As directed in the adjournment resolution from October of last year, lawmakers gathered in Raleigh on January 10th, to gavel in for what became a one day-long session. The anticipated reason for their return was to address judicial redistricting, the method for selecting in North Carolina, and several proposed Constitutional Amendments. However, leadership in both chambers had previously noted that neither of those matters would be heard when lawmakers returned.
Prior to the session, it appeared that the two chambers could potentially pass a bill to address the “GenX” situation in the lower Cape Fear River basin. The House did, passing House Bill 189, Short-Term Response to Emerging Contaminants, unanimously. The Senate however, expressed no immediate interest in advancing the measure and adjourned prior to receiving the proposal from the House. Lawmakers did confirm several gubernatorial and legislative appointments to various boards and commissions.
Lawmakers technically have not adjourned as they continue to hold no-vote “skeleton” sessions every few days, as they may need to return to address any of several matters currently in litigation, if needed. One of those matters is potentially redrawing the State’s current congressional districts, which were recently struck down by a federal three-judge panel due to partisan gerrymandering. Lawmakers redrew the State’s congressional districts in 2016 after the 2011 congressional districts were struck down due to racial gerrymandering. Legislative leaders requested a stay from the lower court, which was denied. The U.S. Supreme Court however, granted a stay. Other important matters pending before the court include the legislative redistricting and the cancellation of judicial primaries. The most recent schedule update is that lawmakers are not expected to return to Raleigh for a voting session until February 7th, although that could change.
Eligible matters lawmakers may address include:
- Revising the Senate and House legislative districts;
- Revising the judicial divisions of the state, the Superior Court districts, the District Court districts, and the prosecutorial districts;
- Revising districts for cities, counties, and other political subdivision of the State;
- Constitutional amendments;
- Veto overrides;
- Appointments or confirmations;
- Bills responding to litigation
- Adoption of conference reports;
- Bills affecting the budget;
- Local bills that met crossover;
- Bills relating to election laws.
- Bills returned on or after Wednesday, June 28, 2017, to the chamber in which the bill originated for concurrence.
Most lawmakers have returned to the NCGA periodically for interim Committee work since they adjourned their last special session in October. Interim and Standing Oversight Committees have been meeting to address possible policy proposals affecting education, transportation, judicial reform, healthcare, agriculture, and the environment, among other subject matters. The interim is generally the time where lawmakers hash out the preliminary versions of complex legislation they plan to address in the short session, which begins May 16, 2018.
In terms of news coverage, judicial reform has been the predominant story during the interim. House and Senate leaders appointed a Joint Select Committee on Judicial Reform & Redistricting to review alternative models for selecting judges, as well as making changes to the current judicial district maps, which have not been redrawn in decades.
Constitutional concerns may force legislature to redraw judicial districts – Carolina Journal
Currently, judges are elected, but potential reforms could include merit selection of judges, with appointment by the Governor or by the legislature. Any major changes would require a Constitutional Amendment that would go before the people on an election ballot for final approval. The Senate had already appointed a similar Committee that began reviewing this matter at the end of last year. Leadership hopes this Committee will be able to form a proposal that will be agreeable to both chambers.
The majority of the focus of the recent healthcare discussion at the NCGA has been on Cardinal Innovations. An audit of the LME/MCO, which manages behavioral health Medicaid patients for a region of the State, found excessive spending as well as higher than allowed administrative pay among other problems. The Department of Health & Human Services dismantled the Board of Directors, ousted the CEO, and appointed a new governing board. HHS Secretary Mandy Cohen has urged lawmakers to expedite the timeline for integrating behavioral health into the overall Medicaid transformation. House Bill 403, entitled Behavioral Health and Medicaid Modifications, is currently in a Conference Committee and addresses this issue as well among other related matters. If conferees reach a compromise and produce a Conference Report, the bill may be placed on the calendar under the rules of the adjournment resolution.
How NC failed to protect millions Cardinal spent on big payouts, parties – Charlotte Observer NC taking over embattled mental health agency Cardinal Innovations – Charlotte Observer NC lawmakers want Cardinal severance back – from executives who got $3.8 million – Charlotte Observer
The Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform began reviewing how NC currently funds its K-12 public school system. The Task Force was charged with studying “various weighted student formula funding models and develop a new funding model for the elementary and secondary public schools of North Carolina based on a weighted student formula.” While still in the early stages of their discussion, the Task Force could make a recommendation for legislative changes for the NCGA to consider during the 2018 short session.
As we begin 2018, and the candidate filing period approaches, the lawsuit over North Carolina’s legislative districts remains unresolved. In August, lawmakers reconvened to address the 28 House and Senate districts found to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. Following their review of the newly drawn maps produced by the NCGA, the federal three-judge panel still had concerns with seven House districts and two Senate districts.
The panel chose a “Special Master”, Stanford Professor Nathaniel Persily, to produce alternative maps, which he has since unveiled and revised. His initial changes had several instances where two or more sitting members were “double-bunked” or placed in the same district as one of their colleagues. His latest revision however, limits that scenario to one instance in Guilford County, where Sen. Trudy Wade (R-Guilford) and Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford) were double-bunked.
House and Senate Republican leaders have criticized the proposed changes and argue that the process has been politicized with the new maps designed to help elect more Democrats to the legislature. Conversely, Democrats argue that maps drawn by Republicans were designed to maximize the number of Republicans in the legislature.
The three-judge panel has ruled to implement the maps drawn by the Special Master, which would be effective for the upcoming 2018 election. Lawmakers will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and have requested a stay from the Supreme Court on the ruling from the lower court.
While analysis of the new maps does suggest that the changes from the Special Master will be more favorable for Democrats, it is unclear if it will be enough to break the veto-proof majorities Republicans wield in both chambers. In order for Gov. Cooper’s veto to carry weight, Democrats must break the veto-proof majority in at least one chamber, which requires a net gain of either four seats in the House or six seats in the Senate. In order to flip a chamber, Democrats would need to pick up either 16 House seats or 11 Senate seats.
Legislative Democrats are optimistic, touting recent candidate recruiting and hoping for a Democratic wave. Historical trends tell us that the political party opposite the President traditionally fares well in a midterm election. However, there is no high-profile statewide race at the top of the ballot in North Carolina to energize either side, which will have an impact on electoral turnout. Which party that favors is unclear.
NC Republicans and gerrymander challengers seek Supreme Court intervention. They want different things – N&O ‘We have learned from our mistakes.’ Republicans, Democrats switch places on idea to stop gerrymandering – N&O
IN OTHER NEWS
In economic development news, Forbes Magazine has ranked North Carolina as top state for doing business in the U.S. CNBC highlighted NC as the top target for Amazon’s second headquarters “HQ2”, and Amazon announced that Raleigh was included in the narrowed list of 20 cities. Raleigh was the only NC city to make the first cut.
NC did lose the joint Toyota-Mazda plant to Alabama. The package reportedly offered by NC totaled more than $1.5 Billion in incentives, dwarfing Alabama’s $380 Million. However Alabama, which already has multiple auto manufacturers and sits in a region surrounded by several others, had a key advantage in having an existing supply chain in place.
N.C. Commerce: State was prepared to offer Toyota-Mazda $1.5 billion incentive package – Triad Business Journal
HANDY ELECTION TOOLS
The North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation, which does an excellent job covering the logistics of North Carolina’s elections, has several resources to keep you up to speed heading into the 2018 election cycle
2018 Candidate Tracker – See the most up-to-date list of who has announced a run for what office. Candidate filing begins next month. Legislative Districts Affected by Maps from Special Master 2018 NC General Assembly Retirement Tracker – Most up-to-date list of current NCGA members who have announced they are not seeking reelection in 2018.