As session hits seven-month mark, bills continue to move through legislature

RALEIGH — Heading into August, state lawmakers have been working to finalize the budget, but in the meantime other bills continue to be sent to Gov. Roy Cooper.

As of July 20, there are six bills on his desk awaiting signature. The governor has signed over 60 bills since February of this year, with around 15 of them being signed in July.

Cooper has vetoed four bills this year. The four vetoes are Senate Bill 63, In-Person Learning Choice for Families; Senate Bill 43, Protect Religious Meeting Places; House Bill 453, Human Life Nondiscrimination Act/No Eugenics; and Senate Bill 116, the Putting North Carolina Back to Work Act.

Cooper holds the state record for the number of vetoes during his two terms so far, with 57. That’s 22 more vetoes than the combined vetoes (35) by governors who have had veto power.

In addition to anticipation on the budget, a bill reigning in the governor’s use of emergency powers, which Republicans say Cooper has abused, is still working its way through committees.

House Bill 264, the Emergency Powers Accountability Act, is waiting to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee before being sent to the Senate Rules committee. The bill further defines the requirement of gaining Council of State concurrence on statewide emergency orders lasting more than seven days. A key provision of the bill includes a gubernatorial or legislatively declared statewide state of emergency (67 or more counties) expires in seven calendar days unless a majority concurrence of the Council of State is sought and granted. Any extensions cannot be longer than 30 days without additional concurrence of the Council of State.

Some other bills of note include a proposed new state constitutional amendment rolled out during a press conference on July 14. Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) introduced the bill for the amendment which overall addresses discrimination. Senate Bill 729 would add a new section to Article 1 of the North Carolina Constitution, titled “Prohibition on discrimination or preferential treatment in public employment, education, or contracting.”

A related item, House Bill 324, titled Ensuring Dignity & Nondiscrimination/Schools, was heard by the Senate Education Committee and is expected to move to the Senate floor for a vote. The bill seeks to bar schools in the state from promoting controversial ideologies such as Critical Race Theory by compelling students to affirm beliefs in such an ideology.

One bill has been enacted into law without Cooper’s signature, Senate Bill 722, titled Revise Local Gov’t Redistricting/Census. The law delays certain municipal elections from 2021 to 2022 in areas where less than the entire jurisdiction is eligible to vote for one or more of the municipal candidates on the 2021 ballot. The bill also lists specific elections to be moved to 2022 including the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board, the Lexington City Board of Education, and elections in the City of Raleigh.

Cooper has been an opponent to school choice options such as charter schools and Opportunity Scholarships prior to taking office and throughout his tenure as governor, which makes his signing of House Bill 335 unexpected. The bill, which is now law, states a district not transferring funds within the prescribed timeframe will have to pay a 3% late fee if it does not electronically transfer or postmark (if by mail) the monies within 15 days of the notice. Additionally, interest on the amount owed will accrue at 8% until payment is made.

Another anticipated bill is aimed at mandatory mask requirements for students in K-12 for the upcoming school year. Senate Bill 173 is titled the “Free the Smiles Act” and has companion proposed legislation in House Bill 224. On June 30, the Senate failed to concur with changes made by the House that would direct to districts the authority to make masks optional. It is expected to be sent to a conference committee. One of the reasons the Senate did not concur was that the Senate wants to add language about vaccinations to the bill, Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth) told North State Journal.

Bills of note heard by committees or that had action last week included:

HB 951, Study Emerging Energy Generation, which authorizes $100,000 in nonrecurring funds for the 2021-2022 fiscal year is appropriated from the General Fund to the Board of Governors of The University of North Carolina for a study on “emerging energy generation sources, issues and trends.”

SB 300, Criminal Justice Reform, would make various changes to the Criminal Code, and increase law enforcement standardization, oversight, changes in penalties for various crimes, and includes language governing police body camera footage.

SB 301, Expand Expunction Eligibility, allows a person to petition the court to expunge one or more nonviolent misdemeanors or one nonviolent felony.

SB 711, NC Compassionate Care Act, addresses legal use of marijuana for medical-related reasons and is expected to receive a floor vote Wednesday.

SB 707: Development Regulations & Airport Authorities, would require local governments to provide written notice to airport operators of proposed development regulations that would change or affect uses of land located within five miles of publicly owned, commercial service airports that board more than 10,000 passengers.

Five bills which need additional discussion, language changes or additions were assigned conference committees last week. Those bills deal with ABC permit renewal fees, sex offender premises restrictions, university legislative priorities, and local government assistance.

By A.P. Dillon

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