NC Legislative Building

NC Legislative Building

The NC Legislative Building in Raleigh.

RALEIGH – The North Carolina General Assembly adjourned for a two-week period on Oct. 31 with no state Senate vote on the vetoed budget having taken place.

The state budget – House Bill 966 – was vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, on June 28 and returned to the Republican-controlled NCGA. Cooper said it was a “bad budget” that includes tax breaks for corporations rather than investing in schools, teacher pay and health care. Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Blowing Rock) echoed Republican leaders in praising the budget, saying it continues increases funding for school safety, school mental health support personnel, school construction and continued state correctional officers, teacher and principal pay raises.

After more than two months, the state House held a surprise veto override vote on Sept. 11. The controversial vote came when most state House Democrats were absent due to the communication from party leadership that it was a no-vote session. The N.C. House Republicans would not have had enough votes for the veto override at 60 percent with all Democrats present. State Republicans contend that there was an announcement the day before that the session was a voting session.

With a 29-21 edge in the state Senate, the N.C. Republicans are short of the 60 percent needed to override Cooper’s veto and make HB966 into law.

The week of Oct. 28 began with legislators having hopes that a veto override vote would take place, but the session ended on Oct. 31 without one and HB966 sent into committee.

The NCGA reconvenes on Nov. 13. In the meantime, a Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting is meeting to work on new N.C. Congressional maps. The NCGA is following a three-judge panel’s ruling on Oct. 28 that said the current maps violate the state Constitution and offered the NCGA a chance to draw new maps. Failing which, the N.C. Congressional primary elections could be delayed, according to the unanimous ruling.

In its late October work, the NCGA passed numerous bills, many of which are mini-budget bills for certain agencies, plus other acts that will affect 2020 elections.

‘Last Saturday’ early votingEarly voting for the last Saturday before Election Day would be fully restored as of the 2020 elections, according to a new law that has been passed by the NCGA.

Senate Bill 683 mandates that if a county elections board decided to have one-stop early voting on the last Saturday before Election Day, all early-voting sites in the county will be open that day from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Previously, early voting on the final Saturday before an election was removed, with state Democrats saying the last Saturday is typically when a lot of minorities vote in North Carolina. The N.C. Democratic Party had filed a lawsuit to restore the “Last Saturday” early-voting provision in October.

Other changes include the regulated hours for early voting in Congressional election years, regulating that all one-stop early voting sites in a county are open on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. concurrently. Previously, the law was that the site be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Different enacted legislation allows county boards more flexibility for opening one-stop early voting sites for municipal elections.

In addition, the proposed law increases the penalties for absentee ballot fraud and other crimes involving absentee ballots, changes how mail-in absentee ballots will be processed and makes appropriations for the N.C. State Board of Elections.

SB683 received bipartisan support from the NCGA, getting final approval from both the state House and Senate on Oct. 30 by near-unanimous votes. The bill is on Cooper’s desk as of Nov. 5.

Raises for teachers, school administratorsA mini-budget bill for public educators and administrators passed the NCGA along party lines on Oct. 31, with state Republicans saying it’ll raise teacher pay by 3.9 percent and state Democrats claiming it’s not good enough.

Senate Bill 354 offers the same teacher and administrator raises proposed in the stalled biennial budget bill that Cooper opposed. Cooper, state Democrats and the North Carolina Association of Educators oppose SB354. Cooper said in an Oct. 31 Tweet that state Republicans are offering a “paltry” raise for teachers that is less than other state agencies.

State Republicans are pressing Cooper to sign the bill, saying that if he doesn’t, educators won’t receive raises for the first time in several years. The pay raises would be backdated to July 1, Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Dunn) said in an Oct. 30 statement.

Cooper received the bill on Nov. 1 and has not acted on it as of Nov. 5.

Colleges and universities, ‘Raise the Age’ fundingHouse Bill 111 would set base budget for the University of North Carolina system, including Appalachian State University, as well as N.C. Community College system funding, in lieu of a full budget.

The bill is one of several mini-budget acts the NCGA has taken up in the stalemate over the current biennial budget. The act also includes base budgets for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, general government functions and agriculture and consumer services.

HB111 also includes pro-rated funding for the “Raise the Age” mandate, a bipartisan effort that seeks to direct more 16- and 17-year-old juvenile offenders into juvenile court, instead of trying them as adults.

HB111 passed the state Senate and House on Oct. 30 and 31, respectively, by unanimous votes. As of Nov. 5, the bill is on Cooper’s desk.

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