In the General Assembly this week, most of the legislative work was focused around medical cannabis and high school sports, which we will discuss in this week’s newsletter. Governor Cooper (D) announced a change in the NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) guidance to school districts, allowing individual districts discretion to apply and enforce mask rules for schools. In his press conference Wednesday, Cooper also noted that this week North Carolina saw the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in about two months.
As of this morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 1,800 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 751 individuals hospitalized, and sadly, 13,562 confirmed deaths. There have been 9,649,811 doses of the vaccine distributed in NC, which is about 60% of the total adult population.
As we all continue to feel the effects of the global pandemic and adjust to a new normal, we want to highlight a few ways our clients across North Carolina have worked to support residents and make this time a little easier for those throughout the state. Read more about what our clients are doing to help by clicking here.
For more information on COVID-19 in North Carolina, click here to visit the Department of Health and Human Services website, and be sure to stay up to date on the latest federal guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by clicking here.
The House of Representatives is continuing their work on a state budget, but it will not be introduced next week because the week’s session will be abbreviated for legislators to attend the American Legislative Exchange Council in Utah. Last week, House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) told reporters that he anticipates introducing their chamber’s budget in early August, and he foresees a conference budget with the Senate being passed a few weeks later. That means the General Assembly could send a budget to Democratic Governor Roy Cooper by the end of August. The House will take votes next Monday and Tuesday; the Senate will not take any votes next week.
High School Sports
During a 2019 non-conference football game between Richmond Senior High School and Anson High School, an on-field altercation between players on both teams broke out, resulting in the ejection of one player from both teams. Following the incident, the NC High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA), a non-profit charged with governing interscholastic athletic programs in the state, made the decision to deem Anson ineligible for the state playoffs, but gave Richmond a pass. Reacting to what he viewed as an unfair treatment of Anson High, Sen. Tom McInnis, a Republican from neighboring Richmond County, began to investigate the processes and operations of the NCHSAA.
Fast-forward to this Spring, legislative leaders in both chambers organized a Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations to examine issues concerning the administration and management of the NCHSAA. In April, legislators questioned Commissioner Que Tucker on the finances and oversight of the association. At issue was the roughly $41 million in total assets of the NCHSAA, which Senators said was the highest amount of any high school athletic association in the nation, and the ambiguous process used to penalize and fine member schools.
The issue culminated into a bill earlier this week. Senators Sawyer (R-Iredell), Johnson (R-Union), and McInnis appeared at Senate Higher Education Committee meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday to introduce H91: Accountability and Fair Play in Athletics. The bill would remove the NCHSAA as the foremost body over interscholastic sports programs, and charge the NC State Board of Education with adopting rules for student participation in high school and middle school sports, including standards for academics, enrollment, attendance and medical eligibility. For high school athletics, a newly created NC Interscholastic Athletic Commission would apply and enforce student eligibility rules and adopt and enforce all gameplay rules and would establish a demerit system for infractions punishable through non-monetary penalties. The Commission would consist of 17 members – nine appointed by the Governor, and eight appointed by the General Assembly.
After a few minor changes in the Senate Higher Education and Finance committees, including clawing back a provision that would have allowed home school students to play sports for the districted-school in which the student lives, the bill is heading for the Senate Rules Committee.
North Carolina Senators are meticulously advancing a carefully worded bill that would legalize cannabis for medical use. If it passes, the bill would make North Carolina one of the most tightly regulated states for medical marijuana. Physicians in North Carolina would be able to prescribe cannabis for specifically defined debilitating medical conditions. The bill would establish a Medical Cannabis Advisory Board who could add other serious medical conditions to the list. The Department of Health and Human Services would be tasked with issuing a registry identification card to qualified patients or designated caregivers.
Earlier this month, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill after hearing compelling testimony from veterans and family members of suffering patients.
On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee discussed the financial ramifications of the bill. An amendment was passed to make clear the legislature’s intent is for the newly established medical cannabis industry to be self-sustaining. The amendment clarifies that revenues generated from the licenses and fees would be used to offset any expenses to the state. Anyone wanting to get into the medical cannabis business in NC would need a professional, well-financed operation to get started. Only ten medical cannabis supplier licenses would be issued, and each supplier could only operate four dispensaries at most, of which at least two would have to be in Tier 1 counties. Each supplier would have to pay a $50,000 nonrefundable fee, plus $5,000 for each dispensary. In addition, 10% of all gross revenue would be paid back to the Department of Health and Human Services.
The bill now goes to the Senate Health Care Committee.
Upcoming Legislative Meetings
Monday, July 26