NC NOW Legislative Update—25 May 2020
The NC legislature is back in session. At the end of each long session, a resolution is passed that determines the bills that can be considered in the upcoming short session. Here is a link to an overview of the categories of bills that can be considered in this 2020 short session along with a list of crossover bills that are also eligible to be considered: https://www.ncleg.gov/documentsites/legislativepublications/Legislative%20Analysis%20Division/Eligible%20Bills/Bills%20Eligible%20for%20Consideration%20for%202020%20Session.pdf.
Under normal circumstances, the short session would focus on tweaking the budget, local bills, and bills that passed one house or the other during the long session. However, these are not normal circumstances. The legislators are so divided along partisan lines that no budget was passed during the long session. Republicans passed a budget along party lines; Governor Cooper vetoed it; and Republicans were unable to override the veto.
There is no budget to tweak. Instead, several “mini-budgets” dealing with restricted areas were passed last session. Areas not covered by a mini-budget or a special bill continue to be funded at past levels. The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented budgetary strains at the state and local levels. Revenues will fall short drastically, while the demand for services and economic relief will rise to unprecedented levels. For a good overview of the stresses on the North Carolina budget, see: https://www.ncjustice.org/publications/state-revenue-needed-to-avoid-budget-shortfalls/.
Budget shortfalls will require cuts in services, tax increases, or a combination of the two. At the same time, it will also be necessary to increase funding for safety net programs, especially programs to provide relief for the unemployed and businesses forced to close. We are also facing a crisis in health care far beyond our usual shortcomings. Finally, this November we will need to hold an election, including a presidential election, during a pandemic. Federal funds are available to help in some areas, but the restrictions on their use are problematic.
Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act was the issue that caused budget negotiations to break down. The governor refused to sign a budget that did not include Medicaid expansion, and Republicans refused revise the budget to include it. The problem remains unresolved, and is unlikely to be resolved this legislative session.
One issue that is receiving attention is how to conduct the 2020 elections. North Carolina needs to match the nearly two million dollars available through the federal CARES Act to help fund the presidential election. This article surveys the needs facing counties for the 2020 elections and the cost of meeting them: https://www.wbtv.com/2020/05/11/pandemic-will-drive-up-election-costs-so-far-nc-isnt-ready/ .
A bipartisan bill (HB1169) has been introduced to make it easier to vote by mail. Under current law, people who cast a ballot by mail are required to have the signatures of two witnesses (or one notary); this requirement would be reduced to one witness. The bill would also allow voters to request absentee ballots through email or fax, which is not currently allowed and would also create a new tracking system to allow voters to make sure their ballot makes it to the board of elections. There is a new requirement for voters to be notified if something is wrong with their ballot and to give them the opportunity to fix it.
See the whole legislative update, including the bills we are tracking, at NC NOW Legislative Update.25May20.