New and familiar faces attended the January North Carolina Council of State meeting in Raleigh. 

Among the new faces was Jessica Holmes, who was appointed by Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper as the new State Auditor last month after the resignation of former state auditor Beth Wood.

Holmes, a Democrat, said she has received a warm welcome from so many since she took over the position and plans on extending an invitation to meet with each Council of State member during her first 100 days. She said she has met with each member of her executive team and plans to visit each of the State Auditor’s regional offices in her first 100 days as well. 

“There are a couple of words that I will focus on in terms of my leadership in this office: integrity, transparency, and in terms of the individuals at this table, collaboration,” Holmes said. “I do not see myself as having picked up a baton. Today is a new leadership in the North Carolina State Auditor’s office, and I look forward to working with each of you.”

She said she is proud of the executive leadership team that is in place, with a combined 50-plus years of experience, and again thanked everyone for welcoming her.

“I look forward to working with each of you, and I appreciate the very warm welcome that I’ve received from both sides of the aisle,” Holmes said. “My perspective is that money is not red or blue. It is green.”

About 172,000 new businesses were created in the state in 2023, surpassing 2022’s numbers and making it the second-highest year on record, according to Democrat Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. The highest recorded year was 2021, which saw over 178,000. It also marks a 70% increase in new businesses since 2020, when 100,000 new businesses were created.

The state also saw charitable giving to charities licensed with the state increase for 2022/2023 with a total of $58.1 million, a $10.4 million increase over the prior year. Marshall said the 75.8% going to charities did drop slightly from the previous year’s all-time high of 81.7% but attributed that to inflation. Still, over $5 million more went to charities than the prior year.

Marshall encouraged North Carolinians to be generous but cautious when donating to charities. A Smart Giving checklist can be found on her office’s website. 

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt said there is much to celebrate when it comes to academic recovery after the pandemic. She said that the 2022-23 school year saw academic recovery for nearly all grades in all subjects across all different subgroups of children, making it the second consecutive year of academic growth for those students.

“Academic growth over the last two years is greater than the growth that had occurred a decade before the pandemic, where we saw a lack of growth and sometimes a decline,” Truitt, a Republican, said. “So our teachers are working harder than ever to make sure that students do not suffer irreparable damage from the school closures during the pandemic. I can’t let it not be said that we have invested about $100 million over the last few years to right the ship to make sure that all students are learning to read before 3rd grade, and it just so happens that with the end of the third grade, end of grade data from last year, that was the bright spot in our academic recovery.”

She also said that children in kindergarten through third grade are outpacing the rest of the nation in early foundational skills, and they are seeing the investments pay off in 3rd-grade end-of-grade test scores. They will continue to monitor and work with SAS about being transparent with students’ academic data, look at where work still needs to be done, and translate that into a legislative agenda in the upcoming short session.

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey said he has been getting a lot of phone calls and emails since the public heard about the North Carolina Rate Bureau’s request for a 42.2% increase in homeowners’ insurance beginning Aug. 1. He said the request ranges from a few percent in some mountain counties to almost 100% in southeastern coastal counties.

“I just have to remind folks that North Carolina is a Rate Bureau state,” Causey, a Republican, said. “The North Carolina Rate Bureau was created in 1977 by the General Assembly. They represent all the insurance companies that write business in the state of North Carolina. So, when they see a need or think they have a need to raise our insurance premiums on homeowners, they’re required to submit that request to the Department of Insurance for our review.”

He said he has scheduled a public hearing for Jan. 22 in the Albemarle Building in the Jim Long Hearing Room from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm, in person or virtually, and people can also send their comments via email or regular mail.

Republican Department of Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson recognized Harriet Hopkins, Administrator for the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Bureau, who is retiring on Feb. 1. The Bureau is responsible for enforcing the 1992 Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (RITA), which protects employees who in good faith engage in one of the protected activities under the law. He said, for example, that if someone files a wage and hour complaint against their employer, that employee cannot be retaliated against.

In 2020, Hopkins implemented a mediation program to resolve disputes between employees and employers.

“Because of her hard work, 60% of those cases referred to mediation were resolved with a total settlement to employees of over $1.4 million,” Dobson said. “When my time in Labor is up, this is one of the things I will be most proud of, and it’s all because of the hard work of Harriet Hopkins, her staff, and the mediators who volunteer to be part of this program.”

Republican State Treasurer Dale Folwell asked that the meeting end in honor of Greensboro Police Sergeant Phillip Dale Nix, who was shot and killed on Dec. 30 after witnessing a crime at a gas station while approaching the suspects. Democrat Attorney General Josh Stein, Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, and Cooper also spoke about Nix and agreed with the request.