Members of the North Carolina General Assembly were back in downtown Raleigh Monday to kick off yet another week of this year's legislative session. The start of work this week came with some good news, at least for members of the Senate. In a press conference Tuesday morning, President Pro Tempore Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) announced that the Senate will adjourn session no later then October 31, with or without a state budget. Until then, members of the Senate will continue moving forward with a series of mini-budget proposals and pieces of legislation that have received wide bipartisan support. If the Senate does decide to vote to override Governor Roy Cooper's veto of the state budget proposal, rules require a 24-hour notice to be given before the vote is held, a rule Sen. Berger has continuously stated he plans to follow. Speaker of the House Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) has not yet committed to an adjournment timeline, but has said he hopes to wrap things up by the end of the month as well. Both the House and the Senate will reconvene next week on Monday, October 7 at 4:00PM.
While things may be winding down in Raleigh for members of the General Assembly, the Raleigh City Council is preparing to welcome a new set of members following next week's municipal election. Raleigh voters will make their way to the polls to cast their ballots for mayor and council members on Tuesday, October 8. The polls will open at 6:30AM and remain open until 7:30PM. For more information on polling locations, candidates, and all of the municipal elections happening next Tuesday in North Carolina, visit the North Carolina State Board of Elections information page here.
Raise the Age Funding
Funding to implement North Carolina's 2017 "Raise the Age" policy moved quickly through the House this week in the form of a mini-budget proposal. The Raise the Age program places 16- and 17-year-old offenders in the juvenile justice system rather than the adult justice system as it stands currently. North Carolina is one of the last states in the country to make this change. The version of HB 1001: Raise the Age Funding presented by Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) to the House Appropriations committee Tuesday morning contains the same language that was included in the state budget proposal with two additions - funding for additional assistant district attorneys that were not specifically tied to Raise the Age program implementation funding but that address the personnel shortages facing the juvenile justice system, and annual funding for court counselors. All in all, the bill results in $77 million in total going towards implementation over the next two years. In addition to the court counselors and assistant district attorney funding, the bill will adjust the number of assistant district attorneys as well as district court judges allowed in a number of districts, and appropriate funds to the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Office of Indigent Defense Services, and the Department of Public Safety to cover the cost of staff increases, among other implementation resource needs.
While the premise of the bill is one that members on both sides of the aisle are able to get behind, the topic of debate Tuesday morning, and Wednesday afternoon during the House's floor session, centered around which districts were receiving the additional assistant district attorneys and district court judges. Members were concerned that the positions were being given to areas with a lesser workload then that of other districts within larger counties throughout the state.
This theme of debate continued as the bill moved to the floor Wednesday afternoon. A handful of amendments were offered by members that would have made adjustments to the districts where the assistant district attorney positions would go, however, the amendments were never heard on the floor. Due to House Rules, since the bill's full title includes reference to language within HB 966: 2019 Appropriations Act, and the amendments would require a change to the bill's title, Speaker of the House Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) ruled the amendments out of order. Ultimately, the House voted in favor of the bill in a 104-1 vote, sending it over to the Senate for debate.
Members of the House and Senate met together in a joint session Wednesday afternoon to confirm Governor Roy Cooper's appointment nominations to the State Board of Education. In a 140-8 vote, the legislature voted to confirm the following appointments:
- J.B. Buxton, currently serves as a State Board of Education member, is an education consultant, and a former North Carolina Department of Instruction Administrator.
- James Wendell Hall, is a member of both the North Carolina School Boards Association and North Carolina Association of School Administrators, previously served on the Hertford County Board of Education, and was the interim superintendent for both Northampton and Warren County Schools, as well as Weldon City Schools.
- Donna Tipton-Rogers, is the president and CEO of Tri-County Community College and serves as Co-Chair of the North Carolina Task Force on Rural Health.
Last October, J.B. Buxton, Jill Camnitz, and James Ford were appointed by Governor Cooper to fill the board's vacant seats, meaning the appointments were not subject to legislative approval. During Wednesday's joint session, legislators did not take up the reappointment of James Ford or Jill Camnitz. The two will continue to serve on the board pending any other legislative action. The confirmation of Hall and Tipton-Rogers on Wednesday fills the two currently vacant seats on the board and gives Buxton the opportunity to serve another term.
Among the list of mini budget proposals discussed this week, HB 100: DOT Budget for 2019-2021 Biennium made a quick trip through the Senate on Wednesday. After moving through the Senate Appropriations committee Wednesday morning, the bill received a unanimous vote of 44 - 0 on the floor Wednesday afternoon. Sen. Jim Davis (R-Macon) presented the bill, which contains the same language that was included in the transportation portion of this year's state budget bill. The bill will provide a total of $130 million in funding to North Carolina's Department of Transportation over the next two years to fund the Strategic Transportation Initiatives program. The bill will also adjust the appropriation schedule for the Highway Trust Fund in lieu of the jet fuel tax moratorium that has not been extended.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation is currently strapped for cash after spending more than anticipated in recent years. Employee layoffs and delayed construction projects around the state are becoming a reality for the Department, especially without a state budget enacted. During Wednesday's committee discussion, when asked if the bill contains a loan or cash infusion to the Department to address the backlog of projects, Sen. J. Davis indicated that the bill was strictly limited to the language included in the budget bill provisions, but that an additional funding plan may be handled in a different bill still to come. HB 100 will now make its way over to the House for a vote.