Under a new policy initiated by NC Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble, emails sent and received by members of the NC General Assembly, including those between legislators and staff, will be routinely deleted after three years except where a lawmaker asks for archiving for a longer period or where otherwise required by law. According to Coble, the policy change will reduce the cost of cloud-based storage space. Lawyers from several organizations have raised questions about both public access and the ability to obtain documents sought in lawsuits.
Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Nicole Hannah-Jones declined an appointment to the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Although her appointment with tenure to the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism was belatedly approved by the UNC Board of Trustees, the process had been delayed when the UNC Board of Trustees set aside a pro forma vote to grant her tenure, allegedly in response to pressure from conservative Board members and a prominent conservative donor. Hannah-Jones, in a statement to the press detailing her decision, advocated for a de-politicization of the governing boards at the public universities in North Carolina so they would reflect “the demographics of the state and the student body, rather than the whims of political power.” Despite the controversy and the expanded influence of the legislature in appointing members of both the UNC Board of Governors and various university Boards of Trustees, Republican legislative leaders see no need to change the process, claiming that the state legislature does not play a role in faculty hiring.
Governor Cooper issued an executive order setting standards colleges and universities must follow as they develop policies for how student-athletes can receive compensation for the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL). His order comes in the wake of new NCAA rules allowing student-athletes to monetize NIL opportunities. The governor has indicated he intends to work with the state legislature to pass an NIL law to supplement the executive order.
The NC State Board of Education’s Democratic majority narrowly approved the set of documents middle and high school teachers and school districts will use as guidelines for preparing social studies lesson plans and curriculums in the next academic year. While these “unpacking” documents did not engender much discussion, Republicans on the board focused on a conservative think tank’s recent very low/failing “grades” for North Carolina’s new civics and U.S. history standards State School Superintendent Catherine Truitt suggested the NC Department of Instruction would soon present a “template” to guide teachers about essential facts and knowledge students should learn. Eric Davis, chair of the NCSBE, indicated that a new template would be subject to the board’s approval.
David Routh, vice chancellor for university development and UNC-Chapel Hill’s chief fundraiser, will no longer work as an advisor to a Charlotte investment firm after the News & Observer reported on his outside job. NC Senate leader Phil Berger (R -Rockingham County) and others said that the work has at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.
A provision in the budget bill passed by the NC Senate would give in-state tuition status to out-of-state UNC system athletes. The change would cost the university system about $16 million in revenue according to a 2019 estimate, but proponents argue it would make it more feasible for smaller and less wealthy state institutions to offer athletic scholarships to out-of-state athletes. Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, who opposed the tuition break, said the change would be of disproportionate benefit to wealthy booster clubs and she would prefer to see the tuition break limited to smaller schools.
Economic and Housing Policy
Governor Cooper vetoed a bill that would have prematurely stopped North Carolina from accepting supplemental unemployment benefits allocated to states by the federal government. The supplement, which provides an extra $300 per week to people receiving state-funded unemployment benefits due to COVID-19, is due to run out in September. The vetoed bill, SB 116, did not include a Senate proposal to use the federal supplements to fund signing bonuses rather than direct unemployment payments. House Republicans refused to support any bill that kept federal unemployment money, insisting the federal unemployment insurance supplement contributes to a labor shortage because it keeps people from looking for work. Democrats point to lack of childcare, concern about contracting COVID, and low minimum wages as more immediate causes of the labor shortages. Republicans do not appear to have the votes to override the veto.
Governor Cooper signed SB 668. The new law amends a 2014 statute governing how the North Carolina retirement system deals with the issue of pension benefits that exceed an employee’s contribution to the system, so-called “pension spiking.”
The NC Council of State declined to extend the state moratorium on evictions that has been in effect for much of the COVID pandemic. The Council, which has a Republican majority, voted along party lines against the extension. Eligible North Carolina renters will still be protected against eviction because the CDC extended its national eviction moratorium through the end of July.
The budget passed by the NC Senate includes at least $765 million for one-time projects, most of which would be in counties represented by Republicans. Sometimes called “pork-barrel spending,” the earmarks in SB 105 include more than 200 local projects, with only about 20 going to places represented exclusively by Democrats. Top Republican leaders suggested the money meets needs in rural areas, but there are no appropriations for nine rural, high-poverty counties - five with majority Black populations – represented by Democrats.
Governor Cooper signed the North Carolina Farm Act of 2021 into law. The only provision of the new law (SB 605) that received strong Democratic pushback makes it easier for state hog farmers to manage methane gas from waste lagoons by granting a general permit from the state regulatory agency instead of requiring individual permits. Republicans said the creation of a general permit is “a step in the right direction.” Democrats and environmental groups objected to the provision because of the potential harm to the environment from methane and other hog waste leaking into groundwater and the harmful effects for the health and safety of low-income communities, including many communities of color, living near the farms. Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) said, “We are establishing a general permit that doesn’t allow for site-specific reviews; it actually doesn’t allow for water quality considerations or air quality considerations… This proposal will concentrate the toxins and contaminants that are in hog waste.” The bill had received the support of a handful of Democrats in both the House and Senate.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission will delay approval of Duke Energy’s long-term energy plan in order to do further review of the energy company’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). The IRP lays out a decade or more of proposed construction projects and expenses. State regulators must approve the plan before it can be put into place. Environmental groups have argued that the plan leans too much on natural gas and nuclear power as replacements for coal at the expense of other cheaper renewable resources. The Utilities Commission indicated it would soon issue a new order defining what it wants Duke Energy to provide for further review.
Health Care Policy
The NC Senate Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly approved a proposal to allow the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions and to set up a mechanism for handling supply and distribution of the drug. SB 711, the NC Compassionate Care Act, will have hearings in several more Senate committees before going to the Senate for a floor vote. The bill would then go to the state House.
Women’s Rights and LGBTQ Rights
On July 1, ordinances protecting North Carolina LGBTQ+ residents from discrimination in public accommodations and private employment went into effect in Buncombe County and the cities of Asheville, Durham, and Greensboro. Since the lifting last year of the three-year moratorium preventing local governments from passing non-discrimination ordinances, nine local governments have passed ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
A bill that would make it a low-level felony for elected officials to use their positions for financial gain passed the NC House State Government Committee unanimously and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. SB 473 has already passed the Senate and will likely move to a vote in the full House soon. The state NAACP released a statement calling the bill, which follows a state audit last year of Rocky Mount’s government, racist.
A bipartisan bill raising the minimum age at which a child can be referred to the criminal justice system as a delinquent from six to ten years old passed the NC House Judiciary Committee. SB 207, which has already passed the full Senate, will be discussed by the House Rules Committee and is expected to reach the House floor soon.