Yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee meeting was not without drama.
After “technical difficulties” that delayed the meeting and eventually forced everyone to move to a new location, Sen. Bishop opened the meeting by stating that the Governor’s representative, retired Judge Don Stephens, would not be allowed to speak on proposed judicial redistricting.
Sen. Bishop (R-Mecklenburg) ruled that Don Stephens, a recently retired judge, was not an appropriate representative for Gov. Cooper because he was not employed by the Governor’s Office.
Sen. Chaudhuri (D-Wake) objected to this, saying that he was interested in hearing from Judge Stephens and that not doing so was a missed opportunity.
Sen. McKissick (D-Durham) had to ask multiple times for an opportunity to speak before Sen. Bishop would allow it. McKissick asked for a point of order to allow the members of the committee to vote on whether they would allow Stephens to speak, Bishop refused.
The three Democratic Senators present, Chaudhuri, Ford, and McKissick, walked out in protest of the obvious attempt to disallow input from a judge on the Republican judicial redistricting plans.Read More
The Senate Select Committee on Judicial Redistricting had its first meeting on November 8 – where they were given presentations by HB 717 sponsor Representative Justin Burr, Brad Fowler of the Administrative Office of the Courts, and Judges Joe Buckner, Brad Letts, Joe Crosswhite, Michael Crowell, and Gerry Cohen.
Republican Senator Dan Bishop asked Burr outright if his new maps were part of “some evil partisan plot” or an intentional “racial gerrymander” after extending his sympathies to Burr in hopes that his feelings have not been hurt by the negativity surrounding HB 717.Read More
This unconstitutionally elected Republican majority continues to legislate, not on behalf of the people of North Carolina, but on behalf of their billionaire backers. Instead of protecting the middle class and building world-class public schools, this budget gives tax breaks to billionaires. Under this budget, North Carolina will keep falling behind when it doesn’t have to.
In addition to education, the GOP budget fails to provide for critical areas of need for rural North Carolina - including broadband and economic development..
The GOP budget also wastes money on projects of the extreme right:
Real Facts NC today released a report that ranks the 20 Republican state lawmakers most likely to face more competitive districts when maps are redrawn. Last week, the US Supreme Court affirmed that North Carolina’s current maps are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, but GOP leaders are dragging their feet. Meanwhile, rank and file legislators are predictably anxious about their new districts.
“I’m sure GOP leaders have new maps drawn already, but they’re not letting anyone see them,” said Daniel Gilligan, Executive Director of Real Facts NC. “So we’re going to try and pull back the curtain a bit to give everyone a peek at what the political landscape might look like in the next election.”
“Without unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, GOP leaders will be hamstrung in their ability to draw maps that will preserve their legislative super-majorities. Some safely-held GOP districts will have to be more competitive and some rank-and-file members will be facing their first competitive election in years,” said Gilligan.
Here are the Top 20:
1. Bob Steinburg
2. Larry Yarborough
3. John Bell
4. Susan Martin
5. (Tie) Reps. Jon Hardister, John Faircloth and John Blust
8. Trudy Wade
9. John Szoka
10. Jeff Collins
11. Greg Murphy
12. Jimmy Dixon
13. Chad Barefoot
14. Wesley Meredith
15. (Tie) Reps. Andy Dulin and Scott Stone
17. (Tie) Sens. Dan Bishop and Jeff Tarte
19. Brenden Jones
20. Rick Horner
Though there are several key sticking points between House and Senate versions of the budget that need to be negotiated, neither version holds a candle to the Cooper plan. As the Raleigh News & Observer said, Cooper’s budget offers a “better vision” for North Carolina.
The Senate budget provides no cost-of-living adjustment for retired state employees, and the House version includes only a one-time bonus of 1.6 percent. When House Democrats tried to increase the cost-of-living adjustment for state retirees with an annual adjustment of 2 percent, Speaker Moore successfully tabled the amendment. With the House “adamant” to include the retiree bonus in the final budget, cost of living adjustments might become a sticking point between chambers.
The wind farm moratorium could be a deal breaker as the House might not have enough votes to override a Cooper veto if the final budget contains a moratorium. The Senate’s version of the budget includes a three-year moratorium on wind farms. Several key members of the House, including Rep. Bob Steinburg, said they could not support a budget with a wind energy moratorium.
The chambers do not agree on the greatest needs in education funding. The Senate’s budget included a $75 million fund that would help pay for school repair and construction in poor counties. The House directs more money toward financial aid for college students and K-12 buses instead.Read More
In February Senator Wesley Meredith introduced S65, the BRIGHT Futures Act which encourages the establishment of a digital infrastructure, “necessary for economic innovation,” including broadband, in rural areas.
Meredith joined Cumberland Rep. John Szoka and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest for a press conference on February 9, in which Meredith expressed excitement about the bill saying it was something he had been working on for six years.
“We have a lot of people who do not have access to broadband,” Meredith said, “we need to have that.”
S65 puts the Rural Economic Development Division in charge of giving grants to the Rural Infrastructure Authority to build digital infrastructure to support broadband. But while S65 is stuck in Senate Rules, Meredith had a chance to vote for the exact broadband investments he says he wants.
Instead, Meredith voted against a budget amendment that would have resurrected his six-year endeavor to connect rural North Carolina during the late-night Senate budget debate on May 12.
The North Carolina Senate tentatively passed their version of the state budget after a late-night debate on Jones Street. Their budget contains several policy positions aimed at Republican leaders ideological agenda more than state spending. Here are a few notable items.
Certificate of Need: The senate budget would eliminate the certificate of need system for healthcare facilities by 2025. Healthcare experts have claimed that repealing certificate of need programs “would be a disaster for rural healthcare.” Eliminating certificate of need would lead to healthcare price inflation and smaller, rural hospitals will suffer.
State Health Benefits: The senate budget would eliminate medical insurance for future state employees after retirement. All state employees hired after July 2018 would not be entitled to health benefits when they retire.
Wind Farms: The senate budget would impose a three year moratorium on new wind farms in order to study the potential safety risks that wind farms pose to military operations – when asked on the floor Republican Senators could not name one military leader that had expressed this concern on the record. If passed, the moratorium could potentially derail the proposed Timermill Wind Farm in Chowan and Perquimans counties.
Earlier this week, Sen Phil Berger told the crowd at Rural Day that the Senate remains focused on “how we can improve the life of hard-working folks like you and your families” such as “confronting the opioid crisis” and creating common senses change that “enables rural North Carolina to thrive just like the rest of North Carolina.
Apparently, he forgot to tell his budget writers because the Senate budget clearly cares more about millionaire’s than rural communities.