Pardon Our Dust
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This has been a busy week all around the legislative complex, both in the General Assembly and in the state agencies. On Tuesday, the Senate officially confirmed Lieutenant General Walter E. Gaskin to be the next Secretary of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. On Wednesday, Machelle Sanders went through her first Senate committee confirmation hearing to potentially become Secretary of the Commerce Department. Also on Wednesday, Governor Cooper (D) appointed Pamela Cashwell to lead the Department of Administration as Secretary. Members of the General Assembly will also be back home next week as they take a spring break recess. We hope you have an enjoyable, relaxing and safe Easter weekend!
The state has continued to move in a positive direction with combating the coronavirus pandemic, but key indicators have begun to level off. The seven-day rolling average of positive cases is the same level as three weeks ago, and there are more confirmed hospitalizations today than one week ago.
As of Thursday morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 1,929 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 955 individuals hospitalized, and sadly, 12,112 confirmed deaths. There have been 4,104,061 doses of the vaccine distributed in NC.
As we all continue to feel the effects of the global pandemic and adjust to a new normal, we want to highlight a few ways our clients across North Carolina have worked to support residents and make this time a little easier for those throughout the state. Read more about what our clients are doing to help by clicking here.
For more information on COVID-19 in North Carolina, click here to visit the Department of Health and Human Services website, and be sure to stay up to date on the latest federal guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by clicking here.
Bill Filing Deadlines
There have been changes made this week to the bill filing deadlines in the General Assembly.
In the Senate, the deadline for Local Bills to be filed has passed. The deadline for Public Bills and Resolutions to be filed is April 6.
In the House, the deadline for Local Bills to be filed is April 8. The deadline for Non-Appropriations or Finance Public Bills to be submitted to Bill Drafting is April 7, and the deadline to file them is May 4. The deadline for Appropriations or Finance Public Bills to be submitted to Bill Drafting is April 14, and the deadline to file them is May 11.
2021 Regulatory Reform Act
Last week, House Republicans introduced the new Regulatory Reform Act of 2021 (HB366), and according to lawmakers, this year’s process is going to vary from the route used in years past. Looking to avoid another standoff with Democratic Governor Cooper, Rep. Larry Yarborough (R-Person), who is one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said in the House Regulatory Reform committee, “Instead of trying to run one bill with 50 items in it we’re going to try to do several smaller bills and see if we can’t avoid having one item drag down the whole bill.”
The bill, currently weighing in at just nine pages long, amends certain state laws related to state and local government, agriculture, energy, environment, natural resources, and other regulations. Among the changes, the bill would:
- Increase the threshold limit on public employees benefiting from non-medical contracts
- Require Pre-K operators to provide parents with information on public and private schools in their area
- Direct the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to study and report on additional funding needed to expand express permitting
- Require DEQ’s Division of Water Infrastructure to give priority to certain wastewater projects
- Establish a study on the property tax rate for outdoor advertising signs
- Relax local regulations on privately owned manufactured homes
- Require the Division of Emergency Management to conduct a study of first responders’ access to the interstate highways
- Clarify that mail is sufficient notice for insurance cancellation
- Simplify the state’s landlord/tenant interaction rules
- Repeal certain Department of Transportation (DOT) rules on outdoor advertising
- Adopt certain wastewater rules that expand applicable vendors for dispersal systems
- Allow distilleries to sell and deliver liquor that they produce directly to consumers out-of-state
In 2019, Governor Cooper vetoed the 2019 Regulatory Reform Act. In his veto statement, Cooper indicated there were specific provisions that threatened public health and safety. Neither of the sections Cooper cited are in the Act as currently written. This year’s Act passed the House Regulatory Reform committee last week and is now in the House Rules committee.
Excellent Public Schools
It is not every day that the Senate President Pro Tempore takes questions from a House committee, but that is what happened Wednesday afternoon when Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) visited the House Education K-12 committee to present his SB387: Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021. Sen. Berger took questions from Republican and Democrat House members for nearly twenty minutes. Afterwards Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth) commended Berger, telling him, “I can see the passion you clearly have for early childhood education.”
The legislation would make changes to the North Carolina Read to Achieve program that was passed in 2013. If passed, the Excellent Public Schools Act (EPSA) would alter state education policy with a more refined approach to reading instruction by creating and mandating state standards. The bill would require educators in Pre-K and K-5 to complete science of reading training, which would be completely funded by federal COVID-19 pandemic relief funds. The bill also adds an early literacy program at the Department of Public Instruction, which is intended to build early literacy skills utilizing scientific reading research. Assessments would be required of each child at the end of Pre-K, which would be available to the student’s kindergarten teacher.
Another bill affecting public education is progressing through the General Assembly alongside the EPSA. H82: Summer Learning Choice for NC Families, which is sponsored by House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), would require local school administrative units (LEAs) to offer summer school using federal relief funds received by the LEA with the purpose of responding to the impacts of COVID-19. The effects of learning loss as a result of the pandemic have been a frequently-discussed topic in education committees this year. HB82 passed the House unanimously in late February, and is progressing through Senate committees this week.
Literacy Test Repeal
In 1899, the North Carolina legislature submitted the “Suffrage Amendment” to the people for ratification, which passed the following year. The amendment added a literacy test and poll tax requirement for voting, which was interpreted to be constitutional at the time because it technically did not discriminate against a specific race, but in reality, it was used to disenfranchise African Americans. An exception was built into the amendment for anyone able to vote in 1867, or for anyone whose direct ancestor was able to vote in that year. African Americans were not given the right to vote until 1868 during Reconstruction. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act outlawed the practice of literacy tests, neutering the Suffrage Amendment. In 1970, the NC General Assembly put an amendment before the people to remove the Suffrage Amendment language from the constitution, but it was rejected.
This year, senior members of both parties are again attempting to repeal the Jim Crow-era language with HB 337: Constitutional Amendment/Repeal Literacy Test. In effect, the bill would put a constitutional amendment before the people, similar to the 1970 effort, to get rid of the language within Section 4 of Article VI of the constitution. The bill passed unanimously in the House Judiciary 2 committee Tuesday. Rep. Dennis Riddell (R-Alamance), one of the bill’s primary sponsors, mentioned in the Judiciary 2 committee that a similar bill passed the House unanimously in 2013, but was not advanced in the Senate.
The bill now goes to the House State Government committee. If the bill makes its way past the Governor’s desk, the constitutional amendment would be on the 2022 general election ballot.
Upcoming Legislative Meetings
The General Assembly will take a spring recess next week.