A new chapter lies ahead as NC long session begins in January
When the new North Carolina General Assembly session commences in January 2023, a mix of old and new faces will be present, along with revisiting some old issues and brand-new ones.
The make-up of the NCGA for this long session will also be different. The Senate has regained a supermajority and the House is one vote shy of a supermajority. Still, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland calls it a “governing supermajority.”
“We have a handful of Democrats who work with us,” Moore said at a Nov. 9 press conference, a day after the General Election. “We have some new members coming in, and I feel completely confident that should we need to override vetoes, we’ll be able to do our part in the House as well.”
“I am extremely pleased that we have moved back into a situation where we’ve got 30 members,” Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said at the same press conference of the supermajority that the Senate gained.
Jordan Roberts, Director of Government Affairs for the John Locke Foundation said that in the policy issues discussed this session, there will be similarities to the previous biennium. Education initiatives, election reform, deregulatory efforts, and second amendment issues will be debated, but perhaps with some new strategies.
“What will be different is the political maneuvering that Republican leaders need to do to get bills across the finish line,” Roberts said. “For the past several sessions, Governor Cooper’s veto was a central strategic issue when considering legislation. With functional supermajorities in both chambers, the calculus changes for which bills may be sent to the governor.”
Education has gained much attention during the last two years, with children falling behind in school due to disruptions by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is also leading to a renewed focus on school choice.
On the Nov. 25 episode of PBS North Carolina’s Front Row with Marc Rotterman, Moore talked about investing in education and dealing with learning loss due to the school shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said many parents were surprised to see what their children were being taught online and what they weren’t during the public school shutdowns.
Moore also stressed parental rights when it comes to school choice. Private and charter schools, which mostly stayed open during the pandemic, didn’t suffer the predicted ill effects in the health of their students or teachers. The learning outcomes during this time, remained more steady when compared to those in public schools. Children who were taught online suffered learning loss and fell behind. He said summer school offerings to help students catch up haven’t worked either, so investments still need to be made there, but parents should have more of a say in where they want to send their children to school.
“If a parent has a child in the school system that isn’t getting the job done, they need to have that opportunity,” Moore said on Front Row. “They need to have that choice. Because education, at the end of the day, is making sure that student receives the education they need to be able to grow, thrive, and survive.”
Berger has said parents have made it clear that they are unhappy with some things going on in public schools. He feels confident there will be support for a parental bill of rights as many members who supported the bill passed in the Senate will be returning for the long session.
Regarding abortion, Berger has previously mentioned that his stance on abortion has not changed, and the Senate has not had a conversation with its members, particularly new members, so no decision has been made. He did say on the Nov. 25 edition of Front Row that there is no question that bills will be introduced to both expand and curtail the current 20-week ban the state has, which was reinstated in August.
Moore has publicly stated that he supports legislation banning abortions once a heartbeat is detected but does support exceptions for rape, incest, and protecting the mother’s life.
Another major issue to be carried over into the new session and discussed is Medicaid expansion.
Both leaders agreed at the Nov. 9 press conference that they want to take up issues discussed before, including Medicaid expansion, passed by the Senate earlier this year and was originally on the agenda in the House for December. Both felt it was important to have conversations with their new incoming members to see their priorities.
“The Senate passed the (Medicaid) bill 44 to 2,” Berger said. “I continue to support it. I don’t disagree that waiting for next year is the right thing to do and I know that it’s something that will be on the list of things that we’ll be discussing next year. I continue to support expansion in the context of some of the other market reforms that were in the Senate bill.”
The debate about the Certificate-of -Need or CON law also has held up legislative negotiations over Medicaid expansion in North Carolina. The certificate of need acts as a government permission slip. Healthcare providers need a CON for most new medical facilities, expansion of existing services, and even purchases of major medical equipment like magnetic resonance imaging machines.
The state Senate has approved an expansion bill. Senators tied Medicaid expansion to a relaxation of CON restrictions. The state House has been unwilling to tie CON reform to its own version of Medicaid expansion.
The legalization of marijuana may again come up for discussion after the passage of two bills in June that kept hemp legal in the state and allowed THC drugs that are FDA approved.
The passage of S.B. 455, Conform Hemp with Federal Law, also removed it from State Controlled Substances Act.
Senate Bill 448 legalized FDA-approved THC medications. S.B. 711, also known as the Compassionate Care Act, was passed by the Senate in June and would have legalized medical marijuana but was dead on arrival in the House with the passage of S.B. 448.
Voter ID could also be on the legislative agenda, with Moore and Berger pointing out that N.C. voters passed it as a Constitutional Amendment in 2018. The matter will most likely be handled through the legislature and the courts.
Moore also spoke on Front Row about giving more resources to law enforcement in how they deal with crime and keeping North Carolina “going in the right direction on sound financial footing.”
The legalization of sports betting, which was lost by one vote in the House, possible tax cuts, and the possible redrawing of state election maps are all issues that may be discussed in the next session.