North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

March 24, 2023

Pardon Our Dust

We recently launched this new site and are still in the process of updating some of our archived content. Some details of this article may be incomplete, links may be broken, and other elements may not display properly yet. We appreciate your patience and understanding.

The General Assembly is on track to have a draft budget faster than almost any session in the recent past, according to House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland). Senior Appropriations Chairman and top House budget leader Representative Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth) told fellow lawmakers Wednesday that an initial draft of the House’s version of the state budget will be released next week. 

Each biennium, the House and Senate chambers alternate drafting the first version of a proposed state budget and, this year, the House is up first. Rep. Lambeth told members that this upcoming Thursday the full House Committee on Appropriations will meet to review the proposal and take up any proposed amendments. 

The accelerated timeline suggests that this biennium’s budget could be in place by the time the current fiscal year ends on June 30. Earlier this month, Speaker Moore and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) indicated that they have agreed to increase state spending over the previous budget by 6.5% in the first year of the biennium. 

Assisting in the expedited budget timeline has been the much-anticipated passage of Medicaid expansion. The House passed the final version of HB 76: Access to Healthcare Options by a bipartisan vote of 95-21 this week, sending the bill to Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s desk for signature. While the bill will expand Medicaid, it will not become effective until the state budget is enacted into law.

Bills Become Law

This week, Governor Cooper allowed two bills to become law without his signature, after previously vetoing similar versions of both bills during the 2021 legislative session. 

HB 40: Prevent Rioting and Civil Disorder was a personal priority of House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), who witnessed the rioting in downtown Raleigh in the summer of 2020. The bill creates new offenses for individuals who riot or cause a riot, which leads to the destruction of property or harms someone, during a protest. The bill also authorizes a specific civil action for injury to a person or property as a result of rioting or looting. Additionally, the bill creates a 24 hour “cooling off period” for individuals arrested during a riot, to prevent them from securing bond immediately and returning to the riot.

SB 53: Hotel Safety Issues provides that the rental of an accommodation by an inn, hotel, motel, or campground to the same person for fewer than 90 consecutive days does not create a residential tenancy subject to current statute. The law allows owners of lodging establishment to remove someone who is not a residential tenant from their facility if that person is breaking the rules of the facility or the law.

Several Democrats in both chambers voted for the bills this year, unlike their 2021 counterparts. At least six Democrats voted for each bill in the House. Only one Democrat voting with all Republicans is required to override a gubernatorial veto.

Drug Prosecutions

In 2021, more North Carolinians died of a drug overdose than any single year in the state’s history, according to data available from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. More than 77% of those deaths involved fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid drug that is pressed into pills and illegal drugs like heroin and methamphetamine. Drug users, many of whom are already addicted to the illicit substances, are typically unaware of the presence of fentanyl, and die as a result of an overdose. North Carolina lawmakers are cracking down on the drug dealers that traffic these dangerous drugs and making it easier for prosecutors to arrest them when a user dies as a result of fentanyl being added to a drug.

This week the House passed HB 250: Death by Distribution/Good Samaritan/Autopsy which would revise and consolidate the laws related to Second Degree Murder and Death by Distribution and provide for a new offense related to deaths caused by the distribution of certain controlled substances. The law would create a Class B felony for a person who sells a drug that ends up being the cause of death for the person to whom they sell it to. The bill would also create a Class C felony for someone who delivers a drug to another person who ends up dying because of the substance.

The latter section caused consternation with some Democrats, who argued on the House floor that it could cause a chilling effect for someone who initially purchased a drug who wants to call for help when a friend is overdosing. One of the bill’s primary sponsors, Representative Dean Arp (R-Union), told members that if a person brings drugs to a party, for instance, and someone dies as a result of the drug, then “yeah, we’re going to charge that person too.”

The bill would also provide limited immunity for a person who possesses less than one gram of a controlled substance if that person calls for medical assistance for a victim suffering from an overdose, or if that person is the victim. Additionally, to strengthen prosecutors’ cases, the bill would require chief medical examiners in a county to perform an autopsy if the investigating law enforcement agency asserts that the death is the result of a violation of the new Death by Distribution law.

HB 250 passed the House 100-16 and was sent to the Senate. A similar bill, SB 189: Fentanyl Drug Offenses and Related Changes, unanimously passed the Senate last week.

Public School Requirements

This week the House passed a bill that would change how certain topics about race and sexuality are taught in North Carolina public schools. HB 187: Equality in Education would require public schools to ensure that they are not “promoting certain concepts that are contrary to the equality and rights of all persons” through their lessons. Schools and educators would be prohibited from “promoting” certain concepts, specifically banning concepts suggesting that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex,” or that “an individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions in the past by other members of the same race or sex.”

North Carolina schools would also be required under the bill to notify the state’s Department of Public Instruction and publish information online at least a month before they plan to host a diversity trainer or a guest speaker who has previously advocated for the beliefs restricted by the legislation.

Representative John Torbett (R-Gaston), one of the bill’s primary sponsors, told members that “this bill does not change what history standards can and cannot be taught,” and further clarified that the bill does not affect curriculum or social studies standards. However, many House Democrats disagreed. “This bill frightens me because I think people will start trying to limit exposure to history by all of us. We all can learn from history,” said Representative Abe Jones (D-Wake) on the House floor.

The bill passed the House 68-49 along party lines. Two years ago, a similar bill was passed by the General Assembly but was vetoed by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. In his veto statement, the Governor stated that “the legislature should be focused on supporting teachers, helping students recover lost learning, and investing in our public schools.”

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Monday, March 27

3:00 PM Senate: Session
4:00 PM House: Session

Tuesday, March 28

8:30 AM House: Health
10:00 AM House: Local Government
10:00 AM House: Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform
11:30 AM House: Rules, Calendar and Operations
1:00 PM Senate: Commerce and Insurance
1:00 PM House: Education K-12
1:00 PM House: Oversight and Reform
2:00PM House: Military and Veterans Affairs

Wednesday, March 29

10:00 AM House: Judiciary 2
10:00 AM House: Appropriations, Information Technology
10:00 AM Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, Subcommittee on Hurricane Response and Recovery
12:00 PM House: Judiciary 1