Legislative News by Nelda Holder –
As September rolls into its second week, we are watching—ostensibly—the waning days of the 2023 version of the North Carolina General Assembly (have I alluded to “waning days” before in 2023?).
The session is in its ninth month, still minus the state budget that was due the first of July but has yet to be brought forward for scrutiny and a vote.
And as we have observed before, missing the official due date has kept hundreds of thousands of North Carolina residents from their ostensible eligibility for healthcare through Medicaid expansion. One such person, as reported by WRAL News in Raleigh, came to the State House recently to speak with the people responsible for this lack of action. His motivation? He faces a life-threatening health condition and cannot receive the medical care he needs because his monthly disability check is “$7 over the current limit to qualify for Medicaid coverage.”
Anthony Brooks would not have lost his health coverage, the story explains, if the General Assembly had made Medicaid expansion effective in March, when it received its long-sought legislative passage. But because Republican legislative leaders unnecessarily tied the start date for additional state citizens to receive Medicaid assistance to the passage of the state budget, qualified individuals still cannot get much-needed health treatment—even in a matter of life-or-death—because the legislature has not yet acted on the state budget.
How many of the members holding this expansion hostage have felt some twinge of accountability or guilt since July 1? We certainly do not have that answer, but we can tell you that, according to the WRAL report, the legislative leadership has refused to set an appointment to discuss the matter with Brooks, who needs immediate surgery for acute heart failure. And the budget drag has delayed an effective overall start date for coverage from October 1 to December 1.
We’d certainly score that an “F” for compassion, along with an “F” for budgeting efficiency. And place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Speaker of the House Tim Moore (R) and Senate President Pro Temp Phil Berger for the predicament Brooks has been placed in. Their lack of leadership, lack of compassion, and lack of acumen in the State House has created monumental shortcomings in the results of this session’s deliberations.
Waiting for Godot … or at Least Someone Who Cares
Medicaid expansion has been a legislative topic for years. Here are some simple facts, as provided by NC Health News:
- Medicaid expansion would loosen some of the eligibility requirements and expand eligibility for the health coverage to an estimated 600,000 low-income residents—many of whom are childless adults without disabilities, whose jobs do not provide health insurance.
- Expansion would provide some $1.6 billion to the state from the federal government in the form of a “signing bonus.” Lawmakers have indicated a hope to spend much of that incentive money on improving access to mental health services.
- Gov. Roy Cooper signed the expansion law in March of this year, but the legislature tied implementation to passage of a state budget by the General Assembly.
- The Department of Health and Human Services attempted to persuade legislative leaders to uncouple the expansion from passage of the budget in time to implement expansion on the first of October. This did not happen.
- Many of the tens of thousands who have now lost the Medicaid coverage provided during the first three years of the Covid-19 pandemic should be eligible again once the Medicaid expansion program is implemented.
The Governor and the Ungovernable
In August, the legislature overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of two pieces of legislature that seemed to have drifted into the Statehouse on winds from farther south. The bills were HB 808, barring gender-affirming care for transgender children; and HB 574, prohibiting a child assigned “male” at birth from playing “girls’ sports” in school.
The issues are well delineated in an interesting (free) online newsletter called The Courts Newsletter, under the umbrella of a thoughtful new online subscription publication, The Assembly NC.
As the legislators return to their offices this week, it’s a good time to voice your opinion on these two bills and other business to be finalized, including Medicaid expansion, the (several-months-late) budget, adding more casinos to the landscape, and far too many other unsettled and sometimes unsettling topics.
Coming soon to a location near you: Participatory Democracy
Yes, the best way to participate in democracy is the VOTE, and we cover that in the section below, but this participation opportunity is being brought to locations around the state by the longtime citizen advocacy group, Common Cause. The nonpartisan group focused on good government is hosting a pair of “Accountability Town Halls” focused on seeking explanations from politicians regarding their policies and their responses to community members’ priorities. There will be a focus on education regarding the General Assembly, with a chance to share opinions on important state issues and let lawmakers know what citizens want for the future.
Accountability Town Halls
Tuesday, September 19, 2023 – Unitarian Universalist Church of Catawba Valley, Hickory, 6:30-8 p.m.
Wednesday, October 11, 2023 – Manheimer Room, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, UNCA, Asheville, 6:30-8 p.m.
And Even More Participatory Democracy
If you live in the town of Weaverville, the town of Woodfin, or the Woodfin Water District, it’s time to vote. Races included are mayor and town council in Woodfin; water district trustee; and Weaverville Town Council.
- Deadline to register: October 13
- Deadline to request an absentee ballot: October 31
Early voting at Election Services:
- October 19 – November 3, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- November 4, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Early voting at Weaverville Community Center: Saturday, November 4, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Election Day: November 7.
Thanks to the current NC General Assembly, YOU WILL NEED A VOTER ID to vote. A current driver’s license will do, or get a free voter ID in advance of registration and voting at Election Services between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. any weekday.
If you have any registration or voting questions, call the Buncombe County Elections Services at (828) 250-4200.
And a Celebration of Participatory Democracy
The Evan Mahaney Champion of Civil Liberties Award, which appears on our charts every autumn as a celebration of outstanding citizenship in the Asheville community, is set for next month. Receiving this year’s award for their progressive work in the civic arena will be the Racial Justice Coalition staff and executive director Rob Thomas.
The Coalition, as outlined in its press release for the October 21 ceremony, is drawn from a broad alliance of individuals and organizations dedicated to addressing systemic racism and state-sanctioned violence against Black people and those most impacted by poverty, criminalization, and mass incarceration. RJC seeks to achieve and sustain deep equity by building power for those historically underrepresented, dismantling policies and institutions that uphold racism, and reimagining a community where justice exists for all people.
Thomas is a racial justice advocate, well known as a keynote speaker at numerous community events. He is the recipient of CoThinkk’s 2020 community leader award; the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville & Buncombe County’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 2021 Service Award; the Peacemaker of 2020 in Western North Carolina award; and the Fayetteville P.A.C.T.’s Certificate of Appreciation.
His achievements as a public speaker have related directly to empowerment, strategizing, and redirecting power back to communities of color. His scope of work includes support for the Outreach Engagement program, Community Canvassers, and liaison for strategic reparations and community engagement work.
The reception for the Evan Mahaney Champion of Civil Liberties Award takes place Saturday, October 21, from 3-5 p.m. at the Dr. Wesley Grant, Sr. Southside Community Center, 285 Livingston Street (corner of Livingston and Depot Streets) in Asheville. It is open to the public, with no reservation required. Refreshments will be served. For further information, contact Sam Katz at [email protected].
Nelda Holder is the author of The Thirteenth Juror – Ferguson: A Personal Look at the Grand Jury Transcripts.