North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

August 19, 2022

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North Carolina News Roundup

North Carolina’s state of emergency to address the COVID-19 pandemic ended Monday. Democratic Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order officially concluding the original order which established the state of emergency in March 2020. The Governor’s initial emergency order led to public school closings, mask requirements, and restrictions affecting businesses and the general public’s way of life. The end of the order comes as the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, an agency under the Governor’s leadership, successfully sought legislation during the 2022 short session that provide the state health director authority to issue standing orders for vaccinations, tests, and other regulations to manage the virus.

On Wednesday, a US district court judge allowed a decades-old North Carolina law that bans abortions after 20 weeks to be reinstated, lifting an injunction he had placed on the state law prior to the US Supreme Court’s Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Multiple groups, including one representing attorneys generals from 14 states and the District of Columbia, submitted written arguments to the North Carolina Supreme Court this week in support of the Community Success Initiative v. Moore case. The case will decide if a 1973 state statute prohibiting convicted felons from voting is constitutional. The groups filed amicus briefs arguing that the state law, which was first written in 1877, was designed to “discriminate against African Americans and suppress African American political power.” No date has been set for arguments before the state Supreme Court.

House Education Committee

A House committee that was formed to study issues related to education in elementary and secondary schools in North Carolina met Monday to hear testimony about the roles of principals. The House Select Committee on An Education System for North Carolina’s Future, led by Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston), invited principals and principal advocacy groups to Raleigh to share their thoughts and suggestions on state policy affecting their jobs.

Katherine Joyce, Executive Director of the North Carolina Association of School Administrators, presented information about the new roles of principals and common misconceptions about the role of the head administrator in a school. She explained the eight standards for principals and school administrators, as prescribed by the North Carolina State Board of Education, and how those policies assist with assessing how to ensure accountability in a school. She explained that the best leadership model is one where the principal is mostly focused on instructional support and has a strong team around them to oversee the administrative tasks in a school. Joyce urged the legislature to revamp the principal pay plan by realigning performance components to bonuses instead of salary schedules. Additionally, she called for increased funding for assistant principals and a more streamlined process for assistant principals to become principals.

Leah Sutton, Vice President of Policy and Engagement for Best NC, a non-partisan coalition of business leaders who study and promote policies to improve the state’s education system, told the committee that the typical principal in the state has just about four years of experience and about 50 employees directly reporting to them. Sutton’s presentation echoed many of the same recommendations made by Joyce, including increasing the number of school leadership positions and providing the training necessary for educators and assistant principals to become principals.

Joyce urged members of the committee to back a “hold harmless” provision to keep principals from seeing their salaries cut as a result of the performance-based salary changes enacted in the state budget. The North Carolina Association of School Administrators estimates that some principals will see pay cuts of $8,000 to $18,000 if principal salaries are based on performance from the 2021-2022 school year, a year in which when many schools were still facing the impacts of the pandemic. Representatives Phil Shepard (R-Onslow) and Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke) both said they hope the issue is addressed before the end of the year.

Short Session Recap: Public Safety

Legislators took up several bills that reformed the state’s public safety laws during the 2022 short session. Over the last few legislative sessions, lawmakers have made various changes to modernize the state’s criminal justice system, including the passage of Raise the Age legislation, which was included as part of the 2017 state budget, and the Second Chance Act, which increased the minimum age to be tried in criminal court for certain offenses and provided for automatic expunction of certain offenses. This year, several bills were passed to strengthen components of the already significant pieces of legislation adopted in previous years.

House Bill 315 – Arson Law Revisions: A recommendation from the legislature’s Joint Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety, this bill included a host of reforms to the state’s laws affecting arson prosecution. The bill also required municipalities and counties to seek background checks for all firefighter job applicants, including both paid and volunteer firefighters. The Governor signed HB 315 into law June 14.

House Bill 560 – Public Safety Reform: HB 560 includes multiple provisions that become effective later this year. One provision that became law August 1 increased the amount of allowable funeral and burial expenses under the Crime Victims Compensation Fund to $10,000. Legislators also addressed costs that are passed on to victims. The bill authorizes the Department of Public Safety to create an online application process for claimants seeking compensation. The bill also makes a host of changes to the prison system during states of emergency, including authorization for the Secretary of the Department of Public Safety to reassign probation officers to prisons during a natural disaster and a requirement that the Secretary do a damage assessment during a state of emergency. HB 560 was signed into law July 8.

House Bill 607 – Various Court Changes: This bipartisan legislation clarified procedures established, in part, by the Second Chance Act. The bill, which went into effect at the beginning of August, instructed prosecutors to automatically expunge all charges that were dismissed or found not guilty. Under North Carolina law, an expunction to legally remove a criminal charge or conviction from a person’s record can be timely, complex, and expensive. HB 607 temporarily pauses automatic expungements to allow for more stakeholder input to better the process. Many local law enforcement agencies, including district attorney’s offices and sheriffs voiced concerns this year about accessing records after expungement. Under previous law, North Carolina destroyed all records after expungement, but prosecutors wanted a system to retain access for a limited number of cases. The automatic expungements will be suspended until August 1, 2023, after which all charges and cases impacted by the suspension will be expunged.

Additionally, the bill makes various changes requested by the state’s court system. With the passage of this bill, magistrates will be permitted to accept domestic violence ex parte orders when the clerk of court’s office is closed, magistrates will be allowed to reside in a county contiguous to the county where they serve, and the Judicial Standards Commission will grow from one Court of Appeals judge to two. HB 670 was signed into law July 8.

Senate Bill 339 – 2022 WRC Amendments: In an effort to mitigate the spread of diseases throughout the state’s wildlife, lawmakers adopted SB 339, which comes at the recommendation of the state’s Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC). The measure clarifies that a violation of wildlife emergency powers is a Class 3 misdemeanor. The WRC issues emergency decrees occasionally to isolate and control specific diseases. Most recently, The WRC invoked its emergency powers in Yadkin and Surry counties to control the spread of a fatal disease found in white-tail deer by prohibiting the transportation of dead or alive white-tail deer in the area.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Wednesday, August 24
10:00AM: House Select Committee on Advancing Women in STEM