2017 Legislative Wrap-Up
On June 30th, the last day of the fiscal year for the State, the General Assembly wrapped up its “long session” for 2017, adjourning in the wee hours of the morning. Our lobbying team has been there in the halls of the General Assembly since January reviewing hundreds of bills, sifting through the ones that impact the values we share, and lobbying to make sure the good ones are passed and the bad ones die. Overall, the 2017 session was a success, although we suffered a set-back with the repeal and replacement of HB2, North Carolina’s Bathroom Privacy and Safety Act. Here are the pieces of legislation that impact the values we seek to advance:
HB2—Bathroom Privacy and Safety
After a year of bullying and economic boycotts from liberal groups, LGBT activists, sports organizations like the NBA and the NCAA, and business leaders, legislative leaders finally found the votes to repeal North Carolina’s Bathroom Privacy and Safety law—HB2. They put together a coalition of Republicans and Democrats to pass HB 142, which repealed HB2 completely and replaced it with a simplified law that says:
(1) State agencies and other branches of government “are preempted from regulation of access to multiple occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities, except in accordance with an act of the General Assembly.”
(2) Until December 1, 2020, no local government can regulate private employment practices or public accommodations.
While reserving to itself exclusively the power to regulate bathroom access, the General Assembly failed to adopt a policy for bathroom access, leaving an ambiguous situation that will surely lead to more litigation and the unintended consequence of little girls encountering grown men in their bathrooms and locker rooms. Additionally, the General Assembly “kicked the can down the road” on the issue of expanding LGBT special rights into the areas of private employment and public accommodations, guaranteeing that there will be another battle about this issue during an important election year—2020. If, however, the General Assembly allows the moratorium to expire, they will expose business owners and individuals to frivolous lawsuits just for exercising their religious beliefs. That would facilitate violations of First Amendment protections and would force business owners to choose between their livelihoods or their religious freedoms. NC Values Coalition opposed the so-called “re-set” for those reasons.
Free Speech on College Campuses
HB 527, the Campus Free Speech Act, will do a great deal to decrease political correctness at the University of North Carolina System and North Carolina Community College System. By providing greater protection for free speech on campus, it will advance academic inquiry, which should be at the heart of education. It puts into law the right to free association and the right to hear speakers chosen by any student group for all public college students in North Carolina. It also prohibits “free speech zones,” recognizing that free speech is a constitutional right that cannot be limited to certain spaces on college campuses. One of the biggest advancements of the law requires institutional neutrality, which means that a university cannot take an official policy position on political issues. This will be a powerful tool for pushing back against the extreme politicization of the universities, like the many cries for repeal of HB2 we heard over the last year from professors and administrators at our public universities. We applaud Lt. Governor Dan Forest for recognizing the need for this legislation, and for working with Representatives Chris Millis and Jonathan Jordan and Senators Dan Bishop and David Curtis to pass it into law. Now, it awaits the Governor’s signature.
The State Budget includes several provisions funding pro-life initiatives. First, it appropriates $2.6 million ($1.3 million for each of the next two years) to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, a statewide association of pregnancy care centers focusing on networking and training. Of the amount appropriated each year, $800,000 goes toward the purchase of ultrasound machines, $30,000 toward administrative expenses, $170,00 to training staff on the use of ultrasound machines, and $300,000 to the Human Coalition (a Texas-based pregnancy resource group) to develop and implement a 2-year Continuum of Care pilot program at its Raleigh clinic to provide care and medical support to women experiencing crisis pregnancies.
In addition, the budget provides $6.6 million ($2.2 million each year for the next three years) to the Department of Health and Human Services to study the effects of in-home prenatal care and a hormone medicine on reducing pre-term births. The study is being conducted, because pre-term birth is the major driver of infant mortality and the leading cause of long-term neurological disabilities in children. In North Carolina, counties with the highest infant mortality rates also have high incidents of pre-term births, high rates of poverty, and are disproportionally composed of racial minorities.
Finally, an additional $400,000 was appropriated for the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship for each of the next two years, and $100,000 was appropriated to the Coastal Pregnancy Center located in Beaufort County.
North Carolina is now rated the 8th worst state for human trafficking in the country. SB 548, sponsored by Senator Shirley Randleman (a Wilkesboro Republican) and championed by Lt. Governor Dan Forest, will help to curb this reprehensible activity. First, it requires that the National Human Trafficking Resource Hotline Number— 1-888-373-7888 — be prominently displayed on signs in adult entertainment businesses, businesses that sell alcohol, hospitals, massage and bodyworks therapy establishments, and highway rest stops. The requirement helps victims of sex trafficking, who may frequent the places where the signs must be posted, to find help and possible rescue. The bill would also make human trafficking a higher-level felony, meaning convictions would result in longer prison sentences, and institute new regulations for massage and bodyworks therapy businesses to prevent them from being used as a front for human traffickers. HB 548 is on the Governor’s desk for him to sign into law, but the funding for signs displaying the National Human Trafficking Resource Hotline Number has already been provided in the state budget.
Expansion of School Choice
Legislators continued to expand Opportunity Scholarships both for lower-income children and children with disabilities. This budget appropriates $44.8 million for 10,700 scholarships during the 2018-2019 school year and $54.8 million for 13,100 scholarships during the 2019-2020 school year. According to Parents for Educational Freedom (PFEF), “Lawmakers have remained steadfast in their support of expansion, despite the governor’s proposed budget seeking to shrink the Program. Demand from North Carolina families for these private school scholarships is at an all-time high this year, as nearly 10,000 new applications have been submitted in just four months. In total, North Carolina families have submitted over 33,000 applications since the Program was established.”
In addition to the two Opportunity Scholarships programs, the budget includes a new school choice initiative—Educational Savings Accounts, which are funded at $3,450,000 to expand support for special needs families.
The $23 billion budget delivers $530 million in tax relief, reducing the personal income tax rate from 5.499 to 5.25 percent in 2019, raising the standard deduction for married couples to $20,000, and reducing the corporate income tax rate from 3% to 2.5% in 2019. It also provides nearly $700 million more for public education and increases teacher pay 3.3% this year and 9.6% over two years and substantially increasing school principal pay. It provides $100 million in disaster relief assistance to victims of Hurricane Matthew and adds $363 million to the state’s rainy-day fund – bringing the savings reserve to its highest total ever. Although Democrat Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the state budget, legislators quickly overrode the veto so that the spending plan could go into effect on July 1st as the Constitution requires.
Although the legislature adjourned on June 30th, they plan to return to Raleigh on August 3rd and September 6th. The Adjournment Resolution listed veto messages from the Governor, redistricting bills, pending conference reports, and bills received from the other chamber for concurrence that were not addressed prior to adjournment as matters that could be considered during those two special sessions.
It is our honor and privilege to represent you in the halls of the General Assembly, but this is a partnership! We appreciate your immediate responses to our Action Alerts during the legislative session. Our efforts at lobbying the members of the General Assembly are dependent on you making phone calls, sending emails, meeting personally with legislators, and showing up for rallies to let your elected representatives know that you care about what they do in Raleigh and are going to hold them accountable. We can all be thankful for a successful legislative session that has advanced the values we hold near and dear—life, marriage and family, and religious freedom!