Our legislature has been in session since Jan. 30 and at last count 17 bills had been approved by both houses of the legislature and sent to Gov. Cooper’s desk for approval or veto. Traditionally that pace quickens following the Easter break.
This session has been quieter than some recent ones for two reasons, most notably because legislators had already passed most all their bucket list agenda. More practically, leadership no longer has veto-proof majorities in either chamber and Gov. Cooper has repeatedly demonstrated he doesn’t mind using his big red veto stamp.
There are some contentious items already. For instance, it is unlikely Cooper will approve the requirement that all sheriffs must adhere to the 287(g) requirements to detain those whom ICE wants held. And the governor wasted no time in vetoing the just-passed “born alive abortion” bill.
Hopefully these controversies can be kept to a minimum, as there are many serious items needing resolution. The courts have dictated that Congressional districts and some legislative districts be redrawn before the 2020 election. Judges allowed the old districts to stand in 2018 because there wasn’t enough time to draw new boundaries before the election, but there’s plenty of time to do so before next year’s votes.
If lawmakers drag their feet, the judges themselves might draw the maps, something lawmakers don’t want. After so many redistricting court cases there is hope our state might finally establish an independent redistricting commission to draw new congressional and legislative maps in 2021, as will be required after results of the 2020 census are made known.
The recent absentee ballot scandal dictates an honest evaluation of changes needed to restore trust in our elections. Voter ID requirements need to be clarified if they are to be implemented in 2020. There are issues regarding the State Health Plan, association health plans, Medicaid managed care and Medicaid expansion to address.
As always, a plethora of education topics are under consideration, especially a renewed emphasis on reading, a serious examination about restoring confidence in the governance of our state universities and whether to undertake major school construction by asking voters to approve a bond referendum or by implementing pay-as-you-go financing.
Add to that list teacher and state employee pay increases, further hurricane relief, prison reforms, economic development restructuring and environmental issues. There’s much to be done.
We will know more about how long this session will last when the legislature rolls out its biennial budget next month. Lawmakers have been working on the spending plan behind closed doors for some weeks and hope to pass it in time for the new fiscal year that begins July 1, but a gubernatorial veto could force the session to drag out into the summer. Look for how many “sweeteners” lawmakers put in the budget to encourage Cooper to sign it, along with how many special provisions they slip into the document that might discourage approval.
With the candidate filing period due to open in December and primaries early next March, all politicians will want to wrap up this session in early July and rest a bit before campaigns begin in earnest. We will know soon enough whether that is likely.
Tom Campbell is former assistant state treasurer and is creator/host of “NC Spin,” a weekly statewide television discussion of North Carolina issues that airs on UNC-TV. Contact him at www.ncspin.com.