A bill limiting the governor’s power to unilaterally issue or extend executive orders during an emergency was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee along party lines and is likely to be included as a policy provision when the legislature completes its final budget proposal. HB 264 would require the governor to get approval from a majority of the Council of State members within 7 days of issuing these orders. Republicans assert that the power to issue these orders should not rest with one person. Democrats argue state law already provides a check on this power through the court system and veto overrides.
An injunctive order issued by the Wake County Superior Court that would have immediately expanded voting rights to people on parole or probation for a felony was “stayed” without comment by the NC Court of Appeals while Republican state lawmakers’ appeal of the ruling is pending. The Superior Court had granted the injunction under the presumption that the law as written would be found to be racially discriminatory. The plaintiffs immediately appealed the Court of Appeals decision to the NC Supreme Court, asking that the high court restore the injunction pending final resolution of the case.
Gov. Cooper vetoed SB 636, a Republican-sponsored bill limiting public disclosure of donors to NC-based nonprofits. Republicans claimed the measure would protect free speech and free association rights and prevent the harassment of donors by those who disagree with them. Democrats had argued that the measure was unnecessary and would limit efforts to trace “dark-money” political contributions. Only one Democrat in the House supported the bill, making it likely that the Governor’s veto will be sustained.
According to NC Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), the legislature is unlikely to agree on a new state budget before the end of September. The House and Senate must reconcile differences in their respective bills before sending a bill to the governor, who must then decide whether or not to veto the budget. The new fiscal year started on July 1, 2021, and the state continues to operate under the 2018 budget.
A controversial bill setting limits on how race and racism can be discussed in schools in North Carolina passed the legislature on a party-line vote and has been sent to Gov. Cooper. HB 324 was a priority of Republican legislators, who claimed it is needed to prevent “fringe concepts on race and racism from seeping into the state’s education system.” Democratic legislators were unanimous in condemning the bill as an attempt to prevent teachers and students from openly examining crucial aspects of the history of racism and its impact in the United States. Republicans do not have sufficient votes to override the governor, who is expected to veto the legislation.
Gov. Cooper signed a wide-ranging coronavirus-related education bill that, among other things, requires school boards that mandate masking to vote monthly on whether or not to continue to require masking. SB 654 had near unanimous support in the state legislature.
Health Care Policy
Gov. Cooper signed SB 693, legislation that makes changes to North Carolina’s foster care system, specifically reducing the time it takes to complete the process for either reuniting children with parents or finding permanent homes when parental rights are severed by a judge. The new law also asks the NC Department of Health and Human Services to determine the cost of creating a centralized hot line for reporting child abuse and neglect.
Gun Violence Prevention
Gov. Cooper vetoed HB 398, “Pistol Purchase Permit Repeal.” The bill would have removed from state law a requirement that handgun buyers get a purchase permit from their local sheriff. Republican sponsors of the bill argued the purpose of the bill was to end Jim Crow era efforts to prevent Black North Carolinians from purchasing guns, but gun violence prevention advocates and the NC Black Alliance said the real purpose of the bill was to undermine state gun safety laws and mollify the gun lobby.
The 4th Circuit US Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that North Carolina state employees who are transgender can sue the state for denying them the right to use their state health insurance to pay for gender-affirming care, including surgery, treatment and transition care. One judge on the three-judge panel wrote a dissenting opinion calling for the US Supreme Court to act quickly to “correct the constitutional error here.”
Gov. Cooper signed three bipartisan criminal justice reform bills into law. Among other things, the new laws enhance police enforcement oversight, provide mental health resources for officers, and create a public database to track officer misconduct. The governor, legislative and law enforcement officials, and criminal justice advocates praised the new laws but agreed more action is needed.