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Oct 1, 2021

North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

It was a relatively slow week in Raleigh as legislative leaders continued to hammer at negotiations on a state budget. Rep. Keith Kidwell, who we recently reported was in the hospital with COVID-19, has fully recovered and was back on the House floor this week. The capital complex will not be quiet for long, as redistricting and a vote on the state budget are coming up in the next couple weeks.

The COVID-19 case count continues to decline but remains deadly. As of this morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 4,765 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 2,943 individuals hospitalized, and sadly, 16,524 confirmed deaths. There have been 11,172,633 doses of the vaccine distributed in NC, which is about 69% 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.


Budget Update

The House of Representatives only convened once this week to take up a few non-controversial bills. At the conclusion of Wednesday’s session, Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) told members that he and Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) had reached an agreement on a compromise budget proposal. Moore did not give details of how they compromised or what spending measures would be altered or removed. The two Republican legislative leaders will send their proposal to Democratic Governor Roy Cooper this week to see if they can reach a compromise before the proposal gets a vote in the General Assembly. All three leaders appear to want to bypass a potential veto and veto override. A new state budget has not been enacted since the 2017 legislative session.

House leaders also gave an update on the redistricting plans. Now that the Joint Legislative Redistricting Committee has concluded its public comment hearings across the state, there will be a House Redistricting Committee sometime next week, according to committee chair Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell).


Appointments

Department of Public Safety

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that he is appointing Eddie Buffaloe to lead the Department of Public Safety as Secretary. Buffaloe most recently served as the Director of Public Safety for the Elizabeth City Department of Public Safety, and as Interim City Manager. He is also the President of the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of police. Buffaloe also served in the North Carolina National Guard for 10 years. Over the summer, city leaders in Elizabeth City credited Buffaloe for maintaining peace during protests because of his effective strategies to build good community relations.

US Attorneys

This week President Joe Biden announced nine new nominees to serve as U.S. Attorneys. In the announcement, the White House stated that these nominees will be important for efforts to crack down on the recent uptick in gun crimes and illegal gun trafficking. In North Carolina, Biden tapped Dena King for the Western District, Sandra Hairston for the Middle District, and Michael Easley Jr. for the Eastern District. Both King and Hairston would be the first Black women to serve in their roles, if confirmed by the US Senate. Easley Jr., the son of former Democratic Governor Mike Easley, is a partner at the McGuireWoods law firm in Raleigh.

“Michael Easley is a valued partner and accomplished litigator who has earned the respect and admiration of his colleagues and his peers,” said J. Tracey Walker IV, McGuireWoods’ managing partner, in a written statement. “We are proud he has been nominated and know he will be an outstanding U.S. Attorney.”

All U.S. Attorneys are subject to Senate confirmation. On Wednesday, N.C. Republican Senator Thom Tillis wrote on his Facebook page that he and Senator Burr (R-NC) identified, interviewed, and recommended King, Hairston and Easley, Jr. for their positions. He wrote that he will support their nominations in the Senate Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor.


Liquor Distribution

Legislators hear about concerns from their constituents every day – it’s part of the job. But, when they hear the same issue multiple times, they have the ability to conduct oversight hearings to find answers. This year, the legislature has done exactly that in response to the Colonial pipeline gas shortage, high-school athletics, and this week they tackled the distribution of liquor. North Carolina is a control state, meaning the state government controls the purchasing, distribution, and sale of all spirituous liquors. The ABC Commission, a receipt supported board, coordinates the ordering of products from local ABC boards and distributes those spirits from a central warehouse to localities. The ABC Commission contracts with a multi-state vendor, LB&B Associates, to handle the receiving and storage of liquor from distilleries.

Since July, lawmakers have heard complaints from their constituents and local ABC Boards that liquor is not being distributed fairly, and that shelves are empty for weeks at a time because the ABC Boards cannot efficiently order new product. These issues even prompted the former chairman of the ABC Commission to resign last week. In response, the House ABC Committee invited the Deputy ABC Commissioner, Terrance Merriweather, and Benjamin Thompson, outside counsel for LB&B Associates, to answer questions on the issue.

The committee meeting lasted over two hours. Multiple problems were raised that were attributed to the liquor slowdown, including a new software for purchasing and ordering, and burdensome inventory requirements in July. Merriweather was cautious to assign any specific blame, instead saying the commission has begun holding focus groups and advisory meetings with local ABC Boards to work through some of the issues.

Committee Chair Tim Moffitt (R-Henderson) ended the committee saying he was more dissatisfied at the meeting’s conclusion than he was hoping to be. He issued stark guidance to both the ABC Commission and LB&B to sort out their problems and “utilize [their] best efforts to get the product into customers’ hands.” Moffitt indicated another hearing could be held and referred the issue to the Committee on Government Operations.


Drunk Drivers

A bill to increase safety on North Carolina roads passed the House on Wednesday. Senate Bill 183 would remove some of the existing restrictions on a limited driving privilege for a person convicted of an impaired driving offense, and instead require a functioning ignition interlock system in the convicted person’s vehicle. An ignition interlock device can be connected to a vehicle's ignition system and requires an individual to breathe into the equipment before starting the vehicle. The vehicle is prevented from starting if the individual's breath alcohol concentration is outside the acceptable range.

The ignition interlock is already required in North Carolina, but Senate Bill 183 would eliminate the six-week waiting period before the device could be installed, making it legal for offenders to drive to their jobs or other essential duties like court-ordered treatment without undue hardship. The bill requires the convicted person to pay for the installation of the interlock system but provides financial help to low-income individuals who cannot afford the installation and monthly fees that come with the device.

The Governor’s Highway Safety Program, the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) all publicly support the bill.

The bill passed the Senate 47-0, but because the House made some technical changes, the bill now goes back to the Senate for a concurrence vote before being sent to the Governor.


Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Tuesday, October 5

2:00PM House: Redistricting