Post-Election Press Conference
The day after Election Day last week, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) held a joint press conference at the Legislative Building in Raleigh to speak about the election results and the upcoming session. “If you look around the nation, North Carolina was indeed a bright spot in so many ways,” said Senator Berger. While Republicans nationally did not win back the US Senate, and only flipped the US House of Representatives with a slim majority, North Carolina Republicans took back the supermajority in the Senate, and defeated seven Democratic incumbents in the House.
Although Republicans did not officially take a supermajority in the House, coming up short by just one seat, Speaker Moore told reporters that, for all intents and purposes, the House has a governing supermajority because of “a handful of Democrats who work with us.” In the past, several Democrats from rural districts have voted with Republicans on a handful of bills, albeit a few of those same Democrats lost their bids for reelection.
The legislative leaders spoke about the importance of flipping the North Carolina Supreme Court with the wins of Republicans Trey Allen and Richard Dietz. Republicans now have a commanding 5-2 majority on the state’s high court, and because of the staggered terms of the justices, Democrats will not have an opportunity to recapture a majority until at least 2028.
The two leaders took questions from reporters about the upcoming legislative session and gave insight into what bills they may and may not pursue.
Abortion rights took center stage during the election, following the US Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Following the court’s decision, Senator Berger told reporters that he did not support a full ban on abortion, as some other states have already enacted. Instead, Berger said, he prefers approved restrictions on abortion after the first three months of pregnancy. During their press conference, Berger was noncommittal on any legislation, and said he has not had a conversation with the new members of his caucus on “what is possible for us to do, if anything.”
Public school curriculum was a focus of legislators during the last two sessions, and according to Senator Berger and Speaker Moore, another bill will be introduced next session. Neither leader gave specifics on what the bill might look like, but they said there is widespread support in their caucuses for it. Last year, in light of the national discussion surrounding Critical Race Theory in schools, a bill that would regulate how public schools teach about race and LGBTQ issues was vetoed by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. The bill received no Democratic support in the legislature. During the press conference, Speaker Moore said he would want to bring back a bill like the one vetoed by the Governor. Another bill, titled Parents’ Bill of Rights, which would have banned teaching about gender identity and sexuality in K-3 classrooms and would have required schools to allow parents to review textbooks and classroom materials, passed the Senate, but was not introduced in the House. Senator Berger said during the press conference that many of his members have expressed interest in introducing a similar bill next year.
Medicaid Expansion has long been a political football in North Carolina that has been punted for several legislative sessions, with disagreements between the two parties, and even the two chambers, on how to effectively implement it. Earlier this year, both Senator Berger and Speaker Moore spoke in favor of expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, marking a turn from past legislative sessions where both lawmakers opposed it. Although both chambers introduced their own version of Medicaid expansion, neither bill advanced through the entire General Assembly. During their press conference, both leaders expressed optimism on a potential bill next year but declined to take up the issue when they return for a procedural session in December. Speaker Moore said the chambers are “close on some things, other things we’re not,” and said they will have a “more comprehensive discussion” in 2023. Senator Berger agreed that he thought the two chambers would reach a deal next year.
Taxes for both corporations and individuals were cut during the 2021 legislative session, but no new tax cuts were introduced in the 2022 budget bill. The 2021 budget bill, which was signed into law by Governor Cooper, reduced the individual income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 4.99 percent, with an eventual floor of 3.99 percent in 2027, and set the corporate income tax to be reduced each year until it is phased down completely in 2030. Senator Berger said he is “comfortable at this point with the step down that we’ve got with the corporate rate, but I think the individual rate could stand a little trimming even beyond what we currently have on the books.” If no changes are enacted, North Carolina will have the fourth lowest individual tax rate in the country by 2027.
There are many other issues that will arise in the 2023 session, including redistricting the Congressional district maps, additional healthcare reforms, and infrastructure funding. The leaders did not speak to these issues but confirmed that there would not be votes until the 2023 session begins in January.
Report from House Education Leaders
The House Select Committee on an Education System for North Carolina’s Future held its penultimate meeting Tuesday - the fourteenth time they have convened this year – to hear presentations on how the Department of Instruction (DPI) and State Board of Education (SBE) conduct student assessments and end of year testing. At the conclusion of the meeting, Representative John Torbett (R-Gaston), who chairs the committee, relayed to members that they are planning to release a comprehensive report at the next meeting in December based on the committee’s findings.
North Carolina’s Testing Program
The select committee invited Dr. Tammy Howard, who serves as Senior Director for the Office of Accountability and Testing, to provide members with an overview of how the state designs assessments and conducts testing to assess how both students, schools, and districts are performing. Dr. Howard explained how the state has been testing students since the 1990’s when they stopped using “off the shelf” tests that are used throughout the country and began catering tests to the state’s own content standards, as required by the General Assembly. The testing data is used to determine which school districts, and subgroups of students within districts, are “low performing,” a term used to determine the bottom five percent of schools. In some cases, additional support provided to low performing schools equates to additional funding. Dr. Howard spoke about DPI’s efforts over the last five years to evaluate the need to assess student progress throughout the year, in addition to an end-of-year test. DPI has created the North Carolina Personalized Assessment Tool to provide formative feedback data for educators for instructional uses, and a pilot is being conducted in some school districts and charter schools to evaluate the model’s effectiveness.
At the conclusion of Tuesday’s committee meeting, Chairman Torbett prepared committee members for a report that will “raise some eyebrows.” The committee will vote on a report in December that will not contain specific recommended legislation but will instead include a variety of findings and policy recommendations. Chairman Torbett indicated that while the committee will not propose legislation, members will be welcome to introduce their own bills based on the recommendations. Chairman Torbett mentioned some of the items that will be on the report, including: