Legislative News by Nelda Holder –
More precisely, it’s August of 2021.
And for the third year straight, the North Carolina General Assembly is struggling to come up with a budget for the state—one of the legislature’s most important jobs, and one at which they failed in 2019 and 2020.
For three years, the governor of the state has proposed a separate, and timely, budget of his own. His 2021 proposal, totaling $27.4 billion, was released in March. But for the past two years, the NC House and Senate have struggled with their respective budget proposals, and ultimately have been unable to attain a final compromise between themselves and Gov. Roy Cooper that would avoid the governor’s veto.
They are currently on Round Three of this game, with the House expected to present their amended version of the Senate’s $25.7 billion proposal within the week—never mind the fact that we are now more than a month into the new fiscal year.
This much we already know. Cooper is once again determined to add Medicaid expansion to help address healthcare expenses for the state’s most vulnerable. And the Senate budget is once again determined to provide $13 billion in tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. It is the classic struggle.
But let us look hard again at the fact that, for the past two years, this state has operated on a continuing budget from the year 2018—albeit with a few agreed changes negotiated and legislated separately. This is possible under our state law. Is it admirable? Does it meet this growing state’s needs? Is it responsible?
Keep asking those questions as the House finalizes its compromise with the Senate in the coming week or so, and the legislative and gubernatorial budgets can be compared—monetarily, but also in terms of their achievements on behalf of the entire state.
(For an intelligent, “progressive” take on the shortfalls of the Senate’s budget now being massaged by the House, we recommend “Nine Ways the Senate Budget Falls Well Short of What North Carolina Needs,” a commentary by Suzy Kharchaturyan in NC Policy Watch blog, The Progressive Pulse. Think basic education, health care access, small business support, housing affordability, environment, infrastructure.)
Gun Permit Controversy Now in Senate
As the Legislature’s version of a state budget gets massaged, other bills seeing action include the controversial HB 398, the Pistol Purchase Permit Repeal. Currently, county sheriffs are required to issue permits for the purchase of handguns—a requirement dating back over 100 years.
The main public argument for ditching this investigation into purchasers is that federal background checks replace it now … a requirement that does not exist for private or gun show sales.
The bill, moved forward on August 10 by the Senate Judiciary Committee (on a voice vote), would repeal the requirement for a permit, as applied to future pistol sales, giveaways, transfers, or other manners of receipt after the law becomes effective. The bill has already passed the House.
Previously opposed by the NC Sheriff’s Association, removal of the requirement received NCSA support this past spring in a major turnaround of position. Gun safety proponents including North Carolinians Against Gun Violence have opposed the change, noting in particular that background checks through the federal licensing system apply only to federally licensed firearm dealers.
Environmental Missteps Will Leave Footprints
The House and Senate have both approved a budget provision containing—in the midst of this summer’s worldwide environmental angst—two particularly alarming water protection provisions.
One is the elimination of permitting for filling isolated wetlands (concerning as much as, or over, a total of a million wetland acres), a move that strikes at the heart of water wisdom in a changing climate. (For informative details on this environmental threat, see the August 6 CoastalReview.org article by Kirk Ross.)
The other is a prohibition that will severely limit local governments from enacting protective ordinances to that help manage and/or mitigate flooding and water pollution, voiding existing regulations, and prohibiting such local management in the future.
If these provisions remain, expect increased flood risk and its resultant damage, and score one for the NC Legislature in the anti-environmental safety and resilience log.
Taking It to the Streets
North Carolina’s own indefatigable Rev. William J. Barber II—never too far from the national news these days—was among the 200+ voting rights protestors arrested August 2 outside the US Capitol. He was joined by another famous pastor, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson. Other protestors from this state made the journey—and the arrest sacrifice—to urge Congress to protect voting rights, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and end the Senate’s archaic filibuster.
Barber is well known on the streets of Raleigh, where his Moral Monday legislative protests during the Poor People’s Campaign brought him and his causes state and national fame. He now works nationally as president of Repairers of the Breach.
Funeral March to NCGA
Monitoring the NC budget and its laborious process this year, and noting that at the beginning of the 2021 budget process in this state a cool $7.3 billion of “the people’s money” was sitting around in state surplus funds, the coalition #PeoplesBudgetNC is making demands that money be directed to healthcare, housing, and worker protections.
A long list of organizations that have signed on as supporters of this effort include the NC Council of Churches, Poor People’s Campaign Triad, Save Our Sons, Interfaith Initiative for Social Justice, Just Economics, Carolina Jews for Justice, Black Voters Matter, Racial Justice Coalition, and the YWCA of Asheville and WNC.
The coalition is sponsoring a Funeral March to the NCGA on Thursday, August 12, at 11:45 a.m., demanding that the proposed NC budget invest in healthcare, housing, and worker’s rights. The march will begin in front of the Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh and end on the seal in front of the NC General Assembly, with the overarching message: “We will not accept a budget that kills.” Details are available on their Facebook announcement.
Get Ready for Redistricting
The United States Census data is due to be released August 12, 2021.
This is an aberration in timeliness that has caused many NC cities (where city government representation is decided on the basis of districts) to move their next elections, normally held in the fall, into next March instead to give adequate time for the redistricting process to be accomplished.
What we know so far—based on Census Bureau estimates—is that the new numbers are going to add around 1.1 million residents to the 2010 total, which will push the state up by one additional member of Congress—giving North Carolina 14 seats in the US House of Representatives. (The increase will also add a 16th member to the state’s count of Electoral College members in the next two presidential elections.)
But first must come that redistricting process which will affect local representation for towns or counties that elect representatives on a district basis. (Asheville is currently spared that headache.)
So far, a number of cities affected by the delay have received legislative approval to hold their municipal elections in March of 2022. The city council in the state’s capital city of Raleigh—the state’s second largest city—took a different stance in a questionable closed-door session and decided to move their election to the following November—giving themselves a handy full year’s extension of their terms. The result has been a mayoral recall movement for Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin.
Most municipalities (those having citywide elections) will not be affected by the changes and will hold fall elections as scheduled. Asheville’s City Council, which is not elected by district and which was just put in place in 2020, serves four-year terms and is not affected by the census kerfuffle.
Nelda Holder is the author of The Thirteenth Juror – Ferguson: A Personal Look at the Grand Jury Transcripts.