North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

December 16, 2022

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This week, General Assembly leaders opted to not adjourn sine die, a formal adjournment process to end the legislative session, choosing instead to let the clock run out on the current legislative term at the end of the month. The Senate met this week only for a skeletal session, but the House called members back for a no-vote session to hear from outgoing members. The House also sat two members, Democrat Jack Nichols of Wake, who replaces former Representative Grier Martin who resigned to take a job at the Pentagon, and Republican S. Paul O’Neal of Currituck, who replaces former Representative Bobby Hanig who was appointed to the state Senate. Both members will only serve until the end of the year.

While no official business was conducted during session, several committees met and concluded their work for the year. The Governor also made a new appointment to the Court of Appeals and changed up his legislative affairs staff going into the new biennium.

Court of Appeals Appointment

On Thursday, Governor Roy Cooper (D) announced that he will appoint Allison Riggs to serve as a North Carolina Court of Appeals judge. Riggs will fill the vacancy created by the Honorable Richard Dietz’s election last month to the North Carolina Supreme Court. Although Dietz is a Republican and Riggs is a Democrat, the court, which has 15 members, will continue to have a Republican majority.

Riggs currently serves as Co-Executive Director and Chief Counsel at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. The group has litigated multiple cases in state and federal court to strike down voting laws passed by the General Assembly. Riggs began leading the Southern Coalition for Social Justice after its founder, Anita Earls, was elected to the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2018.

Governor’s Legislative Affairs Personnel

This week, Governor Cooper announced his new personnel who will oversee legislative affairs with the General Assembly. Last month, former Legislative Director LT McCrimmon announced she was stepping down after serving in the role for several years. Alicia Davis will succeed McCrimmon and has been named Director of Legislative Affairs. Davis comes to the role from the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office where she oversaw legislative affairs. Davis also previously worked as a legislative liaison at the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.

Former Representative Pryor Gibson will join the Governor’s legislative team as Senior Legislative Advisor. Gibson served as a legislator in the House of Representatives, representing Anson County and surrounding communities, from 1989 to 1990 and from 1999 to 2011. During the coronavirus pandemic, Gibson was selected to lead the Division of Employment Security at the North Carolina Department of Commerce. Gibson has also previously worked for the North Carolina Forestry Association and for the Governor’s office.

House Select Committee on Education

This week, the House Select Committee on An Education System for North Carolina’s Future held its fifteenth, and final, meeting of the 2022 legislative session. The nine-member select committee was created by House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and tasked with studying issues related to education in elementary and secondary schools. Representative John Torbett (R-Gaston) was the Senior Chair of the committee. Throughout the year, legislators on the committee heard presentations and recommendations for issues related to the standard course of study, measuring student success, competency-based learning, and outcomes of current programs and partnerships with nonprofits.

The select committee voted this week to submit a report to the 2023 House of Representatives. Based on their findings, they endorsed six recommendations to the upcoming legislature, but did not submit any draft legislation.

The committee heard several times throughout the year about the need for the standard education to focus more on career and technical education, early literacy, and fostering students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics. In their first recommendation, the committee found that some elective courses should be offered online or otherwise through student participation outside of the instructional day.

The committee also looked to build on work being conducted by the Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education to reform the way teachers are compensated and licensed. In their report, the committee found that “increasing pay would incentivize [teachers] to remain in the classroom rather than take an administrative role or leave the profession,” and recommended the General Assembly continue to review the current salary schedules of educators.

In response to several school districts across the state defying state guidelines and setting their start dates earlier in the year, so students could finish their first semester exams before the December break instead of afterwards, the committee also recommended that the General Assembly change the school calendar law.

Lastly, the committee recommended changes to the division of authority between the State Board of Education, whose members are appointed by the Governor, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction, who is elected statewide. The committee recommended that the General Assembly pass a constitutional amendment to “allow voters to determine the division of authority between the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.”

Joint Legislative Education Oversight Report

This week the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee (JLEOC) adopted a report to the General Assembly at their fourth, and final, meeting of the year. Unlike the House Select Committee on An Education System for North Carolina’s Future, the JLEOC included in their report draft legislation for the upcoming General Assembly to consider. The recommendations, ranging from reforming the state’s special education funding to continuing successful partnerships, were adopted via a voice vote and included:

  • Encouraging the University of North Carolina to continue to develop Project Kitty Hawk, a program that serves working adults by supporting digital learning and career development programs and increasing efforts to boost bachelors’ degrees and high-quality credentials. Additionally, the committee encouraged the General Assembly to collaborate with education stakeholders to acknowledge the success of Project Kitty Hawk.
  • Strongly encouraging the General Assembly to direct DPI to conduct a detailed statewide survey to assess which public schools and school districts are implementing competency-based learning. This recommendation comes following the committee’s frequent discussions throughout the year about a competency-based education model, which provides a personalized learning environment where progression is based on proficiency of skills and learning observed as opposed to a set amount of time spent in a course.
  • Requesting that the General Assembly closely monitor the development a new funding model for special education programs, one that is based on service level, and engage with DPI as needed to assist with the new funding formula. The committee hopes that monitoring the service level funding will ensure students are not over-identified or placed in service-intensive, high-cost funding tiers. 
  • Encouraging the General Assembly to continue supporting ApprenticeshipNC, a program funded by the legislature which helps small businesses hire new apprentices for high demand occupations in rural counties.
  • Continuing to support DPI with the Department’s focus on early childhood literacy and encouraging DPI to focus on incorporating highly effective interventions, like tutors, in low-performing schools. The recommendation comes following legislation adopted last year that focused on early childhood literacy and has assisted each local school district with adopting literacy intervention plans to outline the interventions offered to each student having difficulty with reading development. The continued support is needed since DPI has suggested it could take three to five years, if not more, for the program to have a substantial effect on increasing reading proficiency rates. 
  • Encouraging the North Carolina Community College System to continue building stable leadership and trust within the system to increase employee morale. The committee commended the Community College System for the steps they have already taken this year to reform their organization and system office. 

Hurricane Recovery

The Joint Legislative Subcommittee on Hurricane Response and Recovery was created earlier this year in response to dissatisfaction with the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR) and their exceedingly frustrating delays with getting people displaced by Hurricanes Matthew and Florence back in their homes. NCORR was created by Governor Roy Cooper and is housed within the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. The agency was created to manage $778 million in federal recovery funds awarded by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018. The federal funds must be spent to repair and replace homes by 2026, though some of the funds for Hurricane Matthew must be spent by 2025.

The subcommittee met on September 14 and invited NCORR Chief Operating Officer Laura Hogshead to present data and answer questions. At that meeting, Hogshead stated that work on just 789 of 4,197 homes had been completed. During this week’s meeting, Hogshead was invited again, and showed that since the September meeting, 74 construction projects have been completed, with another 26 families choosing to be reimbursed instead of continuing with the state-funded rehabilitation.

Hogshead provided legislators with a presentation showing that, since the September meeting, her office’s area of focus has been to improve the case management team, hire more contractors, and accelerate the completion of projects. However, legislators were not impressed. Senator Jim Perry (R-Lenoir) commended the agency for increasing the number of contractors but took issue with the completion numbers that Hogshead presented and doubted that, with their current progress, NCORR could finish their work before the funds expire. In September, Senator Perry tried to get a commitment from NCORR to see every displaced family housed by Christmas. This week, Sen. Perry said he thought that was a “soft ball” request but was “extremely disappointed” in the completion rate.

Prior to program updates in June, NCORR was completing an average of five homes per month. At the end of November, Hogshead’s presentation showed that the monthly average had jumped to 17.

Senator Brent Jackson (R-Sampson) took issue with the way NCORR has treated vulnerable citizens who have been living in motels or temporary housing, some as long as six years. “The lack of urgency since this began is unacceptable,” Jackson said, “There has got to be some improvements made immediately, or I am going to use the power I have to redirect the funds to someone who can get the job done.” Senator Jackson Chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Senator Danny Britt (R-Robeson) raised concerns over the agency’s lack of holding contractors accountable for finishing the work in a timely manner and echoed Senator Perry’s concern that the agency was not working fast enough to spend the federal funds before they expire. “You should resign from your position,” Britt said, “But if you were in the private sector you would’ve been fired a long time ago.” Displaced homeowners in the audience cheered at the Senator’s remark.

Governor Cooper told reporters Wednesday, while Hogshead was testifying, that the recovery agency was “not moving fast enough” but asserted he remains confident in its leadership and its most recent plans for improvement.

New Senate Democrats

When legislators return to Raleigh in January to start the 2023 legislative long session there will be several new faces around the legislative complex. Among those newly elected lawmakers, the Senate will welcome seven new Democratic members, including:

Kandie Smith – District 5 (Edgecombe, Pitt)

Kandie Smith currently serves in the House of Representatives representing District 8, having served since 2019. Before coming to the legislature, Smith served as interim Mayor of Greenville in 2017 and served on the Greenville City Council from 2009 until 2017. Smith won her campaign this year to the state Senate to succeed Senator Don Davis (D-Pitt), who was elected to Congress. Senator-elect Smith resides in Greenville and is a graduate of Charleston Southern University.

Lisa Grafstein – District 13 (Wake)

Lisa Grafstein is a civil rights lawyer in Raleigh with Disability Rights NC. Grafstein is the past president of the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys and sat on the board of directors for both the North Carolina Justice Center and the North Carolina Association of Gay and Lesbian Attorneys. Senator-elect Grafstein was elected to fill this open seat created by redistricting.

Gale Adcock – District 16 (Wake)

Gale Adcock currently serves in the House of Representatives representing District 41 in Wake County. Before being elected to the Senate, Adcock was the House Deputy Democratic Leader. Senator-elect Adcock is a family nurse practitioner, worked as Chief Health Officer at SAS Institute before retiring in 2020, and previously served on the Cary City Council from 2007 to 2014. Adcock succeeds Senator Wiley Nickel (D-Wake) who was elected to Congress this year.

Mary Wills Bode – District 18 (Granville, Wake)

Mary Wills Bode is an attorney and former Executive Director of North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform. Prior to that role, Mary Wills was a corporate attorney in New York, where she specialized in capital markets, leveraged finance and mergers and acquisitions. Senator-elect Bode’s mother, Lucy Hancock Bode, is the former Secretary of the NC Department of Health and Human Services. Mary Wills studied economics at Wake Forest University and earned her juris doctoral from the University of North Carolina.

Val Applewhite – District 19 (Cumberland)

Val Applewhite is a former three-term member of the Fayetteville City Council and Air Force veteran. Senator-elect Applewhite has also been involved with various nonprofits in Fayetteville and Cumberland County. Earlier this year, Applewhite defeated incumbent Senator Kirk DeViere (D-Cumberland) after receiving the endorsement of Governor Cooper, and in the general election, she defeated former Republican Senator Wesley Meredith.

Graig Meyer – District 23 (Caswell, Orange, Person)

Graig Meyer has served in the House of Representatives since 2013, representing District 50 in Orange and Caswell Counties. During his time in the legislature, Meyer worked to found the Early Childhood Caucus and the Life Sciences Caucus. Meyer is a trained social worker who spent sixteen years working in public schools as coordinator of the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program. A resident of Hillsborough, Senator-elect Meyer received his bachelor’s from the College of Wooster in Ohio and a master’s in social work from the University of Chicago. Meyer will succeed Senator Valerie Foushee (D-Orange) who was elected to Congress this year.

Rachel Hunt – District 42 (Mecklenburg)

Rachel Hunt has served in the House of Representatives since 2018, representing District 103 in Mecklenburg County. Senator-elect Hunt is the daughter of former Democratic Governor Jim Hunt, and prior to coming to the General Assembly, she worked as an attorney and business owner. Hunt is a graduate of the University of North Carolina and earned her juris doctoral from the University of South Carolina School of Law. Hunt will succeed Senator Jeff Jackson (D-Mecklenburg) who was elected to Congress this year.

For a complete breakdown of North Carolina’s state Senate election results in 2022, click here.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Monday, December 19

12:00PM: House Session