Each week, staff at Carolina Journal looks back at the week in N.C. politics and chooses several interesting, relevant stories you may have missed. Here’s this week’s review:
End of session: The General Assembly closed out the week with several failed attempts to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes. With six vetoes on the calendar, five failed and one was sent back to the House Rules Committee. Lawmakers failed to override vetoes on House Bill 652, a gun rights bill; House Bill 806, a bill to reopen gyms; House Bill 686, a bill to prevent shutdown orders for Independence Day celebrations; Senate Bill 105, a bill clarifying the governor’s emergency powers; and Senate Bill 599, a bill to reopen bowling alleys and skating rinks. House Bill 258, a bill to reopen amusement parks, was returned to the rules committee. While some Democratic lawmakers initially voted for the bills, they didn’t support overriding the vetoes. “The override votes were even more partisan than the vote on the original bills,” said David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College. Some Democrats may have changed their votes to support the veto because the reopening issue has become a referendum on the governor’s overall approach to dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, said McLennan. Lawmakers will return in early September and then adjourn for the year.
DOT audit: The N.C. Department of Transportation is once again in the hot seat after a state audit found the department improperly spent millions on raises. NCDOT is allowed to give higher raises than those in the state salary schedule as part of a pilot program to keep state employees from going to the private sector. The raises can’t exceed the 2%-of-payroll-expense. Employees must relinquish claims to longevity pay and career status. The audit found NCDOT gave salaries over the limit — overspending by $39 million — and didn’t require every employee who got a raise to give up longevity pay and career status. More than 5,400 employees received pay raises above 10%. The department showed other state agencies that failing to obey state laws, intentional or not, has no consequences for the agency or management, the report found. NCDOT Secretary Eric Boyette disputed the audit’s findings. The findings of the audit are based on a misinterpretation on the law and a misunderstanding of the pilot program, Boyette wrote in his response.
Katie Dorsett: State leaders are mourning the death of Katie Dorsett, a former state senator and secretary of the N.C. Department of Administration. Dorsett, 87, died on July 7. “Katie Dorsett was a dedicated public servant and inspiration as the first African American woman to hold a cabinet position in North Carolina,” the governor said in a news release. “Her work in the state senate and Department of Administration paved the way for future leaders, and she’ll be deeply missed.” Dorsett served on the Greensboro City Council from 1983 to 1986. She was the first African-American woman on the council. In 1992, then-Gov. Jim Hunt appointed Dorsett to the NCDOA. After her stint as NCDOA secretary, Dorsett served in the state Senate from 2003-10. “While she will be missed by many, her legacy and good works live on,” said Machelle Sanders, the current NCDOA secretary, in a news release.
COVID-19 testing: It just got easier to get a COVID-19 test. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services issued a standing order allowing people to get tested without a doctor’s referral. Under the order, testing sites can receive results directly from laboratories. The state health department also issued a temporary order requiring laboratories, physicians, and health care providers to report positive and negative test results. The standing order removes barriers to getting a test and streamlines the process, said state health Secretary Mandy Cohen during a July 7 news conference. The state will open 300 temporary testing sites in locations where testing has been limited, Cohen said.
UNC petition: A group of faculty, staff, and students at University of North Carolina System campuses want system leaders to reconsider plans to resume in-person classes. A new petition, signed by 832 supporters from around the 17-campus system, lays out three requests for UNC’s administration and campuses in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Move online. Be transparent. Protect the health and economic well being of the university community. “The alarm that each of us has about decisions made at our UNC institutions has led us to come together to formulate these requests,” the petition says. UNC is set to resume in-person instruction and dorm life in August. Each campus is responsible for developing social distancing standards. Thirty professors from nine of the 17 UNC campuses signed the petition.