It’s over—for now. The legislature adjourned on October 31 after the longest session in 18 years. It will reconvene on November 13 to consider legislation addressing court-ordered redistricting of our congressional districts and other narrowly defined matters. The 2020 short session will begin on January 14, 2020. Considering how many major issues remain unresolved, including the budget and Medicaid expansion, the short session may not be so short.
The two main areas of controversy this session were the budget and Medicaid expansion. Neither was resolved. The governor early declared that he would veto any budget that did not include Medicaid expansion and substantial pay increases for teachers. The Republican-controlled legislature presented him with a budget that did neither and, predictably, the governor vetoed it. His veto was overridden in the House in a very controversial vote, but there was no vote in the Senate because Republicans never had the votes to override the veto.
Instead of a comprehensive budget, we now have a series of “mini-budgets” that fund certain limited programs or agencies. Funding for testing untested rape kits was passed through a “mini-budget” bill. Funding for everything not included in a “mini-budget” will remain at the 2018 level until a new budget is passed. This article surveys the dangers of operating without a comprehensive budget and relying instead on a series of “mini-budgets”: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2019/10/09/so-called-mini-budgets-put-ncs-fiscal-health-at-risk/ Votes to overturn the governor’s vetoes can come up again during the 2020 session.
The issue of Medicaid expansion can be confusing because there are two versions in North Carolina. The first is Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act—the version that the governor and most Democrats support. The second is a modified version (HB655). supported by most Republicans, that contains a work requirement and requires recipients to pay a premium. The confusion arises because both approaches are labeled “Medicaid expansion” in the press and elsewhere, though NC Republicans vehemently reject that label. The Republican bill (HB655) passed the House Health Committee, but died in the House Rules Committee. This article reviews some of the objections to proposals such as HB655: http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2019/09/24/five-simple-truths-about-the-medicaid-expansion-debate/. The work requirement, it should be noted, has been rejected by some courts. It should also be noted that some conservative Democrats support this approach while some ultra-conservative Republicans reject it because they believe that it is still too close to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Finally, some well-intentioned health care advocates support this approach on the pragmatic ground that something is better than nothing. There is no light at the end of this tunnel.
In spite of all this gridlock there is some good news. A bill closing loopholes in North Carolina rape laws passed both houses unanimously. Two key provisions address revocation of consent and sex with someone incapacitated due to alcohol or drugs, reversing two dreadful court precedents that made prosecution in many cases all but impossible. One court decision held that consent could not be withdrawn after a consensual sex act begins, and the other made sex with a person incapacitated due to alcohol or drugs legal if the person voluntarily consumed the alcohol or drugs.
The process for gaining a unanimous vote in support of the rape reform bill in both houses is interesting since some provisions had failed in committee in both houses. The bill began as measure against the sexual abuse of children, and after this version passed both houses in different forms went to a conference committee. The rape provisions from blocked bills were added by the conference committee, and the title of the bill was changed to reflect the changes. Since bills that come out of a conference committee cannot be amended on the floor, there must be a straight up or down vote. No one thought it was a good idea to vote against a bill that reformed both the laws pertaining to the sexual abuse of children and the rape laws.
The legislature will reconvene for a special session on November 13 to consider redrawn congressional maps and some other narrowly defined issues. The legislative districts have already been redrawn by court order and the court has accepted the redrawn districts. However, the court recently rejected North Carolina’s heavily gerrymandered congressional districts and ordered that they, too, be redrawn.
Find the form with the summary and information about the bills on women that NC NOW is tracking at NC_NOW_Legislative_Update_#30.4Nov19.