This week legislators returned to Raleigh for the first special session of 2018 and held interim committee meetings throughout the week. Additionally, a three judge federal panel ordered lawmakers to redraw the state’s congressional districts by January 29.

Legislators Return to Raleigh

On Wednesday, legislators returned to Raleigh for the first special session of the new year. This week, both chambers approved of various appointments and the House unanimously passed a bill they consider a first step in addressing the unregulated chemical compound, Gen-X. The legislature remains in session while members as the Joint Select Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting considers potential reforms to the state judiciary.

Appointment Bills Pass Unanimously

A variety of appointment bills were unanimously passed on Wednesday:

SB 308: Additional Speaker Appointments – Makes five new appointments from Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and reduces the term of one existing appointment.

SB 700: Confirm Charlotte Mitchell/ Utilities Comm. and SB 701: Confirm TaNola Brown-Bland/ Utilities Comm. – Confirm Gov. Roy Cooper’s nominations to the Utilities Commission.

SB 699: Confirm Franklin R. Allen/ Bd. Of Ag. – Confirms Gov. Cooper’s nomination to the Board of Agriculture.

House Addresses Emerging Contaminants, Bill Stalls in Senate

Last week, the House Select Committee on River Quality discussed draft legislation to respond to emerging contaminants, including Gen-X. The bill, HB 189: Short-Term Response to Emerging Contaminants, was introduced as a committee substitute in the House Committee on Appropriations on Wednesday.

When introduced, the language of the bill was identical to what was considered last week. In committee, an amendment to dedicate funding to the purchase of a high resolution spectrometer and a five-person staff within the Department of Environmental Quality to operate it was adopted. The spectrometer will be able to identify emerging contaminants.

House Democrats and Republicans alike acknowledged that HB 189 is a first step and more controversial measures are likely to come up in the short session. However, the Senate has not indicated whether or not they will take up HB 189 during the current special session and it appears that the chambers are divided over the issue. In a statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) noted that he takes issue with several portions of the bill, primarily that HB 189 does not do enough in his opinion.

Anything else?

Yes, the legislature has not adjourned the special session and more issues may come up in the coming days or weeks. The most likely issue being judicial redistricting or reform, which was discussed at length in a joint select committee yesterday. The House and Senate have not reached consensus between Rep. Justin Burr’s (R-Stanly) redistricting plan and the Senate’s appointment proposals.

Interim Committees Discuss Array of Issues

Seven interim committees held meetings this week, discussing a number of issues that may come into the spotlight in the upcoming short session.

  • The House Committee on Strategic Transportation Planning and Long Term Funding Solutions discussed how demographic changes and advances in technology will drive NC’s transportation needs in the coming years.
  • The challenges of providing health care in rural parts of the state were examined in the Legislative Research Committee on Access to Health Care in Rural North Carolina.
  • Virtual charter schools, advanced courses in public high schools, and teacher licensure were reviewed by the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee.
  • Implementation of HB 589: Competitive Energy Solutions for North Carolina, and a review of the state’s Oil and Gas Commission were discussed by the Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy.
  • The Joint Legislative Administrative Procedure Oversight Committee reviewed issues including ABC permitting, the periodic review of rules and the regulation of a practice used by physical therapists called dry needling.
  • The Joint Legislative Economic Development and Global Engagement Oversight Committee received updates on economic development incentives in NC, including a discussion of the differences between the House and Senate versions of SB 660: Economic Development Incentives Modifications, which is eligible for consideration in the upcoming short session.
  • The Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee received reports from the NC Department on Transportation on issues including eliminating nurses from the Division of Motor Vehicles Medical Review Program.
  • Rep. Burr and Sen. Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) presented overview’s of their respective chamber’s work to reform the state’s judiciary at the Joint Select Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting’s first meeting.

NC Congressional Maps Ruled Unconstitutional Political Gerrymander by Three Judge Federal Panel

On Tuesday, news broke that a three judge federal panel had unanimously determined that the state’s congressional maps, adopted by the legislature in 2016, constituted an unconstitutional political gerrymander.

How did we get here?

Back in 2016, the legislature was tasked to redraw the state’s 2011 congressional maps after two of the thirteen districts were ruled an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. Per judicial order, the legislature gaveled into a special session and adopted a map that supports a ten to three Republican majority. Common Cause and the League of Women Voters then claimed that the maps are partisan gerrymanders, both claims were consolidated into one suit and a trial was held in October 2017.

What next?

The order states that the legislature must enact a remedial redistricting plan by January 29. Additionally, the Court will appoint a special master to assist in drawing an alternative remedial plan should the General Assembly either fail to submit a plan, or submit a plan that fails to remedy the constitutional violation. Congressional redistricting was not addressed by the legislature while in session this week.

House and Senate leadership have made statements against the decision and have vowed to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, seeking a stay that would allow the 2018 elections to go on with the 2016 maps. Senate Redistricting Chair Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) noted that meeting the deadline would be impossible given restrictions placed on legislators in the ruling. Democrats, meanwhile, have applauded the decision. On Wednesday, Sens. Erica Smith (D-Northampton), Ben Clark (D-Hoke) and Jeff Jackson (D-Mecklenburg) filed SB 702: Independent Redistricting Commission , which would amend the state’s constitution to establish an independent redistricting commission.

What’s the impact?

This decision puts NC in the center of a federal conversation about partisan gerrymandering as the Supreme Court plans to take up partisan gerrymandering cases from Wisconsin and Maryland later this year. While there have been consistent rulings against racial gerrymandering in recent years, there is no clear precedent regarding political gerrymandering. The decisions in the cases in NC, MD and WI may have substantial impact on the nation as the 2020 census and nation-wide congressional redistricting approaches.

In NC, immediate congressional redistricting may impact the state’s partisan balance in DC. All 13 seats are up for reelection this year; filing begins on February 12 and primaries are set for May.

A Look Ahead to Next Week

Here’s a look at the week ahead:

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

9:00 AM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

9:00 AM House Select Committee on Implementation of Building Code Reform

10:00 AM Child Fatality Task Force Meeting

1:00 PM Environmental Review Commission

Thursday, January 18, 2018

9:00 AM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services, Subcommittee on Aging

9:00 AM Joint Legislative Emergency Management Oversight Committee

10:00 AM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee on ABC Permitting and Enforcement

10:00 AM Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform

1:00 PM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice & Public Safety