The North Carolina General Assembly is in full swing, with a number of bills working their way through the House and Senate. Many of these bills won’t survive committee review. Others will make their way to the full legislature for approval and then on to Governor Cooper’s desk for either signature into law or a veto.
Given the current makeup of the General Assembly — 30 Republicans (60%), 20 Democrats (40%) in the Senate, and 71 Republicans (59%), 49 Democrats (41%) in the House — GOP-sponsored bills are more likely to gain approval. The GOP has a “veto-proof” majority in the Senate, but is one vote short of overriding a veto in the House. So it’s crucial for Democrats in the House to be united when it comes to sustaining a gubernatorial veto.
Here are bills currently under consideration by the General Assembly that could have an important impact on North Carolina citizens:
H17 – If passed, this bill would put on the 2024 ballot a proposed constitutional amendment making the NC State Board of Education an elected, rather than appointed body. Currently, the governor appoints 11 of the 14 Board members. The remaining three members are the state superintendent, state treasurer, and lieutenant governor. OUTLOOK: This is yet another attempt by Republicans to politicize the state’s education system and further strip the governor of constitutional powers. The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee without debate and is now before the House Rules Committee, which must pass it before it can be voted on by the full House, with similar steps in the Senate. A proposed constitutional amendment requires approval by at least 60% of the House and 60% of the Senate.
H76 – This bill would expand Medicaid coverage to over 500,000 low-income North Carolinians. Our state is currently one of only 12 that has failed to take advantage of federal funding to support healthcare coverage for workers who earn too much to qualify for assistance under the program’s current structure. OUTLOOK: The bill passed the House with bipartisan support on Feb. 15, and is now in the Senate where a previous version of the bill passed last year. There are some differences between the Senate and House bills that have yet to be resolved, but the chances of passage this year look good.
S40/H50 – Pistol Purchase Permit Repeal. Republican-backed House Bill 50 would repeal the state law that requires North Carolinians to obtain a permit from a county sheriff to purchase a handgun. No permit is needed for a rifle or shotgun. Repealing the law would strip sheriffs of the ability to conduct comprehensive background checks on handgun sales. It would also make it easier for people with dangerous backgrounds to purchase firearms. The bill’s sponsors say the current law is unnecessary because it duplicates a federal law mandating background checks on gun purchases. However, keeping the pistol-purchasing permit system in place is critical, because the federal background check system only applies if the buyer purchases a firearm from a federally licensed dealer. OUTLOOK: Current state law fills a loophole that would otherwise allow a convicted felon, somebody experiencing a mental health crisis, a minor, or a domestic violence abuser to go to a gun show or online and buy a gun with no questions asked. With the horrendous increase in gun violence in America today, the last thing we need is to make it easier to put guns into the hands of the wrong people.
S49 – The “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” was passed by the NC Senate on February 7 and is now being considered by the House. The contentious bill outlines a set of rights parents should have over their children in public schools. These provisions include LGBTQ+ topics and require public schools to make policies to promote parent involvement in their child’s education. It would require all public schools to notify a student’s parents prior to any changes to a student's name or pronouns used in school and prohibits any instruction of gender identity, sexual activity, or sexuality in the curriculum for students in kindergarten through fourth grade. This bill is one of many similar “Don’t Say Gay” bills circulating in Republican-dominated state legislatures throughout the country. Speaking in opposition to this bill, NC Sen. Graig Meyer (D-Caswell/Orange/Person), a former school social worker, asserted, “It's a stupid bill that's being run for purely political reasons... It does not understand how child development works and it is disrespectful to both families and to professional educators who are trying to support children and families.” Meyer stated that children are naturally curious about identity and the way the world works. When they start asking those questions, educators are prepared to use age-appropriate books and curricular materials to help teach kids in a way that answers their questions. “Taking away their ability to teach proactively and positively puts educators in a really negative position and doesn't respect the kids for what they want to learn and need to be able to learn,” Meyer said. OUTLOOK: In response to the Parents’ Bill of Rights, Democrats in the General Assembly introduced House Bill 58 — Parents’ and Students’ Bill of Rights — on Feb. 6. The bill includes an outline of rights parents are given in a students’ healthcare, education and upbringing, along with students’ rights, such as adequate resources for mental and physical health, college- and career-readiness, and access to extracurriculars.
Gerrymandering (It Won’t Go Away) – Republicans are back once again in their never-ending attempts to undermine the basic voting rights of NC citizens through voter ID laws and gerrymandering. Last year, the NC Supreme Court issued two landmark decisions, ruling in Holmes v Moore that NC’s Republican-sponsored voter ID law unlawfully discriminates against black voters, and striking down the GOP’s partisan gerrymandering efforts in Moore v Harper. Following last year’s election, when Republicans gained a majority on the Court, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger filed a motion to rehear both of cases, based solely on the change in political affiliation of the judges. OUTLOOK: Rehearings are rarely granted (less than 1% of cases), and are usually reserved for situations involving a material oversight, such as evidence the court should have considered but did not. Ignoring these clear legal precedents, the State Supreme Court granted both rehearing requests and set a date for rehearings on March 14. Common Cause and other civic-minded groups are asking concerned citizens to show up at the court on March 14 to support our democratic voting rights.
Thanks to Bob Bannerman and his BCDP legislative group for this update.