North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

October 6, 2023

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The General Assembly was not in session this week, but lawmakers continued their work on redistricting. According to redistricting leaders in the legislature, votes on new legislative and congressional district maps are not expected next week, but the goal is to finalize maps by the end of October.

Meanwhile, Democratic Governor Roy Cooper took action on several bills. Notably, Governor Cooper allowed the state budget bill, HB 259: 2023 Appropriations Act, to become law without his signature on Tuesday. Additionally, the Governor vetoed two bills: HB 600: Regulatory Reform Act of 2023 and SB 678: Clean Energy Changes. The Governor also signed into law a series of bipartisan bills addressing topics such as principal licensure, adoption processes, drug offenses, education regulations, dam safety, corporate operations, healthcare reforms, student protection, obscenity offenses, and multi-state water authorities.

Bill Actions

Earlier this week, Governor Roy Cooper acted on a slew of bills that were passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly two weeks ago. As reported in last week’s newsletter, the Governor allowed the state budget bill, HB 259, to become law without his signature. The budget officially went into effect Tuesday.

Additionally, the Governor vetoed HB 600: Regulatory Reform Act of 2023. In the veto statement, Governor Cooper said the bill is a “hodgepodge of bad provisions that will result in dirtier water, discriminatory permitting and threats to North Carolina’s environment.”

Governor Cooper also vetoed SB 678: Clean Energy Changes, which would adjust requirements for some electric facility certifications and extend deadlines for coal combustion residual impoundments. In the veto statement, the Governor said the state currently “is on a bipartisan path to removing carbon from our electric power sector in the most cost-effective way,” and that the bill “attempts to diverge from that path by trying to put construction of traditional power plants, and higher profits for the utility companies, over lower-cost solutions like energy efficiency.”

The General Assembly will likely attempt to override the Governor’s veto on both bills. Republicans currently possess a narrow veto-proof supermajority in both chambers.

Additionally, the Governor signed into law a series of bills that passed with a bipartisan majority of votes in both chambers, including:

HB 8: Various Statutory Changes – introduces several educational and regulatory amendments:

  • Mandates the State Board of Education to integrate computer science as a graduation requirement and requires public schools to offer computer science instruction to middle and high school students.
  • Overhauls higher education accreditation processes by requiring institutions under the University of North Carolina (UNC) system and community college system to alternate accrediting agencies for consecutive accreditation cycles.
  • Offers a legal course of action for false statements made to an institution’s accrediting agency that could jeopardize their accreditation.
  • Establishes a commission charged with reevaluating the current higher education accreditation processes.
  • Ensures that faculty appointments to the School of Civic Life and Leadership at UNC at Chapel Hill receive the dean’s approval.
  • Introduces the “Pornography Age Verification Enforcement Act,” necessitating age verification for accessing online materials deemed harmful to minors and imposes civil penalties for non-compliance.

Governor Cooper issued a statement on the bill, saying he agreed with the computer science and age verification components, but that the “changes to the university and community college accreditation processes are onerous and will add an unnecessary burden…on public higher education institutions.”

HB 125: NC Health & Human Services Workforce Act – outlines a series of healthcare reforms and regulatory adjustments:

  • Grants the North Carolina Medical Board authority to issue specialized licenses for certain physicians and enacts changes related to over-the-counter hearing aids.
  • Recognizes a new credentialing board for behavior analysts, updates optometry laws—particularly concerning drug dispensation—and advocates for transitioning oversight of the Nurse Aide I program.
  • Establishes the “Hospital Violence Protection Act” which aims to bolster security and penalties in healthcare settings.
  • Expands the collaborative practice between physicians and pharmacists by mandating insurers to cover services provided by pharmacists within their scope of practice.
  • Provides flexibility regarding ambulance driver credentials following a public health emergency.

HB 142: Protect Our Students Act – enhances the protection of students in schools:

  • Seeks to unify penalties for sexual offenses involving students.
  • Compels school officials to report educator misconduct with stricter consequences for non-compliance.
  • Mandates the creation and dissemination of educational videos on child abuse and neglect by the Center for Safer Schools
  • Refines the criteria for the forfeiture of retirement benefits in cases of professional misconduct.

HB 432: Principal Licensure Changes – aims to revise principal licensure requirements by removing the need for an exam and differentiating credentials:

  • Principal candidates would need a bachelor’s degree, 4 years of educator experience, and a State Board of Education-approved portfolio.
  • Redefines guidelines for approving Administrator Preparation Programs (APPs), highlighting a 500-hour internship instead of a year-long stint.
  • Directs the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission with creating a portfolio-based assessment for potential principals.

SB 189: Fentanyl Drug Offenses and Related Changes – amends the state’s drug-related regulations, including increasing fines for trafficking substances like heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanil:

  • Consolidates and introduces new laws regarding deaths resulting from the distribution of certain drugs.
  • Offers limited immunity for individuals possessing small amounts of a controlled substance if they seek medical assistance during a drug overdose event.
  • Establishes a task force to enhance law enforcement capabilities against fentanyl and heroin violations.
  • Enables district attorneys and law enforcement to request autopsies in suspected drug-related deaths

SB 211: Permit Multistate Water/Sewer Authority – allows neighboring state political entities to collaborate with North Carolina’s political subdivisions in organizing a water and sewer authority to manage and operate a water or sewer system. Under the current law, only counties within North Carolina, or two or more of its political subdivisions, can establish such an authority. SB 211 enables entities from adjoining states to participate, provided it’s sanctioned by the laws of that state, and they submit an appropriate resolution to the Secretary of State of North Carolina.

SB 477: Amend Bus. Corp. Act/Bus. Opp. Disclosures – introduces a series of amendments to the Business Corporation Act and the Business Opportunity Act:

  • Authorizes electronic communication with shareholders.
  • Permits actions in nonpublic corporations post-October 1, 2023, to be taken without a meeting using written shareholder consent.
  • Allows boards to delete unused classes of shares without shareholder action.
  • Offers clearer guidelines on the restriction or elimination of voting rights.
  • Aligns franchisor disclosure and filing obligations with Federal Trade Commission requirements.
  • Provides specifics on the rights of shareholders to inspect records of a corporation’s subsidiary.
  • Standardizes evidence requirements for debt collection actions.

The proposed changes aim to modernize corporate processes, improve shareholder communication, and clarify evidence standards in debt collection.

SB 531: Dam Safety Law Clarification – adjusts the Dam Safety Law of 1967 regarding the repair or alteration of high-hazard dams constructed before 1968:

  • Current regulations require the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to approve any dam repair or alteration, SB 531 permits DEQ to approve projects that might not fully comply with the entirety of the Dam Safety Law and its implementing rules.
  • Changes should not increase the dam’s height, its impoundment capacity, or pose an increased risk to life or property. This provision specifically targets dams labeled as “phased compliance eligible dam,” which are high-hazard dams built prior to 1968 and not owned by public entities like local governments or public authorities.

SB 579: Prevent Harm to Children – raises the penalty for knowingly sharing obscene materials in the presence of someone under 18 from a Class I to a Class H felony:

  • Defines “Adult live entertainment” and prohibits its exhibition in front of those below 18 years of age, with a Class A1 misdemeanor charge for a first offense and a Class I felony for subsequent violations.
  • Establishes a new Class A1 misdemeanor for any individual 18 years or older who engages in sexual contact with a minor, outlining specific actions that fall under this classification.

SB 615: Adoption/Conflict Int/Guard Ad Litem Changes – proposes several changes to the state’s adoption and juvenile procedures:

  • Allows former stepparents to adopt adult adoptees.
  • Changes the redaction rules for adoption home studies.
  • Expands acknowledgment options for agency relinquishments.
  • Outlines procedures for managing conflicts of interest in abuse or neglect reports involving county department of social services employees or their relatives.
  • Clarifies guardian ad litem appointment rules for unemancipated minors, ensuring a minor parent’s separate rights are not affected.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Monday, October 9

1:00 PM House: Session
1:30 PM Senate: Session

Tuesday, October 10

10:00 AM Senate: Judiciary