North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

June 16, 2023

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This week Governor Roy Cooper signed into law two bills with sweeping implications. The first was HB346: Reorganization and Economic Development Act, which will allow North Carolina’s two hospital service corporations, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, to reorganize so that their assets are controlled by a non-profit holding corporation that would not be subject to the same regulations. Additionally this week, the governor traveled to the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, where he was joined by legislators and mascots of various professional sports teams, to sign HB347: Sports Wagering/Horse Racing Wagering which will legalize mobile sports betting in North Carolina.

Legislators continue to work on a budget, following last week’s appointment of conferees from both chambers. While speaking to reporters earlier this week, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said that he expected the budget and potential veto overrides to carry over into July. According to Berger, disagreements still linger between the two chambers over proposed income tax cuts, and how to spend the state’s roughly $3 billion revenue surplus.

Redistricting and Elections

The General Assembly continues to debate how to best reform North Carolina’s election practices. SB747: Elections Law Changes and SB749: No Partisan Advantage in Elections were discussed over a few days in the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee.

SB747: Elections Law Changes would reform the way absentee ballots are received and how private money could be used in elections. If passed, this law would move up the deadline for receipt of absentee ballots to 7:30 p.m. on election day. Currently, absentee ballots can be received up to three days after election day. Additionally, voters who utilize same day voter registration would cast provisional ballots, which are counted separately. Private contributions to the state or local boards of elections for the purpose of providing supplies for elections would also be prohibited under the bill.

Bill sponsor Senator Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) said during committee this week that it is “up to us as a legislature to take steps to instill confidence in North Carolina voters.” Democrats on the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee voted against the bill, but Republicans were unified in support, and gave the bill a favorable report.

The other elections bill that passed the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee this week was SB749: No Partisan Advantage in Elections, which aims to make significant changes to the State Board of Elections and County Boards of Elections. Under this bill, the power to appoint members to the boards would shift from the Governor to the legislature. Regarding the State Board of Elections, two members would be appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, two members would be appointed by the Speaker of the House, two members would be appointed by the Minority Leader of the Senate, and two members would be appointed by the Minority Leader of the House. The party chairs would still be able to submit their recommendations for nominees for the board, but the General Assembly would have the authority to appoint anyone who is a registered voter in North Carolina. Regarding the County Boards of Elections, the bill would remove one member so there would be just four total members on the board. Instead of having four members appointed by the board and one member appointed by the Governor, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Speaker of the House, Senate Minority Leader, and House Minority Leader would each appoint one member.

The former chair of the State Board of Elections, Damon Circosta, who was appointed by Governor Cooper, voiced his concern about the potential gridlock that even numbers of partisan representatives on the boards could lead to, saying, “If you cannot muster a majority, then nothing happens. If nothing happens, the whole election apparatus can’t move forward.”

Democratic Governor Roy Cooper vetoed similar bills in 2021 and is likely to do the same if the bills pass. However, unlike 2021, Republicans now possess a supermajority in the legislature, and can override his vetoes if they choose to do so.

Critical Infrastructure

This week the General Assembly sent SB58: Protect Critical Infrastructure to Governor Roy Cooper. The bill, which has been a work in progress for many months, was filed in February in response to multiple shooting incidents at electric facilities last December and January. The most significant attack was on a Duke Energy facility in Moore County that left 45,000 electric customers without power during the coldest time of the year. Senator Tom McInnis (R-Moore) sponsored this bill with those incidents in mind, commenting multiple times throughout the bill’s journey that he hoped this act would deter any bad actor from doing something like that again.

The bill would make it a Class 3 felony to “knowingly and willfully destroy, injure, or otherwise damage, or attempt to destroy, injure, or otherwise damage, an energy facility or obstruct, impede, or impair the services or transmissions of an energy facility.” The bill was amended several times to add similar penalties for vandalizing critical infrastructure in addition to electrical, like fixtures of gas, telecommunications, broadcast, and broadband. SB58 passed both the House and Senate unanimously.

Bills Sent to Governor

The General Assembly sent a few more bills to Governor Roy Cooper’s desk this week. Governor Cooper will be able to sign the bill into law, veto the bill, or wait 10 days for the bills to become law without his signature. Some of the other the bills sent to the governor this week include:

HB130: Energy Choice/Solar Decommissioning Rqmts – This bill would prohibit local governments from adopting any ordinance that prohibits connection, reconnection, modification, or expansion of an energy service based on the type or source of energy to be delivered to the user of the service. Local governments would also be prohibited from banning natural gas appliances. Republicans assert that the reasoning for the bill is to proactively get ahead of practices in local governments in other states to limit energy choices for consumers. Also, the bill would require owners of utility-scale solar projects to responsibly dismantle their projects once they are done with them. Companies would have to get rid of equipment that has not been used within a year and ensure that they dispose of the remaining components properly in a landfill. Governor Cooper vetoed a similar bill in 2021, but this year several Democrats in the legislature voted for the bill.

HB750: Address ESG Factors – This bill would prohibit state agencies, commissions, and trusts from using environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria or economically targeted investments requirements when making hiring or firing decisions, or when awarding contracts. HB750 also prohibits the state Treasurer from using ESG criteria when evaluating an investment if they are not deemed to be risky or beneficial. The Senate vote for this bill went along party lines, with all the Senate Republicans voting for the bill and all Senate Democrats voting against the bill. Bill sponsor Representative Celeste Cairns (R-Carteret) spoke in support of the bill saying, “the security of our retirees’ futures should not be at the mercy of political winds.” On the other side of the aisle, Senator Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) was concerned about how this policy would affect the way the state approaches environmental and social justice issues like climate change.

SB582: NC Farm Act – The NC Farm Act creates and amends many agricultural provisions, such as exempting compost from sales tax for farmers; including income from selling honey in gross income for tax purposes; establishing a Forestry Services and Advice Fund; prohibiting the use of an unmanned aircraft near a forest fire; establishing an equine state trail; and conforming penalties for assault with a deadly weapon on inspectors from the Department of Agriculture. One of the more controversial parts of the bill would change the definition of wetlands to conform with federal standards, which are currently less protective than state standards. Some House Democrats spoke in opposition to that section of the bill, arguing that redefining wetlands would lead to overdevelopment in areas that should be protected.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Tuesday, June 20

12:00 PM: House Commerce
1:00 PM: House Judiciary 1

Wednesday, June 21

10:00 AM: House Judiciary 2
2:00 PM: Senate Pensions, Retirement and Aging

Thursday, June 22

1:00 PM: House Oversight and Reform