North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

May 12, 2023

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It was a quiet week around the North Carolina General Assembly as many Senate lawmakers were focused on putting together the final pieces of their chamber’s budget proposal and most House legislators spent time back in their home districts following the packed weeks prior to the crossover deadline. The crossover deadline is an attempt to narrow down the number of bills eligible for consideration throughout the remainder of the legislative session. However, there are several exceptions to the crossover deadline, such as any bill that includes a budget or finance-related provision. Language from bills that did not make the crossover deadline can also be added to other bills that did make the deadline through amendments during the committee process.

A handful of Senate lawmakers were in Raleigh this week for a final round of budget meetings. The Senate plans to unveil their budget proposal during a press conference Monday afternoon before making the bill available to the public Monday evening. The budget will then move through the Senate committee process throughout the week next week, likely heading to the floor for votes by the end of the week.

Abortion Bill Veto

Democratic Governor Roy Cooper announced his plans to veto SB 20: Care for Women, Children, and Families Act this week. SB 20 passed the General Assembly last week and would create limitations for abortions in North Carolina. Governor Cooper announced that he plans to veto the bill at a rally in Raleigh on Saturday, the last day he can veto the bill without letting it automatically become law. In a statement posted on Twitter, Cooper said, “Don’t let this so called 12-week abortion ban fool you. It will effectively ban access to reproductive freedom earlier and sometimes altogether for many women because of new restrictions and requirements. This is why Republicans are ramming it through with no chance to amend. I will veto this extreme ban and need everyone’s help to hold it.”

Legislative Republicans last week committed to overriding the Governor’s veto, before the bill had even passed both chambers.

Since there currently is a Republican supermajority in the General Assembly, Republicans can override the Governor’s veto if they are all present and voting. However, Cooper has called himself a “prisoner of hope,” saying he is optimistic that at least one Republican lawmaker will hold out and not vote to override his veto. Cooper has spent the week travelling to the districts of potential Republican swing votes, Senator Michael Lee (R-New Hanover), Representative Tricia Cotham (R-Mecklenburg), Representative Ted Davis (R-New Hanover), and Representative John Bradford (R-Mecklenburg). Cooper has held press conferences and round tables with doctors, activists, and other legislators in these districts to increase pressure on the individual lawmakers.

The Governor has singled out these members because all of them are in more moderate, urban districts, and according to Cooper, all of them campaigned in 2022 on a platform against lessening the state’s current limits on abortion. Representative Bradford and Senator Lee have both indicated they support the bill. Rep. Bradford told reporters this week that the bill represents a “reasonable compromise.” Sen. Lee has also indicated he will vote to override the veto, saying publicly that he only pledged during the 2022 campaign to not restrict abortions in the first trimester, unless there are exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother.

Representative Davis, however, has not voiced how he will vote. Rep. Davis was the only Republican absent during the vote on the bill last week. In response to the Governor visiting his Wilmington-area district, reporters asked Davis if he intends to vote to override the veto, but Davis did not comment, indicating he is still studying the bill and its ramifications.

The Senate will vote to override the veto first and could do so as soon as next Tuesday.

Election Bills

The Senate Committee on Redistricting and Elections met on Wednesday and passed five bills, the only legislative committee to meet this week while lawmakers are on a break before returning next week. Most of the bills that committee members heard received little to no debate, but two bills caused a particular stir among members and public speakers.

The committee advanced HB 66: Partisan Boards of Education, which would allow for partisan elections in boards of education races in four districts: Catawba, Hickory, Newton-Conover, and Pamlico. Senator Norman Sanderson, a Republican who represents Pamlico County, said the bill would go into effect in time for next year’s election cycle. More than a quarter of school board elections in North Carolina are already partisan. However, not everyone is in favor of the change. Senator Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) opposed the bill, along with other Democrats, saying: “Changing board of education elections to partisan when they’ve historically been nonpartisan I think is a bad idea.”

SB 248: Change Number of Members on Nash County Board. of Education was also passed by the committee. The bill would decrease the size of the Nash County Board of Education from eleven to seven members and require those elected to the board to be from the same electoral districts that apply to the Nash County Board of Commissioners. The bill is in response to a county-line demerger of the Nash County school system that the Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners approved last year. The demerger would start in the 2024-25 school year and would require some students living on the Edgecombe County side of Rocky Mount to transition from the Nash school system to the Edgecombe school system. Some Edgecombe residents and community leaders raised concerns that SB 248 would further divide the two bordering counties, and that a 2024-25 school year start date is too soon. Nash County Commissioner Gwen Wilkins spoke in opposition to the bill at the committee and said there has not been adequate input from community members on the bill, and legislators should make additional efforts to hear parents and other constituents.

Both bills passed the Senate Redistricting Committee and were referred to the Senate Rules Committee.

Statewide Candidates

Although the 2024 election is still over a year away, candidates are lining up to announce their intentions to seek various statewide offices. Because Democratic Governor Roy Cooper is unable to seek another term, the race to replace him is expected to be the most high-profile election in the state. Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein has announced his candidacy and is the Democratic front runner. Republican Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson has also announced his candidacy and is expected to be his party’s front runner. However, Republican Treasurer Dale Folwell has announced he is also seeking his party’s nomination for Governor. And, this week, former Republican Congressman Mark Walker also hinted, through a campaign staffer, that he will be announcing his candidacy for the executive office.

Several candidates have also announced their candidacies for Lieutenant Governor. State Senator Rachel Hunt (D-Mecklenburg), who is the daughter of former Governor Jim Hunt, has announced and is expected to be the Democratic front runner. This week, another state legislator, Representative Jeffrey Elmore (R-Wilkes) also announced he will run for the position. Elmore joins Republicans Hal Weatherman, Peter Boykin, and Allen Mashburn in the race.

Next, the Attorney General’s race has two confirmed candidates Tim Dunn and Tom Murry. Republican Congressman Dan Bishop, of Union County, has also indicated he is pondering a run for the office.

For the Commissioner of Labor, Republican state Representatives Ben Moss (R-Richmond) and Jon Hardister (R-Guilford) have announced their candidacies. On the Democratic side, Charlotte Mayor Pro Temp Braxton Winston has announced he will run.

Incumbent Beth A. Wood is currently the only announced candidate for State Auditor.

For the State Treasurer position, state Representatives Wesley Harris (D-Mecklenburg) and John Bradford (R-Mecklenburg) have announced their candidacies, as well as former Republican Guilford County Commissioner James Upchurch.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Tuesday, May 16

10:00 AM House: Local Government
10:00 AM House: Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform
10:00 AM House: Health

Thursday, May 18

11:00 AM House: Local Government – Land Use, Planning and Development