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Jul 2, 2021

North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

After the Senate passed their budget last Friday, House members took their turn this week to review the proposal sent from their colleagues across the hall. Most of the House Appropriations subcommittees met to hear from the General Assembly’s hard-working fiscal and bill-drafting staff about the specific provisions of the Senate budget. Most of the conversations in the subcommittee meetings were simply informational. Aside from the budget discussions, several bills that have been moving the entire session received final votes. Next week, the legislature is taking a recess for the Independence Day holiday, and will reconvene the following week.

As of this morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 296 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 396 individuals hospitalized, and sadly, 13,434 confirmed deaths. There have been 8,899,165 doses of the vaccine distributed in NC, which is about 56% 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.


Raise the Age

One issue that has consistently received bipartisan support among legislators over the past several years is criminal justice reform. The trend continued this week as members from both chambers and both parties signaled support for a bill to change how North Carolina courts view juveniles. In 1979, lawmakers set six years old as North Carolina’s minimum age of delinquency jurisdiction as a way to help get parents and children the resources they needed. But critics point out that the system has resulted in higher prosecution rates towards adolescent minority children. In a committee this week, Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham), a former judge, recalled children in her courtroom sitting at oversized desks in swivel chairs drawing in coloring books.

A group of bipartisan legislators in the House and Senate introduced bills this year to fix the system and provide equity to juveniles. S207: Various Raise the Age Changes/JJAC Recs, which is nearly identical to another bill filed in the House, follows recommendations from the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee within the Department of Public Safety. The bill would raise the minimum age for juvenile delinquency to ten years old. Children younger than ten who get into trouble would be directed by a juvenile court counselor to a “complaint consultation,” and in some cases would be referred to the Department of Health and Human Services for a clinical assessment. The parents or guardians of the child would be required to comply with any recommendations for services resulting from the consultation.

The bill passed the House Judiciary 1 Committee on Wednesday, and now goes to the House Rules Committee. If the full House adopts the bill, it will return to the Senate for a Conference Committee. House Judiciary 1 Committee Chair Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover) mentioned during Wednesday’s meeting that the additions to the bill by House members were informally approved by Senate leaders.


Interior Designers

After several years of negotiating with stakeholders, qualified interior designers are on their way to being recognized as a distinct profession with associated practice rights by the state of North Carolina thanks to legislation that passed the House on Wednesday. S188: Board of Architects/Interior Designers would expand the North Carolina Board of Architecture and add three new members to the Board who are required to be registered interior designers. The legislation will establish a voluntary registration framework, based on nationally-recognized credentials, which will govern the scope of practice for interior designers, and allow them to stamp and seal their own work to obtain building permits for interior construction projects.

The American Society of Interior Designers applauded the bill’s passage, saying it will make it easier for interior designers to own and operate their own firm. The group notes that since more than 80% of interior designers are female, the legislation will enable the growth and creation of more female-owned and operated businesses in the state.

Members of the legislature recognized the importance of the bill’s passage because of the years of hard work. Bill sponsor Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth) said, “We are proud to have worked with the interior designers and the architects to craft this historic piece of legislation, and we hope that our efforts on this interior design bill will provide a roadmap for other states to fairly recognize this valued profession.” The bill’s champion in the House, Rep. Dennis Riddell (R-Alamance) said, “I’m thrilled that these qualified professionals will finally have the legal recognition they need to practice independently, and to positively impact their clients and the interior spaces we utilize each and every day.”

The bill passed the Senate in April, and with the House approving the bill this week it is now heading for the Governor’s desk for his signature.


Medical Cannabis

Every day, lawmakers in Raleigh hear from constituents about issues they care about, but some of the loudest voices come from constituents urging lawmakers to legalize cannabis for medicinal use. This week and last, legislators got to put a face to a name for many of these individuals, and the testimony was emotional at times. It is because Republican Senators have now held two committee meetings for their bill, S711: NC Compassionate Care Act, which would legalize cannabis for medicinal purposes in the state.

Recognizing the controversy and the need to clearly define and regulate the product at every turn, Senators are sending the bill through four committees. This week, it passed its first hurdle by receiving a favorable report in the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, it appears that the bill has the support it needs, at least in the Senate, to clear a final vote. In Wednesday’s committee, all Democrats voted in favor, and most Republicans, including Majority Leader Sen. Kathy Harrington (R-Gaston) and Rules Chair, and the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick).

If it passes, the bill would make North Carolina one of the most tightly regulated states for medical marijuana. Physicians in North Carolina would be able to prescribe cannabis for specifically defined debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Crohn’s disease, PTSD, sickle cell anemia, multiple sclerosis, and other certain end-of-life conditions. The bill would establish a Medical Cannabis Advisory Board who could add other serious medical conditions to the list. The Department of Health and Human Services would be tasked with issuing a registry identification card to qualified patients or designated caregivers.

Access to medical cannabis would be strictly restricted. Only ten medical cannabis supplier licenses would be issued, and each supplier could only operate four dispensaries at most, of which at least two would have to be in Tier 1 counties. Each supplier would have to pay a $50,000 nonrefundable fee, plus $5,000 for each dispensary. They would also be subject to annual and random inspections by the State Bureau of Investigations and the newly created Medical Cannabis Production Commission.

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee.


Masks in School

Some legislators want to give local school boards the authority to decide if students and educators should be required to wear masks in schools. S173: Free the Smiles Act, which was previously a bill dealing with occupational therapists, was converted by House members into a bill that would reverse a part of Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s COVID-19 Executive Order that requires face coverings be worn in both public and nonpublic schools. The bill passed the House 66-44 with only three Democrats voting in favor. On Wednesday, the Senate voted to not concur with the House version of their bill, and sent it to a conference committee to work out the details. On the Senate floor, Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth), Chair of the Senate Health Committee, said they wanted to talk more about “further protections and input from parents in children’s health decisions” to add to the bill.