North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

June 14, 2024

Budget negotiations between the two Republican-controlled chambers took a few steps back this week as both chamber’s leadership has been unable to reach an agreement on a new spending plan. Without an agreement in sight, House leadership has decided to finalize their chamber’s budget proposal by Monday night and move the bill through committee and hold final floor votes on the bill by week’s end. While the House is going ahead with their “plan B” on the budget, Senate leadership has indicated that the House’s budget proposal will be dead-on-arrival.

Mask & Election Law Changes

Lawmakers sent a compromise proposal on the state’s masking and election law changes to Governor Roy Cooper’s (D) desk this week. HB 237: Various Criminal and Election Law Changes would modify the health and safety exemption from certain state laws prohibiting the wearing of face coverings in public by adding that a person would need to wear a medical or surgical grade mask and that an individual could wear such a mask for the purpose of preventing the spread of a contagious disease. The bill would also require an individual to remove the mask upon the request of a law enforcement or temporarily upon request by the owner or occupant of a property to allow for identification of the individual wearing the mask.

When Senate lawmakers initially passed the bill last month, HB 237 would have repealed the health and safety exemption from the state’s law prohibiting the wearing of masks in public. House lawmakers pushed back on the complete prohibition of mask wearing, sending the bill to conference committee where the final version of the bill was agreed upon between the two chambers.

The bill would also enhance the criminal punishment if the defendant wears a mask to conceal their identity during the commission of a crime and increase the penalty for individuals who willfully impede traffic or obstruct emergency vehicles while participating in a demonstration. Additionally, HB 237 would limit the authority of the executive branch and local governments during a state of emergency such that emergency orders or regulations cannot distinguish between religious institutions and other entities.

Finally, emerging from the conference committee, HB 237 would restructure the reporting requirements for contributions made to candidate campaign committees and political committees in North Carolina, by federal political committees and other political organizations. Under these provisions, federal political committees would be allowed to make contributions to state-level candidate or political committees up to $6,400 per election. The bill would also maintain current campaign finance law that prohibits a committee or organization from contributing to state-level candidates or political committees if it accepts contributions from a corporation, business entity, labor union, professional association, or insurance company, however, if the committee accepts contributions from one of those entities and keeps the contributions in a separate account, then the committee or organization may contribute to any national, state, or local-level committee of a political party.

Most of the opposition in both chambers surrounded the newly added election law changes. Republican lawmakers argue that the provisions level the playing field between Democratic and Republican candidates running in statewide elections. Democrats, who oppose the provision in concept, argue that it will bring more out of state money into North Carolina elections. They also spoke against the provision due to the process by which it was added to the bill – in conference committee.

HB 237 passed the Senate last week 28-0, with all Democratic members walking out before the vote was recorded. The bill passed the House this week 69-43, across party lines.

The Governor has ten days to either sign, veto, or allow the HB 237 to become law without his signature.

Health Omnibus

A bill originally drafted to require health care practitioners and pharmacists to educate patients about the dangers of opioids and the availability of opioid antagonists included a handful of new provisions when it was taken up by the Senate Committee on Health Care this week.

HB 287: Health Care Omnibus still includes the requirement to educate patients about the dangers of opioids, the prevention of overdoses, and the availability of opioid antagonist for reversal of opioid overdoses when receiving a prescription, however, HB 287 would now also:

  • Continue to exempt prison inmates from enrolling with prepaid health plans (PHPs) after their release from prison for one year or during their initial Medicaid eligibility period, whichever is less
  • Exempt inmates in settings such as jails and juvenile justice facilities who have had their Medicaid eligibility suspended, from enrolling with PHPs while incarcerated
  • Allow marriage and family therapists who have been licensed for two years to be reciprocally licensed if they meet all other currently existing criteria of the profession
  • Allow psychological associates who have 4,000 hours of post-licensure practice experience to practice without supervision
  • Remove rehabilitation facilities and rehabilitation facility beds from certificate of need review
  • Increase the number of in-class training hours for licensure as a massage therapist from 500 hours to 650 hours

HB 287 passed the Senate Committee on Health Care on Wednesday and now heads to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations for consideration before a final vote on the Senate floor.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Monday, June 17

11:00 AM House: Session Convenes
3:00 PM Senate: Session Convenes

Tuesday, June 18

9:00 AM House: Appropriations
2:00 PM House: Pensions and Retirement
2:00 PM Senate: Finance

Wednesday, June 19

1:00 PM House: Health
2:00 PM Senate: Judiciary