The North Carolina General Assembly's 2023 session concluded last month with an official adjournment resolution, capping off an eventful – and long – legislative session. The adjournment resolution keeps open the possibility for lawmakers to return to Raleigh once a month until the start of the short session on Wednesday, April 24, 2024. During these once a month, two-day sessions, lawmakers may take up any potential veto override votes, adoption of conference reports, and technical corrections to bills already passed, in addition to a handful of other specified matters.
Of the 1,659 bills filed this session, 160 bills and resolutions became law. Governor Roy Cooper signed into law 74 of those bills, allowed 13 to become law without his signature, and vetoed 19. All 19 of the Governor’s vetoes were subsequently overridden by the General Assembly, as a mid-session party switch in the House gave Republicans supermajorities in both chambers. Six bills are still pending action by conference committees, which consist of appointed members from both chambers and are tasked with ironing out differences between the House and Senate.
Key Legislative Achievements and Highlights
The main objective of the General Assembly’s long session is to adopt a state budget for the fiscal biennium, which funds state services and salaries. HB 259: 2023 Appropriations Act spent a record $60 billion for the biennial budget. The budget included a plan for an average 7% salary increase for teachers and state employees over two years, a 4% cost-of-living adjustment for retirees, and a notable reduction in the personal income tax rate, set to decrease to 3.99% by 2026.
Infrastructure and healthcare were also significant parts of the budget. Over $2 billion were dedicated to water and sewer infrastructure as part of directed grants to local governments and private entities. Additionally, the state budget allowed for Medicaid expansion to become law, by permitting federal funds to flow into the state.
Legislative Republicans have been staunch supporters of school choice initiatives during their time in leadership over the last decade, and this year they expanded the programs they have previously implemented. The budget expands the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers for families who send their children to private schools.
A significant policy goal for legislative Democrats and Governor Cooper also passed during the 2023 session. HB 76: Access to Healthcare Options, which expands Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Nearly 500,000 North Carolinians who fall into a healthcare coverage gap will be eligible to enroll for Medicaid as early as December 1, 2023.
Sports wagering and gaming issues also took precedence among lawmakers this year. HB 347: Sports Wagering/Horse Racing Wagering, which lays the groundwork for regulated sports wagering beginning in early 2024, passed with bipartisan support. Legislators also debated the legalization of commercial casinos during this session but did not ultimately adopt the policy.
Additionally, as legislative leadership has done every session for the last several years, a comprehensive package of regulatory reforms affecting various sectors was adopted. HB 600: Regulatory Reform Act of 2023 overhauled state regulations in areas affecting environmental and stormwater permitting, information technology procurement, coastal management, and more. Likewise, lawmakers also passed an annual bill dealing with agricultural policies. SB 582: NC Farm Act of 2023 contained a variety of agriculture provisions, affecting everything from the sales tax that farmers pay on compost, penalties for drivers who spill animal waste on the road, and a rolling back of wetland protections. Although both bills were vetoed by Governor Cooper, Republicans and a handful of House Democrats voted to override the vetoes.
Lastly, empowered by a supermajority in both chambers, Republicans pursued a handful of policies affecting social issues which brought protestors and controversy to the legislative complex. HB 808: Gender Transition/Minors prohibits minors under the age of 18 from seeking gender reassignment surgeries. HB 574: Fairness in Women’s Sports Act prohibits biological men from playing on women’s sports teams in both public schools and universities. SB 49: Parents’ Bill of Rights will, among many other policies, require faculty in public schools to inform parents of students who begin using different pronouns. Perhaps most controversial was SB 20: Care for Women, Children, and Families Act, which bans most abortions after 12 weeks. Governor Cooper vetoed all four bills, but his vetoes were ultimately overridden.
Following court orders to redraw congressional and legislative maps, lawmakers reconfigured the boundaries to solidify Republican strength in both the legislature and North Carolina’s congressional delegation ahead of the 2024 election. For the congressional maps, political analysts project that the new boundaries could secure 10 or 11 Republican seats out of the 14 total, likely unseating Democratic incumbents Wiley Nickel, Kathy Manning, and Jeff Jackson—the latter of whom has already announced for North Carolina Attorney General. For the legislative districts, analysts expect Republicans to maintain strong majorities in both chambers, though it may be too soon to predict whether Republicans will retain their current supermajorities. The House plan includes notable shifts in Democratic strongholds like Wake, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, and Buncombe counties. Similarly, the Senate's redistricting blueprint aims to maintain a Republican majority in the chamber, with notable changes in Wake and New Hanover counties. Candidate filing for all 2024 election contests officially begins next month – Monday, December 4.
Unfinished Business and Future Priorities
Despite several legislative achievements, some endeavors of lawmakers did not cross the finish line, potentially setting the stage for future sessions. SB 3: NC Compassionate Care Act, aimed at legalizing and tightly regulating medical marijuana, garnered bipartisan support in the Senate but stalled in the House.
Similarly, proposals to legalize commercial casinos and video lottery terminals extended budget negotiations but ultimately did not pass, due in part to opposition from a coalition of Democrats and House Republicans. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), who was one of the key champions of the gaming proposals, has already expressed an interest in pursuing the issue in a future session.