Members of the North Carolina General Assembly reconvened this week to wrap up the court-ordered redistricting process within the 14-day deadline lawmakers were given. House members also discussed a bill House leadership promised would be heard, so long as the budget bill was passed. After an intense and eventful few weeks of work, legislators will have some time away from the building as neither the House nor the Senate plan to meet for voting sessions at all next week. During the last of their respective meetings of the week, both House and Senate leadership announced the next scheduled voting session will take place on Monday, September 30th.

Healthcare Compromise

After a national news-worthy surprise vote to override the Governor's veto of this year's budget bill last week, a bill that was promised to be heard once the budget passed was finally given its day in committee. Keeping his word, Speaker Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) sent HB 655: NC Health Care for Working Families to the House Health committee for discussion Wednesday morning. The bill is the Republican compromise proposal to Medicaid expansion, which has been at the top of the Democrats' priority list since the beginning of session. House leadership has consistently stated that if members of the House were willing to get on board and vote to override the veto of the budget, HB 655 would be up for discussion.

As discussed in committee, HB 655 would establish the NC Health Care for Working Families program. The goal of the program would be to provide coverage to those who currently do not qualify for Medicaid and cannot afford private health insurance. To be eligible for the program, a participant would have to be between the ages of 19 and 64, meet federal citizenship requirements, and must have an income less than 133% of the federal poverty level. Participants will pay a premium of 2% of their annual income and will have 120 days to make their payment before they will no longer be eligible to participate in the program. Additionally, the program requires employment activities from participants, unless otherwise exempt, such as in the case of at-home primary caregivers. All of the program's health care benefits will be managed by Prepaid Health Plans. The bill also establishes and funds the Rural Access to Healthcare Grant Fund through the Department of Health and Human Services to help increase access to care in rural communities throughout the state.

A number of amendments to tweak the eligibility requirements and exemptions were offered but did not receive much discussion as chair of the committee and primary bill sponsor, Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth), acknowledged his willingness to work with amendment sponsors on a compromise version of the language, causing a majority of members to withdraw their amendments from committee consideration. The amendments submitted during committee were aimed at making the bill more appealing to Democrats as Republicans try to present the program as an alternative to Medicaid expansion. HB 655 will now make its way over to the House Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations.

Session Schedule

Legislators will be getting some time away from the building following the last two weeks of long nights and early mornings. After passing new legislative district maps on Tuesday, the Senate adjourned to conduct only skeletal, non-voting sessions throughout the remainder of the week. The Senate plans to continue holding no-vote sessions through next week as well before getting back to business with their next voting session scheduled for the evening of Monday, September 30th. The House met for their final voting session of the week Wednesday morning. The House announced their plans to follow in the footsteps of the Senate holding no-vote sessions through the end of this week and into next week. The next voting session for the House is also scheduled to take place on the 30th.

Redistricting Bills

Members of both the House and the Senate wrapped up the redistricting process they began last week, just in time to meet the court ordered deadline of Wednesday, the 18th. The redistricting committees met following a court ruling two weeks ago in Common Cause v. Lewis. The three-judge panel in the case unanimously ruled that the state legislative districts that were drawn in 2017 used levels of political partisanship that unconstitutionally influenced the outcome of the elections by which legislative seats are currently held. Rather than appealing the court's decision, members from both chambers and both parties jumped in to redraw new districts. The remedial district maps approved this week will only be used for the upcoming 2020 election. The state's legislative districts will need to be redrawn once again following the collection of 2020 census data.

A number of members in both the House and the Senate made a point to note during floor debates how pleased they were with the overall transparency and cooperativeness of the process, including staunch redistricting reform advocates such as Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) and Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-Mecklenburg). While a number of members, mainly Democrats, voted against the new maps, they expressed that their reasoning to do so was based on the idea, rather than the maps themselves, arguing legislators should not be responsible for drawing the maps of their own legislative districts.

Last Friday, the House passed their remedial legislative district maps through HB 1020: 2019 House Remedial Map before voting on the Senate's Monday evening. While a majority of the newly drawn House districts were agreed upon by the entire body, there were still a few districts sparking debate on the House floor. Despite efforts to amend a few of the districts, the House maps remained intact as they made their way through the redistricting committee all the way to the Senate floor.

The Senate trailed a day behind, passing their maps Monday evening through SB 692: 2019 Senate Consensus Nonpartisan Map and voting on the House's Tuesday afternoon, just in time to meet the court's Wednesday deadline. The judges in the case will now review the remedial map plans to decide if they are in compliance with the order or if the judges should take the redraw out of the General Assembly's hands and draw the new maps themselves.