North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

October 13, 2023

Pardon Our Dust

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The General Assembly returned to Raleigh this week to vote to override five of Governor Roy Cooper’s (D) vetoes in addition to passing two noncontroversial pieces of legislation.

The war in Israel also weighed heavy on members. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) directed the North Carolina flag at the legislative building be lowered to half-staff to honor Israeli citizens. On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sponsored a resolution to extend support for the nation of Israel.

Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson, a Republican, also jumped on the opportunity to declare his support for Israel. Governor Cooper is currently in Japan attending an economic development conference, and according to the state constitution, the lieutenant governor becomes acting governor when the governor is out of the state. Lieutenant Governor Robinson held a press conference at the legislative building Thursday morning, billing himself as “Acting Governor,” and issued a gubernatorial proclamation for a day of prayer and declared October 12 through October 19 as “North Carolina Solidarity with Israel Week.”

Lawmakers continue to work on new legislative and congressional district maps and will likely publish those maps next week will the goal of passing the final versions of the maps by the end of October.

Veto Overrides

The Republican-controlled General Assembly overrode five of Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s vetoes this week, bringing the legislature’s total veto override count this session to 19, far more than any other legislative session.

Republicans, along with a handful of Democrats, voted to override the Governor’s veto of:

HB 600: Regulatory Reform Act of 2023 – aims to amend state regulations across various sectors, from water protection and agriculture to energy and construction, including:

  • Modifies the ability of property owners to voluntarily elect to treat stormwater from preexisting development or redevelopment
  • Adjusts rules concerning stormwater management and sets clearer guidelines on redevelopment projects
  • Expands exemptions for certain “public linear transportation projects”
  • Standardizes the Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) process for applications related to dredging and energy transmission projects
  • Requires a review by the Environmental management Commission to ensure water quality standards for certain pollutants are based on science and protect public health
  • Directs DEQ to assess the health risks of 1,4-dioxane in drinking water
  • Prohibits DEQ from imposing restrictions on dredging activities unless required by federal law
  • Establishes new standards for wastewater flow rates for newly develop dwelling units
  • Prohibits counties and cities from regulating the operation of online marketplaces and from requiring online marketplace platforms provide user information unless mandated by a subpoena or court order
  • Allows the Department of Information Technology to fund procurement activities through a combination of administrative fees

In his 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.” Five House Democrats joined all Republicans in both chambers to override the veto.

SB 512: Greater Accountability for Boards/Commissions – shifts powers of appointments from the Governor to the General Assembly for several statewide boards, including the Board of Transportation, the Environmental Management Commission, and the Wildlife Resources Commission. The bill also increases the size of the UNC Board of Governors from 24 to 28 members.

In his veto statement, Governor Cooper said the legislation “violates the separation of powers enshrined in the state Constitution.” Senator Warren Daniel (R-Burke) released a statement saying the bill will broaden “the diversity of thought by balancing appointments from the governor, Council of State, and the legislature.”

SB 678: Clean Energy/Other Changes – modifies various facets of the state’s energy policy, by (1) adding nuclear energy as a recognized source of clean energy, (2) providing the Utilities Commission more authority to determine cost effective energy generation sources, (3) extending the closure deadline for certain coal combustion residual impoundments, and (4) increasing the capacity for leased solar facilities in the state.

Senator Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) released a statement saying the bill will put the state “in a position where expanding nuclear is less of a question and more of a reality.”

SB 747: Elections Law Changes – requires absentee ballots to be received by the board of elections by the end of Election Day, whereas mail-in ballots, that were postmarked by Election Day, were previously accepted three days following the election. SB 747 also changes how poll observers can move around a voting site and prohibits elections boards from accepting private contributions.

Republicans have sought to reform North Carolina’s election processes since the 2020 election changed how voters cast their ballots. In his veto statement, Governor Cooper said the bill, “has nothing to do with election security and everything to do with Republicans keeping and gaining power.” House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) issued a statement on the override saying, “voters deserve to know their elections are safe and secure.”

SB 749: No Partisan Advantage in Elections – changes how state and county boards of elections are structured by requiring each board to have equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. Currently, most elections boards are comprised of members of the party of the Governor. SB 749 also provides some guardrails for gridlocked decisions on hiring of local elections directors.

In his veto statement, Governor Cooper said the bill is a “legislative takeover of state and local elections boards.” In a statement on both S747 and S749, Senators Warren Daniel and Paul Newton said the override “ensures voters can go to the polls knowing that elections are being conducted in a fair, nonpartisan manner.”

The overrides were the main legislative business conducted this week, but two other bills were also adopted and sent to Governor Cooper for consideration. SB 677: Surveyors Right of Entry/Exped. Comm. Bldg passed with bipartisan support and, if signed, would provide professional surveyors more protection for their personal safety when they are on the job.

HB 415: Stop Addiction Fraud Ethics Act of 2023 also passed with bipartisan support and would combat misleading marketing practices and illicit brokering of patients with substance use disorders by introducing specific regulation and penalties for violations.

DMV Hearing

Members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee invited officials from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to testify and answer questions at a hearing on Wednesday. DMV Commissioner Wayne Goodwin and Deputy Commissioner Portia Manley were invited to explain DMV’s new driver’s license renewal policy and the recently awarded contract for printing driver’s licenses.

The newly enacted state budget that passed last month doubles the license renewal periods for most drivers from eight to 16 years. Lawmakers contested that Commissioner Goodwin and DMV asked the legislature earlier this spring to double the renewal period, but Commissioner Goodwin’s office says the change now conflicts with federal laws governing the Real ID program.

At issue was also DMV shifting to requiring grayscale photos for future printed identification cards. Commissioner Goodwin said Tuesday that DMV sent a request to change the state law requiring color photos to officials within the Department of Transportation, which houses DMV, but that the request was not ultimately included in the agency’s legislative requests.

Commissioner Goodwin apologized and acknowledged there were miscommunications between the legislature and DMV, saying his main priority, “knowing what we know now and knowing there’s miscommunication…is focusing on what we need to solve this problem and get us back on track so that North Carolinians don’t lose access to Real IDs.”

The committee hearing was cordial and productive. Representative Harry Warren (R-Rowan), who chairs the committee, told Commissioner Goodwin and Deputy Commissioner Manley at the conclusion of the hearing that the committee members “trust [DMV] to take appropriate steps to see that those changes are implemented.” However, committee leaders left open the opportunity to call back DMV officials to question them at a future time.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Monday, October 16

2:00 PM House: Session
3:00 PM Senate: Session