Seven Weeks of Power Grabs and Missed Opportunities in the North Carolina General Assembly

July 2018

RALEIGH, N.C. — In a short, seven-week legislative session, conservatives in the North Carolina General Assembly, where Republicans hold a veto-proof supermajority in both chambers, pushed through a dramatic series of constitutional amendments to be decided on by voters this November, neglected to act on important legislation, and overrode a record number of vetoes by Governor Cooper.

This session, North Carolina conservatives:

  • Neglected Public Education:
    • Instead of investing in public schools, the legislature instead chose to prioritize tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. Per-pupil spending remains near the bottom nationally, and while raises for some teachers and principals were included in this year’s budget, teacher pay also remains well below the national average.
    • The state budget diverted funding from public schools to give vouchers to unaccountable private schools. The legislature also refused to consider giving citizens the opportunity to vote on a bond to pay for part of the $8 billion backlog in school maintenance and construction needs.
  • Missed Opportunities to Improve Health Care:
    • Leadership refused to consider taking federal funds to expand coverage under Medicaid (HB 858/SB290) for 500,000 currently uninsured North Carolinians, which would also create 40,000 jobs and keep rural hospitals open.
    • Instead, the signature effort by leadership was an unsuccessful attempt to allow unregulated health plans to be sold in the state, which would not cover people with pre-existing conditions.
  • Chose Corporations Over Families:
    • The legislature passed a bill to protect a multinational pork producer over the interests of residents of eastern North Carolina. Residents living near giant pig farms sued a corporation to change the way they deal with hog waste and have won two cases against the corporation. Neighbors of the plants complained about the use of open-air lagoons to store hog excrement that emit noxious odors, and the practice of spraying the overflow onto nearby fields, which lands on property nearby. The legislature swiftly moved to prevent other residents from suing, instead giving the company the green light to continue business as usual at the expense of North Carolina families.

The legislature had a chance to make real, progressive change, but instead chose not to act on many bills, including those regarding:

  • Gun Safety:
    • HB 976/SB734 would allow extreme risk protection orders to keep guns out of the hands of people who are a credible threat of violence while a judge considers evidence.
    • The Safer Schools, Healthier Kids Act (HB1070/SB737), a package of gun safety legislation modeled after laws passed in Florida.
  • Better Pay:
  • Public Education:
    • Proposed increases in school funding to ensure that all kids in the state receive a quality education and to treat our teachers and principals with the respect they deserve.

The legislature also voted to include six constitutional amendments on the November ballot—the highest number in almost 40 years, and more than have been included on the ballot in the last 20 years combined. If passed, the amendments would:

  • Require Photo ID to Vote: This amendment would require “photographic identification” to vote. While polls show support for voter ID, when voters learn that it could prevent the elderly, the military and people of color from voting, that support disappears. Further, no evidence of widespread voter fraud exists. In fact, a recent audit of board of elections data showed one case of voter fraud among 3 million ballots cast in a recent election.
  • Restructure the Board of Ethics and Elections: On its face, this amendment would take the Board of Elections away from the purview of the governor and make it a separate agency, structure the board to ensure gridlock, and take away the governor’s power to appoint the members. More insidiously, the amendment would take away the governor’s appointment authority for all boards and commissions and hand it to the legislature instead.
  • Change Judicial Vacancies: In yet another legislative power grab, this amendment would take away the governor’s ability to appoint judges when vacancies occur and give that power to the legislature. Under this amendment, the legislature could also create two new Supreme Court seats and fill them both, shifting the ideological makeup of the court.
  • Lower the Income Tax Cap: This amendment would lower the existing constitutional cap on the state’s personal and corporate income tax rate. In other states that capped tax levels at similarly low levels, property taxes, sales taxes and user fees have all increased to provide adequate investments for schools, roads and essential services. These increases would hit working North Carolinians particularly hard and place an unfair burden on low- and middle-income residents.

The legislature plans to reconvene on November 27, when conservatives are guaranteed to still have a supermajority, and they hope to write the rules for how these amendments would work before any newly elected legislators can take their seats.