Lawmakers of the North Carolina General Assembly had this week off but will be heading back to the legislature on Monday. This may very well be the last two weeks of work for legislators as the month comes to a close. In a press conference at the beginning of the month, President Pro Tempore Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) announced that the Senate will adjourn the long session on October 31, with or without a state budget for the fiscal year. Speaker of the House Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) never committed to a timeline of adjournment for the House but indicated that he was hopeful members would be able to head home at the end of the month as well. With a number of bills still being discussed in conference committee and no announcement that the Senate will hold a vote to override the Governor's veto of the budget, only time will tell how much longer the General Assembly may remain in session.
Municipal Election Updates
Raleigh voters will not have to make their way to the polls again in November as candidates who trailed the election-night front runners in the Raleigh mayoral and city council races announced they would not call for a runoff election. Last Tuesday, October 8, voters throughout the Raleigh area cast their ballots for a new mayor and all seven city council seats. Charles Francis, who also ran for mayor last year and ultimately lost in the runoff election against current Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, announced early in the week that he would not be calling for a runoff election this year against now Mayor-elect Mary-Ann Baldwin. Baldwin captured 38% of the vote on election night, Francis with 31%.
For Raleigh's two at-large city council seats, the two candidates with the most votes are elected, but, to avoid the possibility of a runoff, each of the two candidates must reach a threshold of at least 25% of the vote. If two candidates do not reach the 25% threshold, the third place candidate has the ability to call for a runoff against the second place candidate. While one at-large candidate met the 25% threshold and secured one of the at-large city council seats outright on election night with 33% of the vote, Jonathan Melton, with 23% of the vote, was just shy of the threshold and faced a potential runoff race against six-term incumbent Russ Stephenson. Stephenson came in third place with 19% of the vote and announced his decision not to call for a runoff election at the beginning of the week.
The new Raleigh Mayor and City Council members will officially take office after they are sworn in on December 2. Those being sworn in are as follows:
- Mary-Ann Baldwin, Mayor
- Nicole Stewart*, At-Large
- Jonathan Melton, At-Large
- Patrick Buffkin, District A
- David Cox*, District B
- Corey Branch*, District C
- Saige Martin, District D
- David Knight, District E
* indicates an incumbent
For more information on the results of the Raleigh municipal election visit the North Carolina State Board of Elections information page here.
As lawmakers head into what could be the last few weeks of session for the year, a number of bills still remain in conference committee, where further discussion about the language of the bill continues. Conference committees consist of members appointed by the Senate President Pro Tempore and the House Speaker. The conference committee's appointees are responsible for hashing out the differences between the House and the Senate versions of a given bill. Currently, there are 12 bills being discussed in conference committees, including:
- HB 181: Repeal Yanceyville Annexation, would repeal the annexation of territory in the Town of Yanceyville prior to the annexations effective date.
- HB 633: Strengthen Criminal Gang Laws, would increase the penalty of use of a firearm when a felony is committed, create a Class F felony for firearm possession during criminal gang activity, and create a new evidentiary rule allowing evidence of the commission of criminal gang activity and other crimes to be admissible during trail.
- SB 199: Child Sex Abuse/Strengthen Laws, would expand the duty to report crimes against juveniles to include any adult who knows or should have reasonably known about the crimes, extend the statute of limitations to 10 years, and establish definitions of “high-risk sex offender” and “commercial social networking web site".
- SB 212: NC FAST/Early Child/Transformation/ACH Assess, would require the Division of Social Services (DSS), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to postpone the roll out of the case-management systems for NC FAST programs and potentially delays Medicaid and NC Health Choice transformation until March 1, 2020. The bill would also require the Division of Child Development and Early Education to establish competency standards and amends the requirements of the initial resident assessment conducted by adult care homes.
- SB 217: Change Superior Ct & District Ct Numbers, would realign superior court and district court districts with prosecutorial districts.
- SB 315: North Carolina Farm Act of 2019, would establish the North Carolina Hemp Commission under the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to expire July 1, 2021, would ban smokable hemp beginning December 1, 2019, require a smokable hemp study committee, give left-turning farm equipment the right-of-way, expand outdoor advertising for bona fide farm proprieties by increasing the size of sign allowed and the area where the sign could be placed, add hunting, fishing, shooting sports and equestrian activities to the definition of agritourism, and would provide clarifying language to the Environmental Management Commission for permitting certain swine farm modifications.
- SB 356: Surp. Proceeds; Cert. Seized Veh. Sales, would clarify that the State Surplus Property Agency must enter into two regional contracts for towing, storing, and seized vehicles and distributes a portion of the proceeds from the sale of State-owned property to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.
- SB 361: Healthy NC, would enact the Psychology Interjurisdictional Licensure Compact (PSYPACT), would allow marriage and family therapists to conduct involuntary commitment first-level exams, eliminate redundancy in adult care home inspections, establishes the Lupus Advisory Committee, modify step therapy protocols, authorize equal insurance coverage for oral chemotherapy drugs, require health insurance providers to cover and promote access to telehealth services, and create a task force to develop solutions on the problems facing North Carolinian’s access to healthcare.
- SB 522: Low-Perf. Schools/Stand. Student Conduct, would change the selection process for schools in the Innovative School District (ISD), would require additional reporting by local boards of education on certain school’s academic performance, and requires further study on changes to the ISD program and low-performing school statues.
- SB 537: ACH Pmt/Counselor-SA-SW Act Amend/DHHS Rev., would direct the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to create a work group to study reimbursement options for services in adult care homes and would make amendments to several DHHS program related statutes as well as the Licensed Professional Counselors Act, the Substance Abuse Professional Practice Act, and the Social Worker Certification and Licensure Act.
- SB 681: Rur Hlth Care/Loc. Sales Tax Flex/Util. Acct.,would establish a revolving loan fund to provide low-interest loans for rural hospitals in financial crisis. The loan would be approved by the Local Government Commission (LGC) and the administered by UNC Health Care. The bill would also allow counties to levy an additional quarter-cent local sales tax for a purpose identified through the ballot question and would expand the counties eligible for Utility Account grants to the 87 most distressed counties under the tier system.
- SB 683: Combat Absentee Ballot Fraud, would require mail-in absentee ballot requests to include photo identification of the voter and be completed and returned only by the voter, restore last Saturday of early voting, provide pre-paid postage for the return of mail-in absentee ballots in the 2020 election, and would increase the penalty for absentee ballot law violations.
Governor's Bill Action
Monday, Democratic Governor Roy Cooper signed into law two of the General Assembly's mini-budget proposals. Both proposals moved through the legislature and were sent over to the Governor's desk last week. The bills are largely comprised of language from this year's vetoed budget bill. HB 387: Growing G.R.E.A.T. consists of budget bill language to allocate an additional $15 million to the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grant program and allowing the program to expand county eligibility to tier two counties, in addition to tier one counties, at the beginning of July 2020. HB 1001: Raise the Age Funding appropriates $77 million over the next two years to fund the implementation of North Carolina's Raise the Age program which places 16- and 17-year-old offenders in the juvenile justice system rather than the adult justice system as the law currently stands. This language is consistent with that of the budget but also adds additional funding for a number of assistant district attorneys throughout the state and provides annual funding for court counselors.
Two other bills are still sitting on the Governor's desk pending his signature. Another mini-budget bill passed last week is among the two. HB 100: DOT Budget for 2019-2021 Biennium allocates a total of $130 million over the next two years to the North Carolina Department of Transportation to fund the Strategic Transportation Initiatives Program and makes changes to the appropriation schedule of the Highway Trust Fund, which is the same language that was included in this year's budget bill. Also awaiting a signature is SB 572: University System Risk Management Provisions which clarifies that public universities are allowed to obtain liability insurance for alcohol sales on campus, such as football stadiums.