The North Carolina General Assembly began its 2017 so-called long session – held every two years – on Wednesday, Jan. 25. The long session is when the legislature passes a two-year budget.
The budget is supposed to be passed by the end of the fiscal year June 30, but quite often the legislature gives itself an extension. In the 2012, the legislature didn’t adjourn until December.
District 59 state Rep. Jon Hardister talked about the upcoming session this week and some of what he expects.
While it’s been almost a year since the legislature passed House Bill 2 (HB2), it’s still probably the hottest issue facing the legislature.
Hardister said, “It’s likely that we’ll take action at some point. A fair number of representatives and senators are interested in addressing the issue.”
Although everybody talks about the repeal or revision of the controversial bathroom bill, so far only 16 state senators, all Republicans, can say they have voted for repeal.
The special meeting in December called by then Gov. Pat McCrory caused a lot of hard feelings and didn’t resolve the issue. When it came for a vote, all the Democratic senators voted against the repeal and the only votes for repeal were from 16 Republicans, including, the two Republicans representing Guilford County – Sen. Trudy Wade and President Pro Tem of the state Senate Phil Berger.
During the special session to repeal HB2, a moratorium that was added to prevent any municipality in the state from passing an ordinance regulating public bathroom use became a controversial issue.
It was added, according to Republicans, because, once in session, they discovered that Charlotte hadn’t repealed its ordinance as they had been told (on the day of the session Charlotte did repeal the entire ordinance).
Also, supporters of HB2 said they would lobby another city to pass a similar ordinance to the one Charlotte had passed creating gender neutral public bathrooms and shower facilities as soon as HB2 was repealed.
Hardister said, “The Democrats in the House were OK with the moratorium. I know they were because I talked to them.”
He said, “Roy Cooper called and said pull the plug on the repeal.”
Democratic state Sen. Joel Ford has publicly said the same thing, that the Democratic senators thought the temporary moratorium was acceptable until Cooper called and told them to vote no on the repeal.
Hardister said, “It shows Gov. Cooper is playing politics. He also derailed the repeal last summer.”
Hardister said he would encourage the governor to set politics aside.
Cooper currently says that he is in favor of a repeal, but since he has now derailed three attempts at repealing HB2, there is a significant lack of trust by Republicans in the legislature.
The legislature revisits bills all the time, according to Hardister. He said bills get passed that have unintended consequences and are revised, and that HB2 was no different.
Hardister said he didn’t see the bill as much about bathrooms as Charlotte having overreached its authority. He noted that in North Carolina the municipalities only have the power that is granted to them by the state, and the state has never given the cities the authority to regulate bathroom usage.
Hardister said of Cooper, “I’ve been disappointed in what I’ve seen so far. He attempted to unilaterally expand Medicaid when he clearly doesn’t have the authority to do it.”
Hardister said that according to both state law and the state constitution, the governor didn’t have the authority to expand Medicaid.
The Republicans have super majorities in both the state House and Senate. Hardister said, “We can override vetoes, but I hope we don’t have to.”
He noted that North Carolina is a right-leaning state, and that Cooper was elected by the thinnest majority in the state’s history, while both President Donald Trump and North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr won by comfortable margins.
The fact that the Republicans have super majorities in both houses is also an indication that the state leans right but elected a Democratic governor.
District 61 state Rep. John Faircloth, who was one of the architects of the police body-worn camera video bill, said he expected that to be revisited this session. When told how expensive it would be for a citizen to file a suit in Superior Court seeking permission to see a police body-worn camera video, Faircloth said that wasn’t the intention of the bill and they would have to take a look at that, along with some other issues that have come up since that law went into effect.
The City of Greensboro is asking the legislature to give cities more control over the police body-worn camera videos shot by their police officers.
However, considering Greensboro’s relationship with the legislature, which is combative, the fact that Greensboro is asking for it might hurt the chances of the legislature taking action.
Hardister said of the first few days of the legislature, “We’ll be filing bills and trying to get our ducks in a row.”
He said he was still waiting for some renovations to his office to be complete so he could get moved in.
The legislature traditionally gets off to a slow start, and unless HB2 comes up early, it looks like the 2017 session will be no different.