RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – Medicaid expansion has happened. An abortion bill is awaiting the governor’s veto and perhaps an override. You may not have to wait as long to get a driver’s license. And only females can play high school sports against each other.

At generally the halftime of the legislative session, the North Carolina General Assembly has moved along many pieces of would-be laws from one house to the other and even through both at times.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (AP)

You note that Gov. Roy Cooper signed the Medicaid expansion bill that generally requires an approved biennial budget before taking effect, which the House managed to advance before Easter and left to the Senate.

You may recall somewhat famously that the Republican majority in both chambers was able to overturn Cooper’s veto on pistol permits.

That no-room-to-waiver majority will get its next test in coming days, when Cooper vetoes Senate Bill 20, the bill to place further restrictions on access to abortion that surged through party-line votes in both chambers.

Numerous bills have passed both the House and the Senate and either earned Cooper’s signature or not – which is what happened with the teen driver’s license bill, House Bill 40, which increases penalties for those inciting violent riots, and with HB 11, all of which became law without his signature.

There also were hundreds of bills that were filed that won’t be going anywhere because they didn’t move through committee review and cross from one chamber to the other by last week’s deadline. There are some bills that passed one chamber that may not go anywhere in the other.

Medical marijuana, for instance, made a quick and emotional trek through the Senate more than two months ago, but Senate Bill 3 has been docked in the House Rules Committee since March 6.

On the other hand, there are competing bills on how to limit participation by transgender athletes. Each chamber passed a version. A conference compromise will come, and Cooper undoubtedly won’t sign it either.

How bills move

Rules Committees are the ingress/egress of bills in both chambers, the place where they start their passes through various committees and then get a final OK before a full floor vote. They also become the stock shelf for legislation that for various reasons has no future.

There are 15 pages of bills in the Senate Rules Committee. Here is a list of all bills in the House Rules Committee and the Senate Rules Committee. Some of them arrived there and never made it out, and others crossed over from the passage in the other chamber. In the Senate, you find House bills first. In the House, they start about 4 pages in. There are hundreds.

Senate Leader Berger (left) and House Speaker Tim Moore announce a deal on Medicaid expansion. Rep. Donny Lambeth is behind them.

Each chamber typically gives priority to working its own legislation first – which now is sort of moot – but a bill’s path to law often is governed by priorities and principals – as in the principal people in legislative leadership, Sen. Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), who are the filters and the firepower for legislative agenda.

If they want to push Medicaid and abortion reform, those bills can move quickly. If one likes a bill that the other doesn’t, well the Rules Committee’s docket may grow permanently.

So let’s look at how some of them stand.

The course of medical marijuana

Leader in both chambers don’t seem to want to talk about if and/or when medical marijuana might be lit up in the House.

Sen. Bill Rabon is author of the medical marijuana bill. (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP, File)

SB 3’s primary sponsors, Sens. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) and Paul Lowe (D-Forsyth), don’t respond to emailed questions about its status. Neither does House Rules Chair Destin Hall (R-Caldwell). Other ranking officials say they don’t know. And Moore’s spokesperson has not answered emails seeking clarity from his office, either.

But you would think the path might have been smoothed in advance after similar legislation passed the Senate last summer only to die on the vine in the House.

That could happen again, but legislative research released in March shows that 83% of North Carolinians support legalizing medical marijuana, which is a far more positive number than the 46% who approved of expanding sports betting (HB 347), which the House passed, 65-45, and the Senate hasn’t advanced beyond Rules since March 30.

If you recall, a similar bill passed the Senate and failed the House by one vote last spring. And because sizable revenue from sports gambling is in the House’s budget (and Cooper’s proposed budget), you can wager that it will be taken up at some point.

Hardister’s latest school board  bill

Another bill that cleared the House and is waiting in the Senate is House Bill 687, which Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford) introduced in April after the Guilford County Board of Education used a loophole in the recently passed House Bill 88 to bypass teacher Michael Logan, the controversial nominee from the Guilford County Republican Party, and seat another Republican resident of District 3, William Goebel.

State Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett

HB 687, a statewide bill – HB 88 was a “local bill” – would require partisan school boards to seat at their next meeting a qualifying candidate proposed by the political party within 30 days to fill a vacancy.

Under the cloud cover of the launch of the SB 20 abortion bill last week, HB 687 passed the House, 97-19, with bipartisan support. Four Triad Democrats, Ashton Clemmons (D-Greensboro), Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro), Cecil Brockman (D-High Point) and Renee Price (D-Caswell) all voted for the bill, but three others, Amos Quick (D-Greensboro), Kanika Brown (D-Forsyth) and House Democratic Leader Robert Reives II (D-Randolph) opposed. All Republicans supported it.

Hardister said Wednesday that he is unsure whether the Senate ultimately will take up the bill. “I will confirm with them [senators] over the next week or two and find out what their plans are,” he said.

School calendar flexibility

There are two bills that passed the House – HB 51 and HB 106 – that dealt with giving local school boards more voice in when a school year can start and end. Both those dates currently are mandated by state law, but committees assigned to study this issue recommend flexibility. Tourism officials don’t like earlier starts that might limit vacations. Some districts have been scofflaws and have done their own thing, which has drawn the ire of some.

State Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem) during one of his pitches of Medicaid expansion.

HB 51, sponsored by Rep. Neal Jackson (R-Randolph) is a statewide bill that would provide that flexibility in most school districts. HB 106, sponsored by three Republicans who represent Forsyth County, Donny Lambeth, Kyle Hall and Jeff Zenger, is a local bill that is virtually identical but addresses 10 specific school districts, including Forsyth, Guilford, Davidson and Stokes counties and Lexington and Thomasville schools in the Triad. Charlotte-Mecklenburg is among them, too.

Both bills passed the House easily (111-2 votes), and both have languished for weeks in Senate Rules, because such bills historically have found lukewarm reception in the Senate.

“I don’t see where there’s a need to change the calendar law, except maybe to beef up the enforcement mechanisms for local systems that ignore the law,” Berger told WRAL, without elaborating on his reasons.

“School calendar bills are hot topics in the GA,” Lambeth told WGHP. “Our school districts routinely ask for more flexibility locally to set their calendar with one goal that would allow high school students to take exams before the holiday break in December. 

“So lots of House members and on occasion a senator or two will file calendar flexibility bills. These usually go right through the House Chamber.  On occasion, we may have a few House members from resort areas vote against. 

“Then they go to the Senate, and the Senate seems unwilling to give local districts any flexibility.  They tend to support the tourism industry that is against extending any flexibility. So while there are good solid bills that pass the House chamber, I do not believe they will ever make it out of Senate Rules.” 

Said Jackson: “We are working to get the calendar flex bill to pass the Senate, but it’s going to be difficult!!”

Boosting a need for child care

Rep. Ashton Clemmons (D-Greensboro) (WGHP)

One of the bigger bipartisan efforts in the legislature this spring is a set of bills that have been designed to address the increasingly grave need for child care options and early childhood education.

Clemmons, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, helped lead a bipartisan, bicameral group called the Joint Legislative Early Childhood Caucus that dropped five identical bills in each chamber. They were designed to address both the immediate problem of vanishing federal subsidies and the long-term problem of childhood development and the need for workforce development across the state.

The House’s budget included some dollars for some of the initiatives, but otherwise few of those 10 total bills have gained traction. COVID-provided subsidies for child care centers are ending, and there are no dollars budgeted specifically to meet that need. The status of those bills:

  • HB 344, QRIS/Star Rating System Reform, passed the House on April 5 in a unanimous vote and has been in Senate Rules since April 5. It’s counterpart, SB 291, passed the Senate on March 22 and is in House Rules.
  • HB 321 (and its counterpart SB 294), Reduce Maternal Morbidity/Mortality/Medicaid, was passed to the House Appropriations Committee in March to consider including in the budget.
  • SB 293 (matching HB 322), Tri-Share Child Care Pilot Funds, was referred to Senate Appropriations Committee on March 13 and could mean dollars will be budgeted.
  • SB 292 (matching HB 342), Extend Child Care Compensation Grants, was referred to Appropriations on March 13, with some $300 million requested for the House’s budget.
  • SB 288 (matching HB 343), Increase Rates/Set Floor/Child Care Subsidy. which appropriates money to help expand access to child care and early education, with dollars budgeted by the House and remains in Appropriations.

It was that last bill that has added a bit of controversy to this effort, because dollars to support child care for low-income families were included as a pro-family aspect of SB 20, which Democrats unanimously voted against because it limits elective abortion at 12 weeks with exceptions beyond.

“All of those policies can and should be moved forward without restricting women’s rights to make their own healthcare decisions,” Clemmons told WNCN-TV. “And we have a crisis that needs a much more significant investment than the little bit that was included in SB 20.”

State Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry)

But Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry), one of the bill’s presenting sponsors, says, “This is a pro-woman, holistic approach.”

Clemmons did not respond to a series of questions from WGHP to seek a deeper update on the effort. 

A related bill, SB 722, sponsored by Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth), would address the workforce shortage for early childhood education. Her bill passed the Senate, 48-0, on April 26 and has been in House Rules and has been since May 1.

Where other bills stand

Here is an update on several bills that have drawn significant attention and/or moved through votes so far this session:

  • HB 10: The bill to require local sheriffs to cooperate with ICE, passed the House, 71-44, on March 28 and has been in the Senate ever since.
  • SB 321 (and its twin, HB 367): The Medical Debt De-Weaponization Act, to protect consumers against high medical debt, passed the Senate, 48-0, on May 1 and is in the House Rules since May 3.
  • SB 636: This bill to continue restructuring oversight of high school sports – an update of HB 91 that was signed by Gov. Cooper in 2021 – was passed last week in a 30-20, party-line margin. It is in the Senate Rules Committee.
  • SB 49: The so-called Parents Bill of Rights, which passed the Senate along party lines on Feb. 7 has remained in House Rules Committee.
  • HB 71: Which would raise the age for justices, was included in the House budget bill.
  • SB 406: The bill to expand access to school vouchers was passed to Appropriations on April 26, and HB 823 (its twin) moved to House Appropriations on May 2. Both would be included in the budget.
  • HB96: The bill sponsored by Hardister to require colleges and universities to require 3 hours of credit in U.S. history or civics has passed the House and has been in Senate Rules since March 23.
  • HB98: The bill limits COVID mandates for by government agencies.

Bills that won’t go anywhere this session: HB 614, the bill to propose a constitutional amendment on the right to work (sponsored by Hardister) has been in judiciary1 since April 17 and is dead for this term. HB 123, which proposed a constitutional amendment to limit early voting dates, has not advanced. HB 533, which would totally ban abortion, was left behind by SB 20.

And one of the most-talked-about bills, SB 594, the invitation for Disney to leave Florida and move to North Carolina, didn’t make it out of the Senate Rules Committee, but then it was a Democrat-sponsored bill, which wouldn’t typically get traction.