North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review - November 2021 #1

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This week, legislators ended the arduous process of redistricting by passing new maps for Congress and the General Assembly. And while some non-controversial bills passed out of the legislature, the general attitude on Jones Street was pensive as budget negotiations appear to have stalled, leaving many of the part-time legislators questioning when the session, which began in January, would formally end.

There is positive news out of Raleigh this week as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have declined. As of this morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 2,201 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 1,173 individuals hospitalized, and sadly, 18,211 confirmed deaths. There have been 11,617,754 doses of the vaccine distributed in NC, which is about 71% 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.


Redistricting

Legislators in the General Assembly wrapped up the decennial redistricting process this week, passing new maps for Congress, the NC Senate, and the NC House of Representatives. Rep. Destin Hall (R-Catawba), who chairs the House Redistricting Committee, spoke on the House floor Thursday, calling the process “the most transparent in North Carolina redistricting history.” Republicans applauded themselves this week for the redistricting process, which they assert was done in full public view without consideration of any electoral data. All three maps passed both chambers along party lines. They instantly become effective for the 2022 election, barring any action from the courts, because the Governor does not have the power to veto redistricting bills.

View the maps here:

Republicans also commended the outcome of the map drawing process. At the onset, the redistricting committees voted on a criteria, including the desire to keep as many municipalities and counties as possible whole. Hall asserted that the Congressional map split only 11 counties, and only two municipalities – Charlotte and Greensboro. But the split of Greensboro drew the ire of House Democrats from Guilford County. Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) criticized the three-way division of Guilford County, alleging that the map “doesn’t keep communities of interest together.” Harrison claimed that the African American populations in Guilford County were split into three separate districts, which she said likely violates the Voting Rights Act.

The NAACP has already filed a lawsuit, represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, challenging the lack of racial data in the redistricting process. Because the case was filed in state court, Chief Justice Paul Newby has the authority to designate three superior court judges of his choosing to hear both the case and the requested injunction to delay the December candidate filing and the March primary.


Budget Update

Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, proposed his latest counteroffer to Republican legislative leaders last week, but according to an interview with Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), not a lot of progress has been made. According to reporters who questioned Berger on Tuesday night, Berger said there are still differences over Medicaid expansion, tax packages and total spending levels. Earlier reports indicate the two sides reached agreements on public school funding and raises for public employees and retirees. And while negotiations continue, Berger said legislators are, “probably getting real close to the point where we are going to have to just put together a conference report and submit it to the chambers for a vote. I don’t have a firm timeline on that, but we can’t just continue to wait.”

North Carolina is currently the only state in the country without a budget for the 2022 fiscal year. There is currently no legislative session scheduled for next week, but both the House and Senate plan to reconvene the following week. If they decide to pass a conference report through a legislative route, they will need all Republicans and at least four House Democrats and two Senate Democrats to vote to override a potential veto by Governor Cooper. Earlier this year, nine Democrats in the House, and four in the Senate, voted for the budget.


COVID Funding

On Wednesday, legislators convened the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations Subcommittee on the Use and Distribution of Federal COVID funding. The purpose of the meeting, according to the committee chair Sen. Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson), was to begin an examination of the monetary cost of the state’s response to the pandemic and prepare future legislators for how to better respond to similar emergencies.

Legislators heard three presentations, but most questions were pointed at Anita Brown-Graham, the Director of ncIMPACT. Her organization surveyed local governments earlier this year about their thoughts of the federal and state response to assisting them through the pandemic. One topline response was a consistent sense of confusion among local government officials over how they can spend federally allocated funds. One example mentioned was broadband funding. Brown-Graham asserted that local leaders were confused because the federal government designated money to be spent on broadband projects, but the state had stricter guidelines for localities spending on broadband.

Legislators will likely return after a budget is passed to further examine the allocation of federal dollars.

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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