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Aug 20, 2021

North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

It was a busy week in Raleigh that saw the addition of several new faces in state government. Following the unfortunate passing of Rep. Jerry Carter from Rockingham County, the House seated his successor this week, retired police chief from the town of Eden, A. Reece Pyrtle Jr. Legislators also advanced two of the Governor's nominations, Katherine Bosken as Commissioner of Banks and Elizabeth Biser as Secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality. The General Assembly also received good news this week, as it was announced that Rep. Keith Kidwell, a Beaufort County Republican, and his wife were both released from the hospital after experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

The COVID-19 case count continues to worsen in North Carolina. As of this morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 6,631 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 3,083 individuals hospitalized, and sadly, 14,005 confirmed deaths. There have been 10,192,044 doses of the vaccine distributed in NC, which is about 64% 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

After the House passed their version of the state budget last week, this week the Senate decided it was not quite good enough, and on Tuesday they voted unanimously not to concur. “The House tried,” said Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Brent Jackson before asking Senators to send the bill to conference to hash out the differences. Both chambers have now submitted conferees for the committee, notably adding both the four Senate Democrats and nine House Democrats who voted for the budgets in their respective chambers. View the list of conferees here.

In an interview earlier this week, Senate leader Phil Berger said the budget chairs of the conference committee will reach a compromise before getting input from Democrat Governor Roy Cooper, and before the legislature takes a final vote. Berger said the goal is to have final floor votes on the budget around September 9. If the compromise budget is enacted by mid-September, Berger speculated that lawmakers would adjourn while redistricting committees conduct public hearings before redrawing district maps.


DEQ Secretary

Governor Roy Cooper's newest nominee for Secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Elizabeth Biser, sat for confirmation hearings this week. His DEQ Secretary for his first term, Michael Regan, was appointed earlier this year by President Biden to lead the EPA. The state position garnered controversy this legislative session after Cooper’s initial pick was rejected by Republican Senators; they asserted she did not understand the Governor’s energy plan and was not prepared to answer questions about natural gas and energy redundancy following the disruptions from the Colonial Pipeline hack earlier this year.

Biser, a former Director of Legislative and Governmental Affairs for the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources, had a better experience during the confirmation process and received high marks from Senators. When asked about the role DEQ should play in permitting projects like a natural gas pipeline, Biser responded that she views her job as operating under the regulatory framework established by the state or federal government. She went on to explain that she envisions a clean energy future and a prosperous economy working together and reasoned that natural gas and nuclear are part of the mix.

Biser received a unanimous approval by the Senate Agriculture and Energy Committee and Thursday was confirmed by the Senate Nominations Committee.


Redistricting

North Carolina’s decennial redistricting process made progress this week as the joint legislative committee met Wednesday to discuss the public comment procedures. Republican committee heads introduced a proposal for a series of ten public hearings on redistricting to take place across the state. Under the proposal, mapmakers would go to Caldwell County during the week of September 6, and the following week two separate groups of lawmakers would travel to opposite ends of the state to conduct hearings. In the final week, the group would travel to the Sandhills region and to the coast in New Hanover County. The committee will meet again next week to vote on a formal timeline and locations.


Criminal Justice Reform

Three significant pieces of legislation to reform North Carolina’s criminal justice system passed the House this week after months of moving through the canals of the General Assembly. All three bills are sponsored by Sen. Danny Britt, a Republican attorney from Robeson County. The first, S300: Criminal Justice Reform, would standardize and increase the oversight over law enforcement in the state. It would direct the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to create a public database of Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) certification suspensions and revocations and would provide a process to have all LEO fingerprints entered in a state database. A database would also be created to track “critical incident information” to track officer-related deaths and injuries. The bill would also require LEOs to receive training on mental health and wellness strategies and require psychological screening for LEO employment.

Britt’s second bill, S301: Expand Expunction Eligibility, builds on legislation from previous sessions to reform the State’s expunction statutes, like Raise the Age and the First Step Act. S301 would expand the criminal offenses eligible for expunction and allow the expunction of an eligible offense despite an impaired driving conviction if the impaired driving conviction occurred more than five years prior to the petition. It also would allow the expunction of up to three nonviolent felonies, allow an attorney to file a petition for expunction on behalf of a person who committed certain crimes under the age of 18, and allow access by a district attorney to expunction records for determining conditional discharge eligibility.

Lastly, S207: Various Raise the Age Changes would follow recommendations by the NC Juvenile Jurisdiction Advisory Committee within DPS. As it passed the House, the bill would raise juvenile jurisdiction from six years old to ten years old, except for offenses ranging from A-G felonies. The addition of the exception for certain felonies came despite the irritation of three Democratic House members who are also former judges who wanted a clean floor of ten years old for any sentencing. Nonetheless, all three bills passed and are either on their way to the Governor or awaiting Senate concurrence.


Ending Child Marriage

Currently, North Carolina is one of two states that permit children as young as 14 to get married, but legislation that has moved through the General Assembly seeks to correct that. S35: Max 4-Yr Age Diff to Marry Under 18 Yrs passed a concurrence vote in the Senate this week after receiving unanimous support in the House last week. The bill would establish a minimum age of 16 at which a minor could get married, with children age 16 or 17 needing permission from parents or a judge to tie the knot. The bill has noteworthy bipartisan support and has received national attention. Sen. Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell), one of the bill’s sponsors, praised the bill’s strong support in an interview this week with CNN, and said the measure “will protect our most vulnerable youth from the detrimental harms of forced child marriage, which among other things include abuse and exploitation.” It is now heading to Governor Cooper’s desk where he is expected to sign it into law.


Sports Wagering

Fans wanting to place bets on a Panthers, Hurricanes, Hornets or Carolina, State or Duke game, or even a NASCAR race, will be able to if S688: Sports Wagering becomes law. Residents of North Carolina would be permitted to bet online or in person on any professional, college, electronic or amateur sporting event. While the NC Lottery Commission would not facilitate the betting, the bill gives authority to the Commission to allow, regulate and tax sports wagering. The Commission would also be required to authorize up to 12 sports wagering licenses to companies with experience in the sports wagering industry. Both bill sponsors, Sen. Jim Perry (R-Lenoir) and Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Forsyth) said it would drive revenue and funding towards North Carolina public schools. The bill passed the Senate in a 26 to 21 vote, with both caucuses split on the issue. It now goes to the House.


Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Monday, August 23

4:00PM House Session

4:00PM Senate Session

Tuesday, August 24

10:00AM Senate: Agriculture, Energy and Environment

10:00AM House: Health