North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review - August 2021

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This week started with solemn reminders to cherish those we appreciate, as the General Assembly lost two beloved individuals. Frances Patterson, a longtime member of the Sergeant at Arms staff, passed away over the weekend. And on Monday it was announced that Rep. Jerry Carter, a Rockingham County Republican, passed away. Their memory hung over the meetings of the legislature as the House began to deliberate a budget and as redistricting got off to a start.  

The state has begun to see an uptick in the number of coronavirus cases. As of this morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 4,331 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 1,651 individuals hospitalized, and sadly, 13,724 confirmed deaths. There have been 9,897,190 doses of the vaccine distributed in NC, which is about 62% 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.


House Budget

Last month the Senate passed their budget package, so now all eyes are on the House to see their final proposal before the budget goes to a conference committee between the two chambers. We inched closer to seeing the House version this week as members of the House spent most of Thursday in area-specific appropriations subcommittees to hear about and vote on spending proposals for the various sections of the budget. Some of the topics that will generate the most discussion, like tax cuts and salary adjustments for state employees, will not be introduced until Tuesday of next week. While the House kept many provisions from the Senate budget, they also changed and even eliminated some of the Senators’ suggestions. 

Budget Chairs in the House had autonomy to determine their subcommittee’s structure and how amendments or debate would take place. The Transportation Appropriations subcommittee met only briefly, and no amendments were accepted. The budget for Transportation mimicked the Senate’s version and only slightly deviated from their total spend plans for the Highway Fund and Highway Trust Fund. The House Transportation section does include several additional provisions, including an additional $25 million into the highway reserve, funding for more bicycle and pedestrian lanes, and a provision that would allow billboard owners to relocate their signs within the same vicinity.

The House added several policy positions into the Health and Human Services budget, including a broadly-interpreted policy to change how hospitals and nursing home staff admit visitors during the time of a declared emergency. The House kept a Senate policy that would allow parents of children who are no longer in their custody to remain on Medicaid, but eliminated a policy that would allow postpartum women to remain on Medicaid for twelve additional months. 

The Education Subcommittee was perhaps the longest of the week, and a swath of amendments were accepted during the committee. While salary raises for teachers and school staff were not included in Thursday’s proposal, Chair Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) told the subcommittee members he thought they would be “really happy” with the raises to be announced next Tuesday. Like the Health budget, the House added several policy changes, including a requirement for educators to post their lesson plans and instructional materials on a portal to be created by the Department of Public Instruction. Parents and residents would also be given the right to challenge the instructional materials before a local committee which is created in the House budget. Charter school operators also received some relief in the House plan with a provision that would allow applicants attempting to establish a charter school to reapply twice within 30 days if the State Board of Education does not grant approval; the State Board would also be required to explain the mistakes made and exactly what the applicant can fix.

On the House floor Wednesday, budget writer Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth) told members to expect a long day next Tuesday. The expectation is that the full House Appropriations committee will meet for most of the day and the budget will be on the House floor sometime next week. 


Redistricting

Legislators in North Carolina are getting an early start on their decennial redistricting process compared to other states. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the release of 2020 Census data, which lawmakers use to draw proportional districts, was delayed until this month. Normally maps could be redrawn much earlier, but because of the delay, legislators across the country are up against a tight timeline to get maps redrawn before filing opens for the 2022 midterm elections. 

The Joint Redistricting Committee met Thursday so Chairs from both chambers could lay out their expectations and a general timeline for the redistricting process. Chairing the committee, Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell) said to expect the Census data by August 16th, but cautioned it will take their nonpartisan staff three weeks to process the data into a usable format. Hall also reported that the State Board of Elections has asked that maps be redrawn at least three weeks before the beginning of the filing period, which begins December 6th. It can be inferred that the legislature intends to have maps redrawn sometime in early November. 

The process will likely match the one used in 2019 after the courts mandated a redraw. Rep. D Hall and Sen. Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) both applauded the 2019 process, and said it was the most transparent redistricting proceeding used in the state’s history. While the state awaits the Census data, the committee will collect public comment on the redistricting process, and next week a formal process will be voted on by the committee members.


Next Week's Meetings

Monday, August 9

2:30PM House: Finance

3:00PM Joint Redistricting and Elections

4:00PM Senate: Session

5:00PM House: Session

Tuesday, August 10

8:30AM Joint Redistricting and Elections

9:00AM House: Appropriations

10:00AM Senate: Agriculture, Energy and Environment

Wednesday, August 11

8:30AM House: Pensions and Retirement

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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