North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

February 18, 2022

Pardon Our Dust

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It was an exciting week at the General Assembly as the halls and chambers were back to normal capacity. Legislators, lobbyists and spectators returned to Raleigh to participate in the redistricting process as well as several committee meetings overseeing important healthcare and educational issues.

Cases of the coronavirus have continued to drop precipitously. As of this morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 4,871 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. There are 2,634 individuals hospitalized, and sadly, 22,148 confirmed deaths. 75% of the total adult population has been vaccinated with at least two shots. 

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.

Redistricting Update

After two long nights of legislative sessions the General Assembly adopted new legislative and Congressional districts well ahead of the Supreme Court’s February 18 deadline. Legislators had previously enacted maps in November, but the North Carolina Supreme Court narrowly ruled the districts to be unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders.

Each chamber took the lead on redrawing their own maps, while the Senate finalized the Congressional districts. On Wednesday night, the House passed remedial State House maps by a vote of 115-5. Legislators from both parties applauded the process to redraw the 120-member body’s maps as a bipartisan and collaborative effort. Republicans in the majority accepted six amendments from Democrats to tweak specific district lines.

On Thursday, both the State Senate maps and the Congressional maps were passed out of the General Assembly. These maps did not enjoy the strong bipartisan support that the State House maps received. Democrats opposed both maps, with amendments being offered and rejected along party-line votes.

According to committee chairs, the number of competitive seats has grown from nine to 15 in the remedial House map and from six to seven in the Senate’s new map. Democrats also opposed the Congressional map, which creates seven likely Republican seats, three likely Democratic seats, and four likely competitive districts. Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) said on the floor that the map would result in a “9-5 map, but likely a 10-4 in 2022,” and compared it to the similar likely outcomes of the previously enacted map that was struck down. Democrats, and even two Republicans, voted against the Congressional map because it did not include a Sandhills district. A district drawn previously in the week by Senate redistricting chairs did include a Sandhills district, but that district was eliminated in the final remedial map that was submitted to the Court.

Both the Senate and House committee chairs described in detail the criteria used to draw the maps for partisan fairness, stressing the strict adherence to the mean-median and efficiency gap tests prescribed by the Supreme Court, as potential tools to make maps more competitive. The redistricting chairs and staff used election results from 12 races in 2020 and 2016 to determine the leaning of each district.

The Superior Court three-judge panel, composed of two Republicans and one Democrat, will now decide to approve the maps or select a map submitted by the plaintiffs. The Democrat-controlled Supreme Court then has until February 23 to hear any appeal of the Superior Court’s decision. Currently, the candidate filing period is set to begin on February 24.

Mask Mandates

Nearly simultaneously on Wednesday afternoon, both the legislature and Governor Roy Cooper (D) moved to lift mask mandates in schools and cities. Cooper cited the state’s improved vaccination rate and COVID-19’s declining virulency when calling on North Carolina municipalities and school boards to end their mask mandates. “As a result of all these factors,” said Cooper, “I encourage schools and local governments to end their mask mandates.” Joining Cooper at his press conference from the Emergency Management Command Center was newly appointed Secretary of the NC Department of Health and Human Services Kody Kinsley. Kinsley encouraged schools to move to voluntary masking starting March 7. Kinsley stressed that vaccines would become the most important strategy for mitigating the dangerous impacts of the virus, saying, “we’ll be updating our guidance for schools, as we mentioned, and also childcare, but also for local governments.”

As Cooper spoke, the legislature approved Senate Bill 173, referred to as the “Free the Smiles” bill. The bill, if signed by the Governor, would allow parents to opt their children out of face covering requirements in public schools. The bill would also repeal the requirement for monthly votes on face covering policies by county school boards.

House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) has said for over a week that he would introduce and champion the legislation. In the House Education Committee meeting on Thursday morning, Moore said “it is parents, not politicians who should be making these decisions for their children.” Governor Cooper has not yet said if he will sign the bill. Unlike his recommendation to school boards, the legislation would supersede local mandates and go into effect immediately.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Monday, February 21

1:00PM: House Select Committee on An Education System for North Carolina’s Future