North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

June 30, 2023

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Following an abbreviated week last week, members of the General Assembly worked overtime this week to continue enrolling bills, even hosting a rare voting session on Monday evening. On Tuesday, the House successfully overrode six of Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s vetoes, that were previously overridden by the Senate last week, setting a record for the most single day veto overrides in the legislature’s history (read more on those bills in last week’s newsletter).

Behind the scenes, budget negotiations continue between the House and Senate. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) told reporters this week that the earliest he anticipates votes on the budget is during the week of July 24th. The legislature will be out of session next week for the Independence Day holiday.

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 bills into law, veto the bills, 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:

HB 488: Code Council Reorg. and Var. Code Amend – HB 488 aims to reorganize the Building Code Council in North Carolina. It proposes the creation of a separate Residential Code Council within the Department of Insurance, responsible for overseeing the North Carolina Residential Code. The bill also suggests increasing and conforming permitting and General Contractor licensure thresholds to $40,000. It addresses various provisions related to land development regulations and General Contractor licensing laws. Additionally, the bill includes changes to street regulation, building inspections, energy conservation codes, and stormwater control regulations. The effective dates for different sections of the bill vary. Some legislative Democrats opposed the bill due to the delayed implementation of energy conservation codes.

HB 574: Fairness in Women’s Sports Act – This bill aims to regulate athletic participation based on biological sex in middle schools, high schools, and collegiate institutions. The bill prohibits male students from joining female-designated athletic teams and requires a student’s sex to be determined solely based on reproductive biology and genetics at birth. It introduces civil causes of action for students and public-school units harmed by violations or retaliation. The bill applies to both public and private schools, including nonpublic schools and higher education institutions, excluding intramural sports. The bill would be effective starting for the 2023-2024 school year. This controversial bill was opposed by most Democrats, who argued it would isolate transgender students.

HB 605: School Threat Assessment Teams – HB 605 proposes several measures to enhance school safety in public and private schools. It mandates the establishment of threat assessment teams in public school units, providing guidance on assessing and intervening in individuals’ behavior that poses risks. The bill requires public school units to participate in school safety exercises and programs, while encouraging private schools to do the same. Additionally, local boards of education are required to establish peer-to-peer support programs in schools with grades 6 and higher. The bill also emphasizes information sharing with law enforcement agencies and encourages participation in school safety exercises for both public and private schools.

HB 618: Charter School Review Board – This bill proposes converting the Charter Schools Advisory Board into the Charter Schools Review Board. This would transfer the authority to approve charters from the State Board of Education to the Review Board, while allowing for an appeal to the State Board of Education. The Review Board would independently approve or deny charter applications, renewals, and revocations. The bill also outlines the Review Board’s responsibilities, including making recommendations on actions before the State Board of Education on appeal. The bill establishes deadlines for decision-making and allows for appeals to the State Board of Education. Additionally, it specifies the transition of current Advisory Board members to the Review Board and provides an opportunity for charter schools to seek reconsideration based on differing recommendations. The bill was opposed by some traditional public-school advocates who suggested the bill would unconstitutionally remove power from the State Board to oversee all public schools, including charters.

HB 815: The Loving Homes Act – Lawmakers have worked for years to alleviate the problems in North Carolina’s foster care system. HB 815 is a part of those efforts, which this week passed the legislature unanimously. The bill will create a new exception to the foster family home requirements to allow homes that otherwise qualify to host foster children but for having the maximum amount of five children residing in the home already to host a foster child or sibling group.

SB 171: Department of Public Safety Agency Bill.-AB – The bill proposed by the NC Department of Public Safety encompasses several modifications and additions to existing laws. Firstly, it seeks to adjust the authority and territorial jurisdiction of the State Capitol Police for arrest purposes. Additionally, it introduces a definition of “wood residual” to the Motor Vehicles chapter. The bill also aims to extend the time frame for entering missing or unidentified person information into NamUs from 30 to 90 days. Furthermore, it suggests renaming and refining the North Carolina Silver Alert System, outlining specific conditions for issuing alerts and law enforcement actions. The bill also grants access to criminal investigation records for the Adjutant General and National Guard Staff Judge Advocate. It clarifies that special trial counsel provisions in the Uniform Code of Military Justice do not apply to courts-martial convened under Article 3 of Chapter 127A. Moreover, it expands the definition of reportable conviction to include state court-martial convictions related to offenses against minors or sexually violent offenses. Lastly, the bill establishes the Samarcand Training Academy within the Department of Public Safety.

SB 389: Parent Consent to Donate Blood – This bill, which came as a result of the tragic death of a high school football player in western North Carolina, would require written parental consent for a person 16 or 17 years of age to donate blood.

Gender Affirming Care

This week Republican lawmakers in both chambers passed a bill that will prohibit gender affirming surgeries and treatments for minors in North Carolina. HB 808: Gender Transition/Minors would prohibit transitioning surgeries, prescribing puberty blockers, and dispensing cross-sex hormones to North Carolina residents under the age of 18, even if they have a parent’s consent. The bill also prohibits the use of state funds to go towards these procedures and medications from being prescribed to minors.

The bill has moved quickly, having just been introduced in its first committee meeting last week. The bill was slightly altered by the Senate to provide an exception for minors who are already receiving this care, so they can continue to receive the treatment. HB 808 creates a right of action for those who felt like they have been harmed by transitioning surgeries, puberty blockers, or cross-sex hormones to sue the medical professional who performed the procedure or prescribed the medication and anyone who is in contract with that medical professional. There is a provision in HB 808 that says if a medical professional has violated this legislation, their license could be revoked because of their “unprofessional conduct.”

As this bill was debated on the House floor Wednesday night, there was a lot of discussion around how HB 808 would affect a parent’s right to decide their child’s healthcare and the potential mental health ramifications this legislation would have on members of the LGBTQ+ community. Many Democrats passionately opposed the bill during debate in both chambers. Representative Marcia Morey (D-Durham) called the bill an “invasion of privacy between a parent, child and medical professional.” Representative John Autry (D-Mecklenburg) said the bill is a “colossal overreach by government.”

Republicans, however, felt that this legislation was needed to protect children in North Carolina. During committee hearings, Representative Timothy Reeder (R-Pitt), who is also a medical doctor, said that countries who are ahead of the United States in gender affirming surgeries and treatments are currently reversing their policies due to harmful medical effects. Representative Ken Fontenot, (R-Wilson), echoed back to another point in history to defend the bill, saying we “used to support full frontal lobe lobotomies. This is no different. This is to protect our most vulnerable population.”

The bill passed along a party line vote in both chambers. It was sent to Democratic Governor Roy Cooper on Thursday who is likely to veto the measure, setting up a potential veto override vote.

Parents’ Bill of Rights

Senate Bill 49, also known as the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” was passed by the legislature this week, but not without expected controversy. The bill aims to expand parents’ access to educational materials and information about their child’s well-being, limit classroom teachings on sexuality and gender identity, and require notification to parents regarding certain aspects of their child’s mental and physical health. The bill has sparked debate along party lines and drawn support and opposition from different perspectives.

Proponents of SB 49 argue that it reinforces parental involvement in their child’s personal and educational life while protecting children from potentially inappropriate material, emphasizing the importance of parents’ rights to raise their children according to their own values and beliefs. Senator Amy Galey (R-Alamance) stated in committee, “Parents should be empowered to raise their children the way that they see fit in their family without being questioned or interrogated or undermined by the state of North Carolina.”

Opponents of the bill express concerns about its potential impact on LGBTQ+ youth and their mental well-being, expressing fears that the bill could exacerbate anxiety and increase the vulnerability of LGBTQ+ students, who already face higher risks of depression and suicidal thoughts. Senator Lisa Grafstein (D-Wake) views the bill as part of a larger culture war against the LGBTQ+ community, saying, “What we’re seeing here is the last vestiges of efforts to erase the LGBTQ community.”

The bill’s supporters argue that it preserves childhood innocence and allows families to have conversations about sensitive topics on their own terms, arguing that these discussions should be centered within the family rather than introduced at a young age in schools. Senator Benton Sawrey (R-Johnston) asserted in committee that the bill is about maintaining family values and traditions, stating, “To me, this bill is about re-centering the focus of family.”

The bill encompasses various provisions, including prohibiting instruction on gender identity and sexuality in K-4 curricula, requiring schools to inform parents of pronoun changes, allowing parents to review borrowed library materials, and mandating parental notification about changes in their child’s mental and physical health.

Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, is expected to veto the bill, as he has criticized it in the past as part of his State of Emergency for Public Education. However, Republicans, who hold a supermajority in the General Assembly, are anticipated to override the veto.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

No legislative meetings are scheduled for next week.