The N.C. General Assembly began the first full week of work on Monday with a full slate of committee meetings and eighteen bills already filed. The legislature has fast-track plans to “pre-negotiate” the budget and be out by July 1. Still, important issues are on the to-do list, like health care access reports and parental involvement in education.
Lawmakers gavel in the short session just months after the longest long session in state history concluded in March. Both the Senate and House would like the short session to stay short, especially after the marathon long session and for those campaigning for the General Election in November.
“Members, it’s good to see everyone back,” said House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland opening the session last week. “It just doesn’t feel like it has been that long ago that we were here, still in the long session. Now, we are finally in the short session. My hope is as true as the word ‘long session’ was, I hope this time that the word will truly be a short session as well.”
The Senate followed a similar plan, gaveling in and out in less than two minutes.
On Monday, Sens. Brent Jackson, R- Sampson, Norman Sanderson, R-Craven, and Mike Woodard, D-Durham filed Senate Bill 762, the North Carolina Farm Act of 2022, which includes a measure to permanently remove hemp from the controlled substances list.
Bills of note that were filed in the House include House Bill 1005. Republican Reps. Jamie Boles, Ted Davis, Allen McNeill, and Carson Smith are lead sponsors of the bill that would lead to stiffer criminal penalties, including prison sentences of up to 15 years for some offenses.
House Bill 1014, sponsored by Rep. Ashton Wheeler Clemmons, D-Guilford, would appropriate $10 million from the Opioid Abatement Reserve to establish an institute at UNC-Greensboro that would prevent and treat opioid misuse.
Moore said the House was scheduled to begin voting on bills the week of May 23.
He said House leaders are working to pre-negotiate the budget with the Senate as much as they can to speed the process — calling it “reverse engineering” — starting with a conference report and getting it resolved. Usually, the legislature begins with a House budget and a Senate budget and brings everything together. Then, they end with a conference report, which represents a joint House-Senate compromise.
“If we can try to get those issues identified now and deal with that, that is the intention of the chair,” he said. “We certainly have been here enough last year and into this year that I think we can make it a little more of an efficient process. We’ll be asking members to be talking with the appropriations chairs if you have a specific request on things you want to work on.”
“Appropriations chairs” lead the House and Senate budget-writing committees.
Despite its brevity, the short session looks to be filled with important items on the agenda on both sides of the aisle. It comes as the recently released revised forecast from state government economists indicated the state will have an additional $6.2 billion in revenue through the end of the next budget year.
“State employment had returned to pre-pandemic levels by the summer of 2021 and, by March 2022, already exceeded our pre-pandemic forecast,” stated the revised forecast from the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division and the governor’s State Budget Office.
“Nevertheless, consumer demand outpaced inflation, as consumers continued to spend down savings accumulated during the pandemic.”
Inflation surged in March to its highest level since January 1982, at 8.5%.
“We will continue Republican-led policies that created a stable economic climate and balanced state budgets in North Carolina while avoiding efforts by state Democrats to replicate the ill-advised approach of the Biden administration,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, in an emailed statement to Carolina Journal. “The Biden administration’s disastrous economic policies have wrecked family budgets and brought terms like “inflation,” “stagflation,” and “supply chain disruption” into our daily conversations. Since Democrats have made a recession more likely in the next 12 to 24 months, we will look to ensure the state has the resources needed to weather an economic slowdown.”
Berger said there would also be discussions about health care access and parental involvement in education. He hopes to conclude the short session as quickly as possible, hopefully by July 1.
Democrats in the legislature share some of those priorities but have a broader target list for the session.
“In the short session, House Democrats want to continue the work to expand opportunities for all North Carolinians,” said Rep. Robert Reives, D-Chatham, in an emailed statement to Carolina Journal. “We want to truly expand broadband access both by investing in infrastructure and in digital literacy efforts to help all North Carolinians and small businesses benefit. We want to continue to try to save rural health care by helping hospitals stay open, increasing the number of health care professionals in these areas, lowering health care costs, and creating more accessibility for all.”
Reives also said that Democrats would like to fully fund the public educational systems in the state for residents to take advantage of the many job opportunities.
Jordan Roberts, director of government affairs at the John Locke Foundation, said he expects education and health care to be the dominant policy issues that are discussed during the short session. “Concerning education, the budget surpluses could provide some room for additional pay increases for teachers and other state employees and what was in the biennial budget agreement last year,” he said. “Furthermore, legislators will likely look at legislation that increases parents’ involvement in their child’s education as concerns about the public education system grow.”
He said lawmakers agreed to hold a joint legislative committee to look at healthcare access and Medicaid expansion as part of the budget agreement with Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat. The committee heard numerous presentations over the course of six meetings that looked at Medicaid expansion in other states, certificate of need reform, telehealth reform, and full practice authority for nurses. “It remains to be seen what lawmakers will do in the health care space, but given the committee’s work over the last several months, lawmakers will likely advance some legislation to address access issues across the state,” Roberts said.
Roberts added that sports wagering and medical marijuana are some of the issues that will likely come up for discussion during the short session.