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NC Lawmakers Have Until End of Year to Resolve Hot-Button Issues

Several major bills went unresolved when the main legislative session ended in June. Now lawmakers have just a few days remaining in session each month.

Despite a flurry of activity during the last week state lawmakers were in town last month, several major bills Republicans wanted to pass did not make it across the finish line.

When lawmakers convened for this year’s short session in April, there were many bills on the GOP’s agenda, in addition to the main item of legislative business that’s usually on the cards during even-year short sessions: a budget.

Some of those bills passed, but others, like a high-priority bill to require sheriffs to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, did not.

House and Senate Republicans approved a two-year budget in October, but couldn’t reach an agreement this year on how much to spend in a budget adjustment bill. That budget stalemate ultimately went unresolved, and both chambers agreed to adjourn at the end of June and reconvene for a few days every month or so until the end of the year, starting Wednesday.

From immigration and medical marijuana to private school vouchers and constitutional amendments, here are the bills that didn’t clear the legislature this session but could still come up.

ICE Cooperation with Sheriffs

One of the top legislative priorities for Republicans this year was to pass legislation requiring all 100 sheriffs in the state to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Republicans twice passed bills that would do this, in 2019 and 2022, but both bills were vetoed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

At the time, GOP lawmakers didn’t have the supermajorities needed to override Cooper’s vetoes on their own, but that changed in April 2023, with the party switch of Rep. Tricia Cotham, who left the Democrats to join the Republicans, securing the GOP the final seat they needed to break vetoes.

After going five years without being able to override Cooper’s vetoes, Republicans enacted 19 bills over his objections last year. And ahead of this year’s session, top Republicans said they planned to take up the bill again, and were prepared to override a veto if it came down.

Soon after lawmakers returned to Raleigh in April, the Senate took up the House-passed bill to require cooperation with ICE, passing it quickly, but not before amending it.

That amendment became a sticking point between House and Senate Republicans. It included an enforcement provision that would allow anyone, including law enforcement authorities, to file a complaint with the attorney general if they believed sheriffs or jail administrators weren’t complying with the bill’s provisions. The attorney general could then seek a court order compelling the sheriff to cooperate.

Top GOP lawmakers have been appointed to try and reach an agreement on final language for the bill, but an agreement hasn’t been announced yet.

Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters on the last day of session that he was hopeful Republicans will be able to work out a bill both chambers can agree on and send to Cooper.

Medical Marijuana

In the final days of session, the Senate made a last-minute effort to resurrect a bill legalizing medical marijuana in the state.

While taking up a House bill dealing with hemp regulations and proposed restrictions on other drugs, senators amended it to include the Compassionate Care Act, the bipartisan medical marijuana legalization bill that the Senate has advanced in recent years, but hasn’t been taken up by the House.

House Speaker Tim Moore has said that he personally supports the bill, but it doesn’t have enough support from a majority of House Republicans, which is the threshold the caucus looks for before moving forward with legislation.

The bill would allow the use of marijuana for people who have cancer, ALS, and other ailments. It would also create an 11-member board tasked with approving, suspending and revoking licenses for suppliers of marijuana. This board would supervise revenue generation and approve 10 licenses from a list of recommendations.

Senate Democrats joined a number of Republicans in voting for the bill, but expressed concern about some of the bill’s provisions, particularly one addition to the bill that states that if marijuana “is rescheduled or deleted as a controlled substance under federal law, marijuana shall not be rescheduled or deleted under this Article unless the General Assembly enacts legislation.”

The Justice Department under President Joe Biden is moving to place marijuana in a less dangerous category of drugs — “rescheduling” it from Schedule I to Schedule III, NBC News reported.

Before a vote on the Senate floor, Sen. Bill Rabon, a powerful Republican who has been spearheading the bill, spoke to a committee about his experience battling stage-three colon cancer and using marijuana illegally.

“I was close to death a long time ago, and I would have died had I not broken the law, and I had not taken the advice of my health care provider and gotten a cannabis product,” Rabon said. “I was ready to give up.”

Rabon said he would “stay in this legislature until it passes.”

Funding for Private School Vouchers

One priority that Republicans in both chambers agreed on, and wanted to act on this session, was funding to clear a wait list of 55,000 students whose families want private school vouchers.

GOP lawmakers lifted income eligibility limits on the Opportunity Scholarship program this year, which led to a record 71,956 new applications for the program.

The N.C. State Education Assistance Authority has said it only has enough money to issue 15,805 scholarships, and priority was given to applicants whose families had the lowest incomes.

The high demand led GOP leaders to publicly pledge to increase funding to eliminate the backlog, but they couldn’t reach an agreement on how to move forward.

In May, the Senate passed a standalone bill to provide $463.5 million in additional voucher funding over the next two years. That bill wasn’t taken up by the House. In June, as budget talks broke down, the House and Senate passed their own budget bills that included the $463.5 million.

On the last day of session, Berger said that he was “disappointed” the House hadn’t taken up the standalone funding bill. Moore, meanwhile, said that the amount of additional funding was so large that House Republicans wanted to include it in the budget, along with bigger raises for public school teachers.

The lack of additional funding has left thousands of parents uncertain where their children will go to school in the fall, and some parents told The News & Observer they felt frustrated and betrayed by the inability of lawmakers to clear the wait list.


The House also passed a bill dealing with the removal of squatters from private property, but the Senate did not take it up, and the future of that and similar bills is unclear.

“Keep in mind these are not tenants, tenants are handled under Chapter 42 — tenant landlord law,” said Rep. John Bradford, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, told other lawmakers. “These are trespassers. These are people who are in property that are trying to take it as their own.”

House Bill 984 would allow property owners dealing with squatters to contact law enforcement and file an expedited removal complaint form. HB 984 requires that, if the complaint is verified, the law enforcement agency shall remove the person or persons within 48 hours and arrest them if necessary.

Two other bills addressing squatters and aiding property owners were passed by a judiciary committee, but were not addressed on the House floor.

  • House Bill 966, which would establish an “expedited proceeding” to remove people who “unlawfully” enter another person’s home and ignore demands to leave, The N&O reported.
  • House Bill 1070, which seeks to increase punishment for squatters or those fraudulently renting, leasing or advertising rental properties

HB 966 was authored by Republican Rep. Steve Tyson of Craven County, who said at a meeting that his bill would “remove trespassers who have watched videos and understand the weakness of [the] system.” The bill seeks to provide more protections for property owners and authorized agents, such as Realtors.

Higher Education

In higher education, the lack of a new budget agreement for the 2024-25 fiscal year means that several of the UNC System’s requests will likely go unfunded this year, unless legislators act on the requests at a later date. The system’s requests included $17 million for campus safety infrastructure improvements at six schools and $21.5 million for “critical utility infrastructure needs” at the system’s five historically Black universities, among others.

Legislators also did not reach an agreement on a House budget proposal to establish a School of Applied Science and Technology at UNC-Chapel Hill. As proposed, the school would offer degree programs in engineering, computer science, biomedical sciences, natural resources, physical sciences and other areas, building on the university’s existing programs in applied science and engineering.

House Speaker Tim Moore said the school could play a major role in meeting growing demands for technology jobs in North Carolina, but Senate leader Phil Berger said the school needed “to have a lot more conversation and a lot more buy-in” before it had a chance to come to fruition.

The North Carolina Community College System this session was seeking approval to change how the state’s 58 community colleges are funded by the state. The proposal, which is called “Propel NC,” would alter the funding model to focus on sectors of the workforce and labor market outcomes, such as salary, EducationNC reported. The state Board of Community Colleges approved the new model in February, but legislators have not approved it.

Election Changes

Senate Republicans proposed a variety of changes to election law that didn’t make it over the finish line this session.

Senate Bill 88, sponsored by Elections Committee Chair Warren Daniel, would have:

  • Required political ads to include a disclosure if they used generative artificial intelligence in certain circumstances.
  • Required the use of signature verification technology to check mail-in ballots beginning in 2025.
  • Required county boards of election to check death records and felony conviction records prior to certifying an election to determine if ballots need to be removed.
  • Stated that once a local government’s election methods have been changed by the General Assembly, the local government cannot alter those changes until the next federal census.

Democrats generally supported the provision dealing with AI, but voiced concerns about some of the other proposals, especially the one dealing with local governments.

Some Democrats described it as a “power grab” that would allow Republicans to draw more favorable districts for their party in local elections.

North Carolina lawmakers already have the power to change the election methods for local governments. But the new law would prevent local governments that had already faced alterations from the state from making any changes to their elections until a new census is completed, which only happens once every 10 years.

SB 88 passed the Senate along party lines, but was not taken up by the House.

Constitutional Amendments

The General Assembly approved one constitutional amendment to send to voters in November, but several others did not pass both chambers.

In order to approve an amendment to the constitution, it must first be approved by a supermajority of the House and Senate. Then, the proposal is decided on by voters in the next election.

House and Senate members each proposed an amendment to specify that voter ID is required for all types of voting, not just in-person. This is already the law in North Carolina, but Republicans said the change was necessary to clear up ambiguity in the state constitution.

Some Democrats charged that the proposal was a way for Republicans to drive conservatives to the polls in November, giving them another chance to vote on voter ID even though it’s already in effect.

Senate Republicans also proposed an amendment that would have lowered the state’s maximum income tax from 7 percent to 5 percent. The current individual income tax rate, however, is already below that, at 4.5 percent.

In the House, Republicans proposed an amendment that would have limited the governor’s appointment powers when filling vacancies on the Council of State.

The amendment would have required the governor to fill these vacancies only from a list of three approved candidates submitted by the political party of the former office holder.

Under the constitution’s current language, if a Republican member of the Council of State vacated their position, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper could hypothetically replace them with a member of his own party.

This amendment never made it to a floor vote.

Lastly, House Republicans approved a constitutional amendment that would have repealed the state’s Jim Crow-era literacy test requirement for voting.

The requirement has been inoperable since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, but has remained in the constitution as a relic of the state’s racist history.

The House passed the amendment unanimously, but the Senate did not take it up.

©2024 The Charlotte Observer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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