On Thursday the NC General Assembly set criteria for the redistricting process. Criteria created by Republican leadership, who mostly ignored input from Democrats, included the banning of use of data from previous elections, partisan registration data, and data about race in the redrawing process. Democrats pointed out that even if these data sets are not directly loaded onto the redistricting systems, outside groups will run such analyses and provide input to legislators outside of the official, nominally transparent process, and they advocated for conducting analyses using race data after the initial draw to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act.
North Carolina will pilot a risk-limiting postelection audit in this fall’s elections. This type of audit samples ballots from across different voting methods, allowing for transparency and assurance in the validity of the results. Depending on the results of the pilot, the method may replace the state’s existing “sample audit” (a hand recount of two randomly selected precincts) in future elections.
On Wednesday evening the NC House voted 72-41 to give final approval to its $25.7 billion budget. Democrats did not have an opportunity to see the budget until it was made public. Below is a summary of several noteworthy aspects of the House budget:
The budget does not include Medicaid expansion, a key priority for Governor Cooper and legislative Democrats. The Senate budget also does not include Medicaid expansion.
Raises for teachers are budgeted at 5.5% over the next 2 years, and state employee raises are budgeted at 5% over the same period. These are greater than the raises included in the Senate budget (3% for both categories) but lower than the 10% teacher raises proposed by Governor Cooper.
The House budget includes tax cuts, but they are slightly less extreme than those included in the Senate budget. The personal tax rate would be cut from 5.25% to 4.99%, the corporate tax rate would be cut from 2.5% to 1.99% (but not entirely eliminated as in the Senate budget), and the standard deduction for joint filing would be increased from $21,500 to $25,500.
The bill includes education policies that do not deal with spending, including a requirement that schools list all instructional materials online and a mandate for school boards to set up community advisory committees to evaluate complaints about those materials.
Democrats objected that the budget did not include enough funding to pay for programs stemming from the consent decree of the Leandro court case, which establishes a minimum plan for meeting the state’s constitutional requirement to provide a sound education,
Though State Board of Elections Director Karen Brinson Bell asked for the authorization of $2.8 million in federal funds for election security, the House budget did not include this. Unlike the Senate, however, the House did not say that 30 positions with the SBE would need to be cut.
The House included funds for 5 positions in a new emerging compounds unit compared to 10 budgeted by the Senate. Additionally, the House budget allocates funds for resilience and flood control but also eases rules that support resilience and flood control.
Democrats argued that the House budget did not include funding to combat climate change and support clean energy projects.
Gun Violence Prevention
On Tuesday the Senate Judiciary Committee passed HB 398, which would make handguns easier to buy. The bill would repeal North Carolina’s pistol purchase permit law, which currently requires people wishing to buy handguns to get permits from county sheriffs. The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association supports the repeal of the permit law, but advocates for gun violence prevention condemned the bill, since the permit requirement is often the only check on people purchasing handguns from unlicensed dealers.
The House passed a bill raising the minimum age for marriage in North Carolina from 14 to 16 years. The state currently has the lowest minimum marriage age in the nation, but this bill would change that. In addition, 16- and 17-year-olds would only be allowed to marry someone with a maximum 4-year age difference.