North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

September 17, 2021

Pardon Our Dust

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Legislators mostly devoted their time this week to public redistricting hearings that were conducted in various parts of the state. Appropriations leaders not involved with the redistricting process stayed in Raleigh to iron out spending agreements for the state budget. With candidate filing right around the corner in December, and with new district lines set to be released in October, some state lawmakers are deciding on their future in the General Assembly. Long-time Democratic House Representative Verla Insko of Chapel Hill announced this week she would not be seeking reelection. On the House floor this week, Insko gave advise to her colleagues and the public: “Keep true to your values. Hang in there, love each other and fight the good fight.”

The COVID-19 case count has remained relatively unchanged over the last week. As of this morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 7,160 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 3,620 individuals hospitalized, and sadly, 15,520 confirmed deaths. There have been 10,909,892 doses of the vaccine distributed in NC, which is about 68% of the total adult population.

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.

Budget Update

The legislative session has entered the fourth quarter, and after a brief stalemate between the two chambers, House and Senate leaders are moving the ball down the field. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) told reporters on Wednesday that a compromise budget will be sent to Democrat Governor Roy Cooper sometime next week. Moore said Cooper will be given an opportunity to weigh in on changes he would like made in order to get his signature, or if he would sign it as is. That would be a markedly different process than two years ago when gridlock between the legislature and Governor prevented a comprehensive state budget from passing. The needs are greater this year and the stakes higher because there is more than $5 billion in federal money from the American Rescue Plan that must be allocated by the appropriations process. Moore told reporters that the goal is to have a state budget become law in mid-October.

AG Powers

Republican legislators gave final approval on Wednesday to a bill that would limit Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein’s ability to enter settlements in civil cases involving the legislature. The issue stems from the 2020 election when Stein’s office negotiated a settlement with a disability-advocacy group who were plaintiffs in a case against state election directors. The agreement increased the number of days after Election Day in which an absentee ballot could be accepted, from three to nine days, and still count.

Legislative leadership, who were part of the named defendants, were unhappy about the settlement and even challenged the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Republicans asserted that the agreement had the effect of enacting new law, since earlier in the year a bill passed with strong bipartisan support that changed how the fall election would occur during the pandemic but maintained the three-day grace period for accepting ballots.

Senate Bill 360 would require the Attorney General to receive consent from the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Temp before entering settlements in cases where the legislature is a party. The bill passed the House 62-45 along mostly party lines. Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat and former Attorney General, has not yet commented on the measure but is likely to veto it.

Sports Betting

Although the legislative session is inching towards an ending, there are still several high-profile bills that have not yet passed. One of those is Senate Bill 688 which would legalize sports gambling in North Carolina. The bill follows a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled states can authorize and regulate sports betting. The bill’s outlook got a little clearer Wednesday when the House Rules Chair Destin Hall (R-Caldwell) referred the bill to four House committees. The bill would start in the House Commerce committee, and this week the Commerce Chair, Rep. John Sauls (R-Lee), said he expects his committee to hear the bill, but he did not say when. The bill passed the Senate in August with bipartisan support.

DOT Audit

The NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT) funds itself differently than other state agencies and generates most of its own revenue. The Department’s finances have irked legislators in recent sessions, though. In 2019 an audit showed that NCDOT had fewer than $272 million in its accounts, far below the statutory requirement for the department.  This led Republican legislators to implement strict auditing and oversight measures.

This week, State Auditor Beth Wood released an audit showing NCDOT had just over $1.1 billion in their cash reserves, but the audit said it was “largely due to chance.” Wood criticized NCDOT’s spending plan, saying it is not built on actual cost estimates for specific scheduled projects and operations. In an interview, Wood said NCDOT is “not projecting their budget based on what they plan to do or what they need to do. You’ve got contracts to do work, why don’t you just add that up and say this is my budget, this is what I can get done next year?”

Wood concluded the report by saying that NCDOT may be at risk of overspending again based on practices at the end of 2020. Her next audit will cover the final six months of 2021.

NCDOT Communications Director Carly Olexik issued a statement Tuesday saying, “NCDOT’s finances have stabilized, and we continue to track below our spend plan. We appreciate [Wood’s] help in getting to a strong financial position and look forward to continuing this partnership.”

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Thursday, September 23

8:30AM House: Finance