By Nelda Holder –
The North Carolina General Assembly is under full steam at present, with some 253 House bills and 178 Senate bills on the dockets as of March 2, and Governor Roy Cooper’s proposed budget further weighing down the scales.
Across the state, all eyes have been on actions aimed at repealing “HB2,” the special-session bill passed in 2016 that precipitated a furor of clashing political agendas as it brought considerable economic harm and social criticism from inside and outside the state’s borders. At this point, despite several bills seeking repeal, there appears to be no movement from the status quo in the legislative halls.
Meanwhile, the governor’s recommended 2017-2019 biennium budget comes with a title of “Common Ground Solutions for North Carolina” and totals of $57,809,086,491 for 2017-18, $57,181,521,465 for 2018-19. Asking for bipartisan efforts “to find common ground solutions,” some of the goals the governor sets out include raising teacher salaries by a 5% average in both years, to put the state “on a path to lead all southeastern states in three years and reach the national average in five years.” Additional educational goals are set for early childhood and kindergarten services, public school supplies, community college workforce training, and improved graduation rates and capacity for the University of North Carolina.
Among Cooper’s other goals:
Health budget to expand Medicaid, covering an additional 624,000 individuals in a “cost-neutral manner,” and invest in mental health to combat the opioid crisis. Additional increases called for to provide in-home aid, transportation, and meals to older, low-income residents.
Further targets would invest in “safer communities,” ($6 million in Justice Reinvestment activities; $9 million for behavioral treatment supporting successful transition of formerly incarcerated individuals); “preserving and growing natural and cultural resources” ($2 million in sediment and erosion control, dam safety, mining and water resources, and $4 million to support historic sites and other arts projects).
State employees to receive largest increase in almost a decade with a 2% compensation raise and step increases or pay adjustments for assistant and deputy clerks, magistrates, highway patrol troopers, correctional officers, safety and health inspectors, and other enforcement agents. State Health Plan premiums and Retirement System fully funded; retirees receive a 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment.
To improve North Carolina’s economy, offers local $85 million government infrastructure and assistance (including broadband initiatives, workforce/low-income housing, main street solutions, and community innovation funds). Business recruitment and development to receive $48 million, including film and entertainment grant program of $15 million.
Other goals include “modernizing North Carolina” through investments in information technology, infrastructure and transportation; and “rebuilding North Carolina” following Hurricane Matthew, wildfires, and tropical storms Julia and Hermine.
It will, of course, remain to be seen how recognizable Democrat Cooper’s budget will be once the Republican-powered legislature gets through with it, probably mid-summer. But this marks the starting point.
Local legislative agendas
Most of Buncombe County is represented in the NC Senate by Sen. Terry Van Duyn (D) of District 49, currently in her second full term and serving as the Senate’s Democratic whip. A sliver of the southwestern county is paired with Henderson and Transylvania County in District 48, now represented by freshman Sen. Chuck Edwards (R).
The county’s three representatives are all Democrats: John Ager of District 115, in his second term; Susan Fisher, District 115, in her seventh-plus term); and Brian Turner, District 116, also in his second term.
In the Senate, Van Duyn is currently the primary sponsor of six bills, including two that would roll back HB2:
- S21 Driver’s License Restoration/DWI Treatment Court
- S84 Equality for All/Repeal HB2
- S85 Adopt Equal Rights Amendment
- S93 Common Sense Compromise to Repeal HB2
- S135 Domestic Violence Fatality Review in Buncombe
- S174 Economic Security Act of 2017
Edwards is also the primary sponsor of six bills, but he and Van Duyn share sponsorship of only one, S135, Domestic Violence Fatality Review in Buncombe County. That bill would add Buncombe County to the list of three other counties (Alamance, Pitt, and Mecklenburg) where establishing a domestic-violence review team is authorized. Edwards other primary sponsorships include:
- S22 Study Unfunded Liability/Retiree Health Fund
- S44 Board of Review/Independent Staff/Data Tracking
- S67 48th Senatorial District Local Act-1 (placeholder bill)
- S90 Enhance Oversite of Service Contracts
- S119 Pisgah Conservancy Special License Plate
Van Duyn is a co-sponsor of S119. Some of her other co-sponsorships include S147, which would reinstate the school sales tax holiday, and S149 to modify school performance grades.
Edwards’s co-sponsorships include S60, requiring that a record be kept for two years of the name, address, and reason for recusal of a person asking to be excused from jury duty; and S145, creating additional “incentives” for local governments to comply with state laws involving immigration, prohibiting UNC constituent institutions from becoming sanctuary universities, and directing the Department of Public Safety to enter into a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Homeland Security.
In the House, Fisher leads the Buncombe pack with five primary sponsorships and 53 co-sponsorships (Ager is 4/37; Turner is 2/25). All three representatives are primary sponsors of H218, which would prohibit right-of-way hunting along Buncombe County’s roads, and H217, the domestic violence fatality review bill. Fisher and Ager are primary sponsors of H107 (NC Adopt Equal Rights Amendment); and Fisher is primary sponsor of H238 (Economic Security Act of 2017), and Fisher’s HB82 (Equality for All/Repeal HB2), for which Turner and Ager are co-sponsors.
Fisher’s co-sponsorships include H37, which would protect municipal law enforcement officers who report improper or unlawful government activity, and H179 to establish dog breeding standards and law enforcement tools) (Turner is a co-sponsor of both). Ager is a primary sponsor calling for establishing the bobcat as the state cat (H74), and his co-sponsorships include H185 to legalize medical marijuana; and H54, “Protect the Hardworking Taxpayers Act,” also co-sponsored by Turner, which would remove the limitation on the income tax deduction for mortgage expense and property tax.
Current status in the courts involving the Legislature include the following:
- Federal district court-ordered redistricting, based on unconstitutional racial gerrymandering, has been put on hold until a request for appeal is heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, possibly this spring or summer
- Lawsuits filed by Common Cause NC and by the NC League of Women Voters, questioning redistricting on the basis of partisan gerrymandering, have received a trial date of June 26 in Greensboro
On March 7, a panel of three NC trial judges was scheduled to hear the dispute between Gov. Roy Cooper and House and Senate leaders regarding whether legislatively imposed restrictions on the office of governor are to be upheld.
Nelda Holder is the author of The Thirteenth Juror – Ferguson: A Personal Look at the Grand Jury Transcripts. Read Holder’s blog, www.politicallypurplenc.com