On Wednesday, the North Carolina General Assembly will hold opening ceremonies to kick off the 2023 legislative session. In odd-numbered years, legislators hold a “long session” starting in January. They then adjourn for a “short session” in even-numbered years.
This year, the state legislature plans to start conducting business two weeks after holding opening ceremonies. However, committees are likely to begin meeting in February. Committee assignments are expected to be announced later this week.
In the November elections, Republicans gained two additional seats in the state House and two more in the state Senate. Picking up two seats was enough to secure a supermajority in the Senate, but left Republicans one seat short in the state House.
“North Carolina voters returned a Republican supermajority to the state Senate, and we plan on honoring that endorsement of Republican governance,” said Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, about the agenda for the long session. “Bills that didn’t cross the finish line, whether stalled in the legislative process or vetoed by the governor, could certainly come up again. I know issues including voter ID, parental rights in schools, and tax cuts are on the minds of our members. I look forward to the work that lies ahead of us.”
In 2021 and 2022, Republicans did not have supermajorities in either chamber and struggled to overcome Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto on significant legislation.
This year, that could change.
Here are some of the most high-profile topics likely to be deliberated in North Carolina’s legislature this year:
Pressure to expand Medicaid in North Carolina has grown as the state becomes one of 11 not to expand. For North Carolina, expansion could put more than 600,000 able-bodied, working-age adults onto the taxpayer-funded health care program. In recent years Republicans have held their ground against expansion, but Berger now says he sees an agreement on the horizon.
“I have told folks that I felt like by the time the two-year session is over, North Carolina will have expanded Medicaid,” Berger said. “There’s a deal in there somewhere.”
In the last legislative session, Berger led the Senate to pass a healthcare proposal that included Medicaid expansion under the federal entitlement program, the Affordable Care Act. House Bill 149 contained work requirements for Medicaid expansion enrollees and measures the senators say would cut regulations on the healthcare industry and expand the number of providers and facilities. However, the N.C. House did not pass the Senate’s proposal.
The ball is in the General Assembly’s court regarding abortion legislation. States can now set their own abortion laws after the U.S. Supreme Court delivered the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision over the summer. Abortion is legal in North Carolina for the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Among restrictions on the procedure, state law requires a 72-hour waiting period, bans telemedicine for chemical abortions, and bans anyone but a licensed physician from performing an abortion.
In December, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and other allied abortion advocates dropped their challenges to five different North Carolina laws pertaining to abortions. In August, Berger told reporters that there was an interest among the lawmakers at that time to limit abortion after the first trimester, normally defined as the 12–13-week mark. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, has voiced his support for a “heartbeat bill,” which would make abortions illegal once ultrasounds detect a fetal heartbeat. Doctors can typically detect heartbeats at about the six-week mark. Berger and Moore have also stated their support for exceptions for rape, incest, and the mother’s life.
However, both leaders have stated that these positions are personal views, not their respective caucuses’.
redistricting and voter id
In December, just before the lame-duck 4-3 Democrat majority N.C. Supreme Court ended, the court issued a 4-3 party-line ruling that threw out the state’s photo voter identification law and the state Senate election map. Voter ID was passed by a majority of North Carolina voters in 2018 as a constitutional amendment, and the General Assembly enacted that voter mandate, but it was vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper. Lawmakers overrode Cooper’s veto, but Senate Bill 824 has been tangled in court ever since. Now that the voters elected a high court that is 5-2 Republican, a voter ID law could survive legal challenges.
The 2022 congressional district maps were drawn for one-time use after the N.C. Supreme Court allowed a three-judge panel to appoint “special masters” to redraw the maps passed by the General Assembly. Lawmakers are likely to redraw the congressional map this year and will now have to go back to the drawing board on the state Senate map as well. The state Supreme Court’s December ruling comes after Senate Republicans won a supermajority in the November 2022 election with maps approved by trial judges.
The N.C. Supreme Court did not rule against the House map. House Republicans came up just shy of a supermajority.
In the last legislative session, the House voted down a bill to make online sports gambling legal, but there will likely be another push to legalize online wagering in 2023.
Senate Bill 688, which would have legalized online sports betting, was a bipartisan bill that passed the Senate but did not clear the House. It failed by a vote of 49-52 on June 22 last year.
Several companies and legislators have advocated legalizing online sports gambling in North Carolina. With a new class of legislators taking office in 2023, proponents might have the votes to pass legislation similar to S.B. 688.
Additional issues getting lawmakers’ attention going into the next session are school choice, parental rights and learning loss in schools, and energy infrastructure.