The 2021 long legislative session was the longest in North Carolina history, lasting from January 2021 into March of this year. During the session, lawmakers faced many complex issues, such as dealing with the ongoing pandemic, passing a biennial budget, and redrawing voting district lines for the next decade. While those issues dominated the headlines, numerous pieces of pro-freedom legislation championed by the John Locke Foundation were signed into law. As lawmakers prepare for the short session starting on May 18, they should keep the focus on legislation that enhances individual liberty for all North Carolinians.
Several legislative initiatives from the long session dealt with the fallout of pandemic-related issues. For example, lawmakers pared back the governor’s ability to unilaterally make sweeping statewide emergency decisions without the approval from the Council of State. Lawmakers also limited the attorney general’s power to enter lawsuits that deal with legislative matters without legislative approval.
Beyond pandemic-related legislative problems, lawmakers also passed several reforms dealing with education, health care, and other regulatory issues. On the education front, the Opportunity Scholarship Program eligibility and award allotment were both increased. In health care, lawmakers passed a new type of insurance product aimed at small businesses and some reform to the state’s overly restrictive certificate-of-need law. Certain occupational license requirements were reformed to make it easier for those professions to practice in our state. Lawmakers passed the state’s first regulatory sandbox that allows new startups regulatory flexibility to test their products here in North Carolina. Through an omnibus criminal justice reform bill, lawmakers set up a recodification working group and limited the number of local ordinances that carry misdemeanor charges for violations.
The list above is only a portion of the meaningful reform passed by the General Assembly in the long session. Now, lawmakers are expected to return to Raleigh in May for what many are hoping is a truly “short” short session.
What follows are issues the John Locke Foundation believes lawmakers should address to continue their push to expand freedom to all North Carolinians in 2022.
Several proposals for constitutional amendments deserve to be in front of voters in the 2022 general election:
- Right to Work – North Carolina’s Right to Work law has protected workers from forced unionization for 75 years. Lawmakers should enshrine this protection in the state’s constitution.
- TABOR – Lawmakers focused on tax reform and sustainable budgeting over the past decade. A Taxpayer Bill of Rights is the logical next step to protect taxpayers from overzealous state spending and tax hikes for generations to come.
- Repeal the literacy test – My colleague Andy Jackson calls the state constitution’s literacy test a “barnacle on North Carolina’s ship of state,” and it is past time that our state removes it from our founding document.
- Citizens-only voting amendment – Recently, some states have shown an interest in allowing non-citizens to vote in U.S. elections. North Carolina should amend the language in our constitution to make it unambiguously clear that only U.S. citizens are allowed to vote in our elections.
Since the pandemic’s beginning, education issues have been top of mind for many parents and lawmakers. School closures, masking, and curriculum issues led to a new focus on a more parent-involved public education system. Here are two priorities in public education that lawmakers should consider:
- Parents’ Bill of Rights – Reaffirming parents’ rights to direct their children’s education, upbringing, and care should be a top priority for lawmakers. A parents’ bill of rights is needed to define what parents and guardians can expect of their child’s school community.
- Academic Transparency – The state grants extraordinary autonomy to schools and teachers regarding curriculum matters. One way to ensure that educators remain focused on student achievement is to require them to post lesson plans and instructional materials on widely accessible websites. Ideally, the parents’ bill of rights will enumerate the right to a transparent curriculum, but further statutory language is needed to lay out the process by which this happens.
Health care reform is front and center of the debate entering the short session. As part of the budget, lawmakers agreed to set up a committee to examine access to health care and Medicaid expansion. Momentum seems to be building towards an omnibus bill of health care reforms. While there appears to be interest among some legislators to include Medicaid expansion in a health care package, we continue to believe this is bad policy that fails to address root problems that make health care hard to access and unaffordable for some. Here are some policies that should be included in that package:
- Full Practice Authority – Lawmakers should recognize supply shortages of health professionals in our state and grant full practice authority to the state’s highly qualified advanced practice nurses. This reform will cost the state nothing and offer significant benefits for providers and patients.
- Certificate of Need (CON) reform – While there was some reform legislation in the long session regarding monetary thresholds of projects requiring a CON, lawmakers should continue to reform this antiquated law by repealing it in its entirety or removing some facilities or services that are subject to the process.
- Telehealth licensure reciprocity – Telehealth grew steadily throughout the pandemic. It’s not for everyone or every medical situation. Still, this efficient technology can supplement the regular delivery of health care if it is appropriately expanded to allow for care across state lines and not regulated out of existence.
Occupational licensing reform is crucial in a post-pandemic recovery. As a state, we need to make it easy for licensed professionals to practice their trade without undue burdens from occupational licensing boards. Two pieces of occupational licensing legislation deserve consideration in the short session:
- Licensed counselors interstate compact – North Carolina has entered several compacts which make it easier for licensed professionals to transport licenses across state lines and practice in new states without duplicative training requirements. North Carolina should enter this compact to make it easier for licensed counselors to practice in our state.
- Reducing licensing requirements for cosmetology teachers – Current law regarding licensure requirements for cosmetology education lacks uniformity. Standardizing the requirements for this profession coincides perfectly with the goal of making it easier for professionals to obtain licensure and practice freely.
Lawmakers made incredible progress in several key issue areas in 2021. The work of making North Carolina the freest state in the Union needs to continue with the priorities listed above.