support from Democrats, the Republican-led NC House approved a bill limiting what school children can be taught about U.S. racial history. HB 324 “prohibits teachers from promoting concepts that suggest America is racist or that people are inherently racist or sexist.” The bill was sent to the Senate where it is expected to have a favorable hearing.
A bill to provide a way for policymakers and families to assess the degree to which segregation persists in North Carolina public schools was introduced by Rep. Cecil Brockman (D-Guilford). HB 948, “Add Segregation Score to School Report Cards,” would make this information more transparent by putting the data on the School Report Card page. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Rules and Operations.
Health Care Policy
HB 572, a bill prohibiting the Governor from using an executive order to mandate vaccination and state agencies from penalizing anyone refusing a vaccination, passed the state House and heads to the Senate for further consideration.
Four bills approved by the NC House Health Committee received favorable votes in time to meet the crossover deadline for policy-related measures and will go to the Senate: HB 703 requires health insurers that cover mammograms to also cover the cost of follow-up diagnostic imaging when an abnormality is found during a routine screening mammogram. HB 648 modifies usual veterinary practice law to allow EMT personnel to aid K9s or search-and-rescue dogs that are injured while working. HB 683 would “require pharmacies to offer safe disposal of prescription drugs on site and to give patients written information on how to dispose of drugs safely without flushing them down the toilet.” HB 642 would ensure organ transplant agencies do not discriminate against persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities, including Down syndrome.
A controversial policy change included in North Carolina’s annual farm bill (SB 605) won approval in the NC Senate with a party-line vote. The new policy would create a blanket permit for all hog farmers around the state to implement a specific process for capturing the biogas methane from hog waste lagoons. Under current law, farmers must file for permits one at a time. Democratic opponents and environmentalists argue the law would discourage better ways of dealing with hog waste.
Women’s Rights and LGBTQ Rights
The Senate passed SB 405, “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” which would make it a misdemeanor if a doctor does not attempt life-saving procedures on a child born alive after a failed abortion procedure. The bill, which passed the Senate in a party-line vote, goes to the House and is expected to pass. In 2019, Democrats sustained Gov. Cooper’s veto of a similar bill that made violation of the law a felony.
Gun Violence Prevention
While a bill (HB 200) that would have allowed individuals to get a permanent license to carry a concealed weapon without reapplying regularly was not voted on by the full House, another bill that would allow any elected official with a permit to carry a concealed weapon inside the General Assembly did pass and will be considered by the Senate. “This was asked for by many members of this House, and the Senate,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort), although he did not cite any specific examples of violence that had prompted him to call for the legislation. Representatives Marcia Morey (D-Durham) and Kandie Smith (D-Greensboro) spoke out strongly against HB 47, which passed without any Democratic support.
The NC House unanimously passed HB 813, a bill banning state and local government agencies from communicating with or making payments to hackers who disable network operations and then demand money to restore the systems, and to report such “ransomware” attacks to the state Department of Information Technology (DIT). While the state DIT has recorded 37 cybersecurity attacks on municipal, state and educational entities since 2016, there is no record of any payments to the hackers; however, legislators say the new law would discourage such attacks. The bill does not address private industries like Colonial Pipeline, which are encouraged to report ransomware attacks to the federal government but are not required to do so.
The NC Senate passed a bill that would make it easier to prosecute people who try to collect money by using fake invoices. SB 488 passed with unanimous support and was referred to the House.
On Wednesday the NC Senate unanimously passed SB 300, a bill that would allow family members of victims killed or seriously injured by police to see body-cam footage within five days unless the police are able to convince a judge to withhold the footage. Current law puts the onus for convincing the judge on the victim’s family. The general public still will not have guaranteed access to the body-cam video of police shootings. The bill will also create a database so information about incidents in a police officer’s past can be easily tracked.
The House passed HB 805, a bill originally proposed by House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), which would increase punishments for persons who are found guilty of engaging in or inciting riots. Moore said the measure ensures both First Amendment rights and the need to protect public order, safety and property. Opponents called the proposal “an assault on freedom of speech” and expressed concerns about discriminatory enforcement and a chilling effect on peaceful protest. The bill passed by a vote of 88-25. All the “no” votes were Democrats. It moves to the Senate for consideration.
A bill allowing police in North Carolina to use warrantless cell-phone surveillance passed the NC House after changes were made to mitigate abuse of this power. HB 213, the Kelsey Smith Act, would allow police to use cell phone data to track anyone’s location in real time and without a warrant when they believe there is risk of “death or physical harm.” The bill passed unanimously after legislators made two significant changes at the urging of the ACLU: First, judicial opinion would be required within 72 hours of police requiring a phone company to hand over someone’s location without a warrant. Second, if the judge finds the surveillance violates constitutional privacy protections, that evidence would be inadmissible in court. The bill will now go to the Senate for debate.
Thursday was the deadline for policy-related (not spending) bills to pass at least one legislative chamber. Bills that didn’t meet the deadline will not “cross over” for consideration in the alternate chamber, and – unless rolled into other bills - will be unlikely to see further action until at least 2022. In addition to the measures summarized under specific policy areas above, here is a summary of some bills that easily made the crossover. Action on some more controversial measures are noted here.