Pardon Our Dust
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The General Assembly returned to Raleigh this week after a six-week hiatus during which budget negotiations and out-of-town conferences occupied legislators’ time. Both chambers only held votes on Wednesday, but both House and Senate sessions had jam-packed calendars that took up several hours. The main items on the agenda were override votes of bills that Democratic Governor Roy Cooper had previously vetoed.
Additionally, lawmakers adopted a sweeping package of election reforms, several bills affecting local governments, and a bill shifting appointment power over some state boards and commissions away from the governor, giving to the legislature.
North Carolina continues to operate under a continuing resolution, without the adoption of a new state budget, and will continue to do so for the next several weeks. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) told members at the conclusion of Wednesday’s session that no votes are expected this week, next week, and likely not the following week. Last week, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) stated that he was optimistic that a budget would be passed during the week of September 11.
Six weeks after Democratic Governor Cooper vetoed six bills passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, lawmakers returned to Raleigh to override those vetoes. The vetoed bills include measures that impact LGBTQ+ rights, parental rights, building code standards, and charter school regulations. Supporters argued that these bills protect parental rights, female athletes, and the well-being of minors, while critics, including Governor Cooper, deemed them divisive.
The bills that generated the most debate dealt with transgender athletes participating in school sports and increased parental involvement in reviewing materials within public schools. Senator Amy Galey (R-Alamance) emphasized the rationale behind these measures, stating, “There are those who are adamant that traditional public schools should be the only educational avenue that the state provides to families. However, many of these same people defend the pushing of parents out of their child’s public school education, support keeping the truth about a student’s mental health from parents and telling lies and resist every effort to keep sex out of elementary schools or to remove inappropriate materials that cannot be printed in a newspaper or shown on TV news.”
Governor Cooper voiced his disappointment in the newly enacted laws, asserting in a statement, “The legislature finally comes back to pass legislation that discriminates, makes housing less safe, blocks FEMA disaster recovery funding, hurts the freedom to vote and damages our economy. Yet they still won’t pass a budget when teachers, school bus drivers and Medicaid Expansion for thousands of working people getting kicked off their health plans every week are desperately needed. These are the wrong priorities, especially when they should be working nights and weekends if necessary to get a budget passed by the end of the month.”
The bills enacted into law this week will do the following:
- Establishes a comprehensive Parents’ Bill of Rights, safeguarding parental authority in education, health, privacy, and safety matters.
- Requires public schools to provide parental involvement information, legal rights guides, and student achievement guides.
- Requires public school units to provide notification to parents on their students’ physical and mental health.
- Requires health care practitioners to obtain written parental consent before providing treatment to minors.
- Institutes age-appropriate instruction on certain topics for grades K-4.
- Introduces several modifications to charter school laws, including a change preventing the consideration of local educational agency (LEA) impacts in charter approvals and renewals.
- Allows low-performing charter schools to grow beyond 20% with State Board of Education approval.
- Authorizes counties to allocate property taxes for charter school capital needs.
- Allows charter schools to admit out-of-state students and foreign exchange students.
- Restructures the Building Code Council, creating a new Residential Code Council.
- Enacts amendments to various provisions of the North Carolina State Building Code, land development regulations, and General Contractor licensing laws.
- Temporarily prohibits the Building Code Council from adopting rules to amend the Residential Code as it relates to energy conservation or energy efficiency until 2026.
- Prohibits transgender females from participating in female-designated sports teams, basing eligibility for athletic participation solely on biological sex and genetics at birth.
- Provides provisions for civil actions by students harmed due to violations of the Act or by public school units complying with the requirements.
- Converts the existing Charter Schools Advisory Board into the Charter Schools Review Board.
- Shifts the authority to approve or deny charter school applications, renewals, and revocations from the State Board of Education to the newly established Review Board, with appeal rights to the State Board of Education.
- Prohibits medical professionals from performing surgical gender transition procedures on minors and from prescribing certain drugs or hormones to minors.
- Imposes penalties on medical professionals violating these restrictions.
- Grants minors undergoing prohibited procedures or treatments the right to private legal action against medical providers.
- Prohibits state funds from being used for surgical gender transition procedures or related treatments for minors.
This week the General Assembly approved legislation that would significantly reform North Carolina’s elections processes, particularly when it comes to absentee and early voting. SB 747: Elections Law Changes passed the House Committee on Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform on Tuesday. During the committee, House Republicans unveiled their version of the bill that had previously passed the Senate. The House version made minor changes to the bill that Democrats recommended. During the House Election Law Committee meeting, and the following House Rules Committee, the bill’s Senate sponsors spoke in agreement with the House changes. The bill passed both the House and Senate on Wednesday in party line votes, 69-47 and 27-18, respectively.
One of the more controversial provisions in the bill would end the grace period that allows mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted if they arrive at county boards of elections within three days after the election. The bill would require that absentee ballots be received by county election offices by the time in-person voting ends at 7:30 p.m. on the day of the election. Opponents of the bill argued that the end of the grace period leaves voters at the mercy of the Postal Service and disenfranchises voters who cast their ballot on time.
Additionally, the bill would prohibit local elections officials from accepting private donations or in-kind contributions to help run elections. However, Representative Allison Dahle (D-Wake) successfully passed an amendment on the House floor inserting a carve out to the provision, allowing county boards of elections to accept private donations for ink pens, personal protection equipment, and food and beverages for precinct officials.
Furthermore, the bill empowers partisan observers at polling places, allowing up to three individuals appointed by each political party to take notes in a voting place and listen to certain conversations between voters and election officials. Bill sponsors clarified that precinct judges still have control over voting enclosures and can object to observers, however, many opponents took aim at this provision. In a joint statement by House Democratic Leader Robert Reives (D-Chatham) and Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake), both leaders said the provision, “opens the door for voter intimidation at polling places.”
Republicans, however, were unified in their support of the bill’s reforms. “The aim of the bill is to improve our elections,” argued Representative Gray Mills (R-Iredell), who chairs the House Committee on Elections and Campaign Finance Reform. “All of it aims to make our processes on Election Day, during early voting, mail-in ballots … more efficient and to make it more user-friendly.”
Democratic Governor Roy Cooper is expected to veto the bill. Governor Cooper has previously vetoed three provisions contained in the bill, including the absentee ballot deadline change, when those provisions were included in past bills sent to his desk. In a statement Wednesday, Governor Cooper called out the legislature for passing bills this week that, “hurts the freedom to vote.”
Upcoming Legislative Meetings
No legislative action is expected next week.