RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – The gavels will start to fall at noon Wednesday when the most recently elected members of the General Assembly – a Republican supermajority in the state Senate and one vote shy of total control in the House – convene to take up the matters that would have much more effect on your daily lives than anything that occurs (or doesn’t) in Washington, D.C.
The legislature’s so-called “long session” will take us into the fall, at least, and you may hear some familiar issues resurfacing: Medicaid expansion, sports gambling, medical marijuana, tax rates for individuals and corporations and – perhaps – abortion rights and redistricting.
And if you listen to some of the people you have selected to represent the Piedmont Triad in the General Assembly, just about anything related to health seems to be a priority.
Medicaid expansion and the financial windfall that would bring to the state made it halfway to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk in last year’s session. The House has work to do.
Ditto with medical marijuana – under prescription for those with specific conditions – and even whether you could place your $2 in online gambling for, say, the North Carolina-Duke basketball game. Each concept has its supporters and its opposition and was passed by the Senate.
“The primary responsibility of this long session is to prepare and plan for the next two years fiscally,” state Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem), a member of the House since 2013, wrote in an email to WGHP. “Our plans these last 10 years have yielded significant results, resulting in NC being ranked and viewed as a top state in the nation and a great place to live and work.
“We have the best university system in the nation, a great community college network and one of the best K-12 systems in the country. Companies are relocating here, and folks are retiring here.
“I anticipate we will continue to build on our successes.”
Cooper last week sounded a lot like Lambeth when he announced that the state had lured 28,690 new jobs by recruiting businesses in 2022 that will invest $19.3 billion in capital. That includes the announcements that Boom Supersonic will build the manufacturing facility for its commercial jets at Piedmont Triad International Airport, bringing 1,761 jobs.
The Toyota electronic vehicle battery plant at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite near Liberty was part of the 2021 job growth, but Vinfast’s 7,500 auto jobs in Chatham County, Wolfspeed’s 1,801 jobs to build computer chips in Chatham County and Macy’s automated fulfillment center in China Grove (2,800 jobs) were big, too.
“North Carolina continues to be the best place for people to live, learn, work and raise a family, and these economic development results show companies recognize our appeal as a business location,” Cooper said. “We’re building a stronger economy that works for everyone, and I am excited about North Carolina’s future.”
But in all that celebration about new jobs and money coming into the state, there remains a big question about money the state legislature owes.
The so-called Leandro decision, a court finding from 1994 that requires lawmakers to inject $1.75 billion into education funding across the state, apparently is due. That’s a judgment that long has been fought by the General Assembly, and a trial court last year ordered the bill to be paid in full.
Lawmakers didn’t want to do that, but in December the state Supreme Court told a trial judge to determine the method for the court-ordered payment, instructing the judge to work with the legislature on how that might evolve.
“Education always remains a focus for me: from early childhood development to higher education,” state Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Greensboro) wrote in an email. “I will urge the legislature to adhere to the court’s ruling on [the] Leandro funding of public education, as well.
You might imagine how those dollars might be accommodated in that 2-year fiscal plan that Lambeth mentioned.
There has been speculation that with Republicans in firmer control of both houses that there could be a move to tighten up the 20-week abortion limit that was enacted after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade’s allowance for abortion.
As long as Cooper is in office, a veto of any restriction would be likely, and there appeared little opportunity for a veto to be overridden. But Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) said in December that he didn’t think the ban was sufficient and that he was looking for a “path to tightening” that restriction, although most people support access to abortion.
State Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) said one of her primary goals for the session is “protecting women’s reproductive rights.”
But that’s not the only loose end: The state Supreme Court in December struck down the voter-approved voter ID law and kept in place the electoral districts they had approved in February for November’s election.
Second things first: There had been wide speculation that, given the state Supreme Court’s new Republican majority, lawmakers would take up electoral maps and redraw them in the way they prefer.
But in her ruling to affirm the redistricting case, now retired Associate Justice Robin Hudson wrote: “In accordance with article II section 5 of our Constitution, the RHP [map] is now ‘established’ under law and therefore ‘shall remain unaltered until the return of another decennial census of population taken by order of Congress.’”
Voter ID will be a different matter, because the Supreme Court’s judgment was based on the original legislative action that created the constitutional amendment, saying that bill “was passed with the discriminatory intent to target African-American voters,” as Associate Justice Anita Earls wrote.
The General Assembly can redraft the law and present it to voters again. The current court, now a 5-2 GOP majority, likely wouldn’t interfere.
All of this could be affected by the no-small-matter ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court will issue sometime in 2023 on a case it heard in December: the highly volatile question of whether the Constitution grants the sole right to draw electoral maps in congressional elections to the General Assembly. That decision will tie up something, if not just loose ends.
What will happen next?
Otherwise, with the GOP control, what happens in the chambers during these next few months will be determined by Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), as has been the case since 2015, when Moore replaced now U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis as head of the House.
Berger, whose district includes his home county of Rockingham and much of eastern and northern Guilford County, is beginning his 13th year in that role, making him the longest-serving legislative leader in the country, Axios Raleigh found.
The two men don’t agree on everything – for instance, Berger recently has pushed to expand Medicaid, and Moore has not completed that pass in the House – but they do on most things, and that determines not only which issues rise to a vote but which ones ultimately earn the sway of their dominant caucus.
What are the goals?
WGHP reached out to about two dozen representatives from across the Piedmont Triad, a dozen from each chamber and about equal splits between Republicans and Democrats – including Berger’s spokesperson – and asked for the top priorities and a stretch goal for this session.
Here are the responses we received, edited lightly for context, clarity and continuity. Some links were added to provide an opportunity for background.
District 27 Sen. Michael Garrett (D-Greensboro)
- Finally, push Medicaid expansion across the finish line by assisting in finding the common ground where compromise can be realized.
- Passing a statewide capital infrastructure bond that addresses decades of neglect in our state’s critical needs in schools, water/sewer, universities, community colleges, roads/bridges/ports, etc.
- Continue to strengthen our state’s energy policy, combating climate change and securing our energy future.
STRETCH GOAL: “I hope we can finally address partisan gerrymandering and establish a non-partisan redistricting commission which would take effect in 2030. I believe this is a common-sense compromise that would give North Carolinians a fresh start after the next census. Since most politicians currently serving in the General Assembly will be retired come 2030, I hope we could find a consensus to secure free and fair elections for the next generation.”
District 28 Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Greensboro)
- “I am committed to working on the expansion of Mental Health services for the citizens of our state. I co-hosted a Mental Health Townhall in Guilford with Sen. Burgin and Sec. Kinsley in the fall of 2022. There is a huge increase in youth suicides, crime and outbursts in schools, etc. We are all committed to addressing these issues.”
- “I will continue to work on parity for minority and small businesses having access to government and private contracts and funding.”
- “NC must address the housing crisis in regard to homelessness. We should develop a comprehensive statewide housing plan.”
STRETCH GOAL: “It would be a stretch for the Republican leadership to reach out to our Democratic leadership to address gun violence and adopt a budget that will support capital funding for public schools.”
District 23 Sen. Graig Meyer (D-Chapel Hill)
- Medicaid expansion.
- Fully fund the Leandro plan.
- Marijuana legalization.
STRETCH GOAL: Affordable housing legislation
District 57 Rep. Ashton Clemmons (D-Greensboro):
- Protect the rights of North Carolinians.
- Strengthen prosperity for North Carolina’s workforce.
- Invest in the people and future of our state.
STRETCH GOAL: “I hope we improve the school accountability model following recommendations from the Superintendent’s working group.”
District 59 Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett)
- Growing our economy and lowering inflation.
- Improving student outcomes.
- Enhancing public safety.
STRETCH GOAL: “Something that could be a stretch that I would like to address is making Daylight Saving Time permanent. The House passed a bill last session to do this, but it was not voted on in the Senate. I would like to get this done and submit a formal request to the federal government.”
District 61 Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro)
- Protecting our democracy, including legislation to enact an independent redistricting process, and fighting any efforts to limit voter access to polls, etc.
- Protecting women’s reproductive rights.
- Continued efforts to protect NC’s natural resources well as the public health of our citizens, including legislation addressing the climate crisis.
STRETCH GOAL: “Medical aid in dying. I have been working on this issue for many years, most recently with Reps. Hardister and Faircloth. We have a tightly drafted proposal that is narrowly drawn to give limited access to this option. It has yet to receive a hearing, but I hope we will get one in this upcoming biennium. “
District 62 Rep. John Faircloth (R-High Point) via aide Madison Cabuco
- Public safety/law enforcement.
- Fiscal responsibility/new industry.
- Education of children.
STRETCH GOAL: “He has expressed his desire for all populations to feel protected by law enforcement professionals in contrast to being threatened or intimidated,” Cabuco wrote. “He would like to repair the image and mission of law enforcement professionals and rid the institution of the bad apples and hold these individuals accountable. Actions as such would create a safer and more trusted population.”
District 71 Rep. Kanika Brown (D-Winston-Salem)
- Expanding access to affordable health care.
- Investing in public education.
- Working with local governments, nonprofits and businesses to improve access to affordable housing.
STRETCH GOAL: “I’m also interested in discussing tougher laws related to human trafficking of women and children. North Carolina has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the country, and I hope this is an area where we can find common ground and put something impactful forward. I’m also hopeful we can advance legislation that would address racial disparities in public health, income, and educational outcomes.”
District 72 Rep. Amber M. Baker (D-Winston-Salem)
- Fully funding public education.
- Providing to counties funds to combat the workforce housing shortage.
- Expanding access to training and workforce development.
STRETCH GOAL: “It is my hope that we get Medicaid expansion passed. There are so many North Carolinians that need the financial relief from the burden that settles them as a result of medical bills.”
District 75 Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem)
- Medicaid Expansion will get a fair debate and vote this year. Certificate of Need reform will also be passed.
- Several of the Health Chairs are working on a response to some of our issues related to adolescent behavioral health as we reform this area.
- We are working on a Plan that addresses some of the manpower shortages in health care, I anticipate more discussions around telehealth as a tool to provide better access to specialists in rural areas, a focus on improvements in the quality of medical care and a response to the growing teacher shortages across the state. “There will be lots of areas certainly within health care that I will be focusing on,” he said.
STRETCH GOAL: “If NC adopts Medicaid expansion, that in itself will be a major stretch goal. One that just a few years ago it was viewed as a NO WAY that NC will accept a new Medicaid plan.”