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Nov 20, 2020

North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

This week, Governor Roy Cooper announced a new COVID-19 county alert system during his weekly press conference addressing the states' progress through the pandemic. The system will show the spread of COVID-19 at a county level. The system will be tiered by three levels: yellow indicating significant community spread; orange indicating substantial community spread; and red indicating critical community spread. Gov. Cooper along with Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen encouraged local municipalities to use the system to gauge the need for tighter enforcement, including rolling back statewide orders to fit their needs. Gov. Cooper did not commit to returning the state to a lower phase of re-opening, but said if metrics continue to move in the wrong direction, additional orders could be imposed. As we move into Thanksgiving, Gov. Cooper urged North Carolinians to stay safe, limit non-family gatherings, and restrict travel if possible. Currently, North Carolina remains in Phase 3. To view more information about the County Alert System click here.

As of Thursday morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 325,158 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 4,769,653 completed tests, 4,927 deaths, and 1,538 current hospitalizations. 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 Raleigh team at McGuireWoods Consulting would like to wish you and your family a safe and happy Thanksgiving. Due to the holiday we will not publish Week in Review next week. See you after the holiday!


Attorney General

Incumbent Attorney General Josh Stein (D) has officially been re-elected to serve as the state's top lawyer. The race remained tight as challenger Jim O'Neill (R) trailed by a few thousand votes after Election Day. Like many close races across the state, the race for Attorney General could not be called until all mail-in ballots were counted and certified. Attorney General Stein received 2,713,404 votes to O'Neill's 2,699,781 votes (50.1% to 49.8%). Despite the narrow margin of victory, it was not enough to allow O'Neill to call for a recount. 

The re-election of Attorney General Stein was a huge win for Governor Cooper and Democrats, who failed to gain traction in other races including the General Assembly, Judicial branch, and the Council of State. Democrats hold four out of the ten Council of State seats. In close races, Republicans maintained their control of the offices of State Treasurer, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Commissioner of Agriculture, Commissioner of Labor, and Commissioner of Insurance. 


Chief Justice Race 

The race for Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court is headed to a recount. Current Chief Justice Cheri Beasley (D) requested a recount after initial results showed her trailing by 400 votes to her opponent, Justice Paul Newby (R). According to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, Justice Newby leads with 2,695,982 votes to Chief Justice Beasley's 2,695,573 votes (50% to 50%). Each county Board of Elections will have until November 25 to recount and report their results. 

Chief Justice Beasley became the state's first African-American woman to serve as head of the state's highest court. She was appointed by Gov. Cooper in 2019. Justice Newby is the longest-serving member of the current Supreme Court, assuming his seat in 2004. As the state's highest court, the results of this race could have ramifications for legal matters regarding the General Assembly, redistricting, and voting rights. If Justice Newby holds his lead, the court will be made up of three Republicans and four Democrats. Previously, Democrats held the majority six to one. 


Select Committee on Community Relations, Law Enforcement, and Justice

The  House Select Committee on Community Relations, Law Enforcement, and Justice met Wednesday, November 18. The Select Committee, which was created by Speaker of the House Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), is tasked to discuss issues pertaining to policing and communities across the state. The committee can also recommend potential legislation if deemed appropriate. The new committee was comprised in the wake of civil unrest across the country and state regarding police brutality. A number of non-legislative members also sit upon the committee, including city council members, professors, law enforcement professionals, and attorneys. 

The committee heard a presentation from Raleigh Chief of Police Cassandra Deck-Brown regarding the ACORNS program. ACORNS, which stands for "Addressing Crisis through Outreach, Referrals, Networking, and Service," is a new program put forth by the Raleigh Police Department (RPD) to address mental health and homelessness. The mission of the program is to connect with individuals in crisis and provide them with resources needed to meet their individuals goals. Chief Deck-Brown stated that this is an important step forward for RPD to continue to move towards a more community-based policing approach. The program will dedicate a supervising Sergeant, detective, three social workers, and three officers with social work training to respond to non-violent calls with individuals who are mentally ill or homeless. The goal is to stop incarcerating individuals who instead could be taken to facilities such as mental hospitals or rehab centers to assist them in transitioning into long term stability. Legislators applauded RPD for being forward- thinking and offered to be a partner in the future. 

Next, the committee reviewed their draft recommendations that had been produced over multiple committee meetings. The recommendations include creating additional statewide law enforcement training requirements, whistle-blower protections for officers that report misconduct, reporting requirements for use-of-force incidents, transformation of the court system, increased mental health resources for officers, and rethinking the criminal justice system as a whole. Members stopped halfway through the recommendations because they could not agree if the committee was taking the right step or overstepping with a number of recommendations that, if put into legislation and passed into law, could change the entire justice system across the state. Instead of taking a vote on the recommendations, the committee will meet again December 14. Since the committee is not a standing committee, they will have until December 31 to take any further action. Many members urged the Speaker to consider keeping the committee when the new General Assembly begins work in 2021. 


General Assembly Leadership

The elections have passed and now both caucuses are looking towards their futures as the upcoming 2021 legislative session looms. In the House, Speaker Moore (R-Cleveland) is expected to be re-elected Speaker for a fourth term. Only two previous Speakers have been elected to serve four terms. House Republicans also announced that Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry) would continue to serve as Speaker Pro Tempore. Other House Republican leadership for the upcoming session will include: House Majority Leader – Rep. John Bell (R-Wayne). Deputy Majority Leader – Rep. Brenden Jones (R-Columbus), Conference Leader – Rep. John Szoka (R-Cumberland), Majority Whip – Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), and Joint Conference Leader – Rep. Pat Hurley (R-Randolph).

Speaker Moore also announced changes in his office as his Chief of Staff Bart Goodson has taken a job with the UNC System. Neil Inman, the Speaker's General Counsel will now serve as his Chief of Staff for the upcoming legislative session. 

House Democrats have not yet revealed their leadership changes. Late last week, House Minority Leader Darren Jackson (D-Wake) announced that he would be stepping down from his leadership role. He will remain in the General Assembly.  House Democrats will seek to elect a new leader within the coming weeks. 

Neither Senate Republicans nor Senate Democrats have announced any changes in leadership at this time.