NCGA Week in Review

January 12, 2018

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This week legislators returned to Raleigh for the first special session of2018 and held interim committee meetings throughout the week. Additionally,a three judge federal panel ordered lawmakers to redraw the state’scongressional districts by January 29.

Legislators Return to Raleigh

On Wednesday, legislators returned to Raleigh for the first special sessionof the new year. This week, both chambers approved of various appointmentsand the House unanimously passed a bill they consider a first step inaddressing the unregulated chemical compound, Gen-X. The legislatureremains in session while members as the Joint Select Committee on JudicialReform and Redistricting considers potential reforms to the statejudiciary.

Appointment Bills Pass Unanimously

A variety of appointment bills were unanimously passed on Wednesday:

SB 308: Additional Speaker Appointments– Makes five new appointments from Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) andreduces the term of one existing appointment.

SB 700: Confirm Charlotte Mitchell/ Utilities Comm.andSB 701: Confirm TaNola Brown-Bland/ Utilities Comm.– Confirm Gov. Roy Cooper’s nominations to the Utilities Commission.

SB 699: Confirm Franklin R. Allen/ Bd. Of Ag. – Confirms Gov. Cooper’s nomination to the Board of Agriculture.

House Addresses Emerging Contaminants, Bill Stalls in Senate

Last week, the House Select Committee on River Qualitydiscusseddraft legislation to respond to emerging contaminants, including Gen-X. Thebill,HB 189: Short-Term Response to Emerging Contaminants, was introduced as a committee substitute in the House Committee onAppropriations on Wednesday.

When introduced, the language of the bill was identical to what wasconsidered last week. In committee, an amendment to dedicate funding to thepurchase of a high resolution spectrometer and a five-person staff withinthe Department of Environmental Quality to operate it was adopted. Thespectrometer will be able to identify emerging contaminants.

House Democrats and Republicans alike acknowledged that HB 189 is a firststep and more controversial measures are likely to come up in the shortsession. However, the Senate has not indicated whether or not they willtake up HB 189 during the current special session and it appears that thechambers are divided over the issue. In astatement, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) noted that hetakes issue with several portions of the bill, primarily that HB 189 doesnot do enough in his opinion.

Anything else?

Yes, the legislature has not adjourned the special session and more issuesmay come up in the coming days or weeks. The most likely issue beingjudicial redistricting or reform, which was discussed at length in a jointselect committee yesterday. The House and Senate have not reached consensusbetween Rep. Justin Burr’s (R-Stanly) redistrictingplanand the Senate’s appointmentproposals.

Interim Committees Discuss Array of Issues

Seven interim committees held meetings this week, discussing a number ofissues that may come into the spotlight in the upcoming short session.

  • The House Committee on Strategic Transportation Planning and Long Term Funding Solutions discussed how demographic changes and advances in technology will drive NC’s transportation needs in the coming years.
  • The challenges of providing health care in rural parts of the state were examined in the Legislative Research Committee on Access to Health Care in Rural North Carolina.
  • Virtual charter schools, advanced courses in public high schools, and teacher licensure were reviewed by the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee.
  • Implementation of HB 589: Competitive Energy Solutions for North Carolina, and a review of the state’s Oil and Gas Commission were discussed by the Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy.
  • The Joint Legislative Administrative Procedure Oversight Committee reviewed issues including ABC permitting, the periodic review of rules and the regulation of a practice used by physical therapists called dry needling.
  • The Joint Legislative Economic Development and Global Engagement Oversight Committee received updates on economic development incentives in NC, including a discussion of the differences between the House and Senate versions of SB 660: Economic Development Incentives Modifications, which is eligible for consideration in the upcoming short session.
  • The Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee received reports from the NC Department on Transportation on issues including eliminating nurses from the Division of Motor Vehicles Medical Review Program.
  • Rep. Burr and Sen. Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) presented overview’s of their respective chamber’s work to reform the state’s judiciary at the Joint Select Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting’s first meeting.

NC Congressional Maps Ruled Unconstitutional Political Gerrymander byThree Judge Federal Panel

On Tuesday, news broke that a three judge federal panel had unanimouslydeterminedthat the state’s congressional maps, adopted by the legislature in 2016,constituted an unconstitutional political gerrymander.

How did we get here?

Back in 2016, the legislature was tasked to redraw the state’s 2011congressional maps after two of the thirteen districts wereruledan unconstitutional racial gerrymander. Per judicial order, the legislaturegaveled into a special session and adopted a map that supports a ten tothree Republican majority. Common Cause and the League of Women Voters thenclaimed that the maps are partisan gerrymanders, both claims wereconsolidated into one suit and a trial was held in October 2017.

What next?

The order states that the legislature must enact a remedial redistrictingplan by January 29. Additionally, the Court will appoint a special masterto assist in drawing an alternative remedial plan should the GeneralAssembly either fail to submit a plan, or submit a plan that fails toremedy the constitutional violation. Congressional redistricting was notaddressed by the legislature while in session this week.

House and Senate leadership have madestatementsagainst the decision and have vowed to appeal the decision to the SupremeCourt, seeking a stay that would allow the 2018 elections to go on with the2016 maps. Senate Redistricting Chair Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) noted thatmeeting the deadline would be impossible given restrictions placed onlegislators in the ruling. Democrats, meanwhile, have applauded thedecision. On Wednesday, Sens. Erica Smith (D-Northampton), Ben Clark(D-Hoke) and Jeff Jackson (D-Mecklenburg) filedSB 702: Independent Redistricting Commission, which would amend the state’s constitution to establish an independentredistricting commission.

What’s the impact?

This decision puts NC in the center of a federal conversation aboutpartisan gerrymandering as the Supreme Court plans to take up partisangerrymandering cases fromWisconsinandMarylandlater this year. While there have been consistent rulings against racialgerrymandering in recent years, there is no clear precedent regardingpolitical gerrymandering. The decisions in the cases in NC, MD and WI mayhave substantial impact on the nation as the 2020 census and nation-widecongressional redistricting approaches.

In NC, immediate congressional redistricting may impact the state’spartisan balance in DC. All 13 seats are up for reelection this year;filing begins on February 12 and primaries are set for May.

A Look Ahead to Next Week

Here’s a look at the week ahead:

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

9:00 AM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

9:00 AM House Select Committee on Implementation of Building Code Reform

10:00 AM Child Fatality Task Force Meeting

1:00 PM Environmental Review Commission

Thursday, January 18, 2018

9:00 AM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services,Subcommittee on Aging

9:00 AM Joint Legislative Emergency Management Oversight Committee

10:00 AM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice & PublicSafety Subcommittee on ABC Permitting and Enforcement

10:00 AM Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform

1:00 PM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice & PublicSafety