GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – In Raleigh right now, your elected representatives have gonged in their “short session” for the North Carolina General Assembly that they hope truly will be short, given that this is an election year and some of them will have work to do in November.
Lawmakers also have work to do now, which definitely includes drafting a budget to compare to the one submitted last week by Gov. Roy Cooper, the one in which he cited a government employment crisis for which he wants higher salaries with bonuses and incentives. That’s an issue lawmakers surely will address.
But the bigger question might be one that isn’t specifically asked this year: Should North Carolina adopt laws to restrict access to abortion?
As the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade that made abortions legal in the first place, many Republican-led states have taken immutable and controversial steps toward this goal.
We asked the Triad’s delegation about possible abortion-related legislation in North Carolina, and the response was pretty consistent: This could come up but probably not without a Republican legislative supermajority and while Democrat Roy Cooper is the governor.
The former could change with elections in November – though most have suggested it’s unlikely – and Cooper’s term ends in 2024. So the conventional thought has been that potential legislation could be discussed if not actually brought to a vote.
Still, there’s plenty for members of the state Senate and House to consider in the coming weeks. Medicaid expansion has been left hanging after some serious signs that the program could be adapted. Inflation – which is affecting everyone – likely will be discussed, although government has few options to ameliorate it.
There also is the redistricting conundrum. Congressional and state legislative maps used in this year’s election will get another look for 2024, and the General Assembly has bills that are assigned to committees to create a bipartisan redistricting commission. State Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Greensboro), the House majority whip, has in past years been a proponent of these bipartisan ideas.
Given all those questions, we decided to ask the more than two dozen men and women elected to serve you across the 14 counties in the Triad, to see what they thought about priorities and issues.
The problem is that only a few responded – three Democrats, all of whom represent greater Greensboro. Sen. Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden), the most powerful person in the General Assembly and the representative for a large slice of the Triad’s geography, often issues statements to represent Republicans’ point of view. For our request, he did not.
But he wasn’t alone, and so our handful of questions didn’t get the response that constituents might expect.
We present now what we learned, edited lightly, for the insights they provide: Short comments about the short session.
What are your goals for this short session?
Rep. Ashton Clemmons (D-Greensboro): In the short session I will advocate for specific Guilford County requests including support for GTCC, GCS Career Academies, people in our community with addiction, and Ready for School, Ready for Life. I will continue advocating for increased access to high-quality Early Childcare Education and living wages for educators who work with our youngest North Carolinians, specifically advocating for an increase in subsidy rates. Additionally, I truly hope we finally say yes to a healthier state by Expanding Medicaid and a stronger state by fully funding our constitutional requirement for public education.
State Sen. Michael Garrett (D-Greensboro):
- Bring relief to families who are being hit hard by rising prices.
- At long last, finally expand Medicaid.
- Fix the failures of our last budget by putting billions in unspent “rainy day” funds to work for everyday North Carolinians.
Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro): I hope this might finally be the session where the legislature joins 38 other states and expands Medicaid. I also want to push for increased teacher pay and better funding for public education in general. Given the shape of the state’s fiscal health, I hope we will use some of the surplus to fund broadband infrastructure to cover more of our state, including right here in Guilford County. I also think we need to continue to invest in clean air and water, especially addressing the problem of forever chemicals (primarily PFAS-related).
Do you anticipate bills about abortion rights to be considered at this session?
Clemmons: I certainly hope we do not see any legislation that makes it harder for women to take care of themselves and their families.
GARRETT: It is a possibility. If a bill eliminating or restricting abortion rights were to pass, I expect Governor Cooper would veto it. Further, I do not believe there are enough NC Senate votes to override a veto in that scenario.
HARRISON: I expect bills to be filed on both sides of the issue, but I do not have any insight if any will come up for a vote. Some of us are working on legislation to codify Roe v Wade to protect a woman’s right to choose. In the absence of any movement on that bill, we House Democrats remain committed to upholding the governor’s veto on any bills that restrict women’s access to abortion or any other reproductive health care.
What is your position on expanding Medicaid?
CLEMMONS: Let’s stop talking about it and do it! It makes moral and economic sense to bring additional funding to our state that will lower everyone’s healthcare costs and make more than 600,000 North Carolinians healthier.
GARRETT: I am 100% FOR Medicaid expansion. Lives have been lost, the neediest have gone without health care, and our state has lost billions in federal dollars because we have not expanded Medicaid. No single action by the General Assembly would do more to support the people and the economy of North Carolina. This can’t be another year of doing nothing on Medicaid.
HARRISON: I have been advocating for expanding Medicaid since the U.S. Supreme Court decision made it optional more than a decade ago. There are so many compelling reasons why we must take this step. It will save thousands of lives annually by providing access to preventable care. It will create thousands of jobs as well as save our rural hospitals. It will provide health coverage to more than 500,000 North Carolinians. It will generate billions of dollars in revenue for our state. It is the moral thing to do, and it makes economic sense. It is long past time for NC to take this step.
Would you consider a bill to make redistricting the purview of a nonpartisan commission?
CLEMMONS: Yes and have put forth a bill to do just that! The voices of North Carolinians should lead us forward; a nonpartisan commission limits the skewing of your voices for partisan gain. Redistricting is one of the most critical aspects to democracy and should be led by our people!
GARRETT: Yes. I have cosponsored legislation that would do just that. The redistricting fiascos of the past decade have made it clear that politicians, those from either party, have no business being involved with mapmaking.
HARRISON: I have long advocated for independent redistricting, even when my party was in charge. For the past two biennia, I have sponsored legislation establishing a California-style citizens commission, and cosponsored other options. The California model appears to be the best model of the many out there. We have spent way too much taxpayer money over the past decade defending unconstitutional maps. It is long past time to take the job away from self-interested politicians and turn it over to a more objective and fairer process.