This is part of a new series that will look at bills the state legislature has introduced, the progress they have made in the chamber and what their impact might be on the state moving forward.
The North Carolina General Assembly was very active last week — releasing a statement reminding North Carolinians to get the vaccine and sending three bills to the governor’s office to be signed into law.
Next week promises an interesting series of debates, as Senate Republicans have introduced a bill to prevent individuals under age 21 from undergoing gender confirmation surgery and hormone therapy.
Here's a deeper look at what's been going on in the legislature.
Gov. Roy Cooper joined a bipartisan group of state legislative leaders in releasing a statement on April 7 encouraging state residents to receive the vaccine. The message came on the same day the state’s vaccine rollout gave eligibility to individuals in Group 5, meaning all individuals over the age of 16 that wish to receive the vaccine would be able to.
The lawmakers stressed the importance of getting the shot to protect the state’s population, including their constituents’ friends and loved ones, and to help put the pandemic in the rearview mirror.
The bipartisan nature of the statement comes in the wake of contentious debate across the political aisle, like in the fight to reign in the governor’s emergency powers. Yet, legislators said coming together on this issue was pivotal to the state’s pandemic response.
“It’s important to show North Carolinians that while Republicans and Democrats may not agree on all issues, leaders from both parties chose to be vaccinated when it was their turn,” N.C. House Rep. Tim Moore (R – Cleveland) said in the statement. “We want all North Carolinians to feel comfortable making that same choice so our state can finally put this pandemic behind us.”
N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R – Caswell) also said in the statement he encouraged those who were skeptical of the vaccine to contact their doctors to discuss the vaccine and find out more about its efficacy, in an effort to get them to consider getting the shot.
Three bills, three signatures
Just two days after the release of that statement, Cooper signed three education bills from the General Assembly into law.
All three bills were bipartisan efforts, passing through both the House and Senate unanimously. Each targeted a different facet of the educational process:
- House Bill 82 mandates that each local school administrative unit across the state shall offer a voluntary in-person summer school program to its students in grades K through 12. The goal of the program, as stated in the bill, is to address the negative impacts the pandemic has had on students’ education.
- House Bill 53 allows the children of active duty military members to study in North Carolina’s public schools. The bill also allows for students to remain eligible for in-state educational scholarships and financial aid even if their parents are reassigned outside the state.
- Senate Bill 387 is an effort to increase reading proficiency among North Carolina students by the third grade. The bill establishes an Early Literacy Program and makes provisions to ensure that students’ difficulty with reading is identified as early as possible.
Cooper lauded the passage of these bills, but expressed some reservations about SB 387, saying he was worried that the state’s educational system could only be improved by attracting more teachers to work on better wages.
“Learning to read early in life is critical for our children and this legislation will help educators improve the way they teach reading,” Cooper said in a statement. “But ultimate success will hinge on attracting and keeping the best teachers with significantly better pay and more help in the classroom with tutoring and instructional coaching.”
Controversy on the docket
Several bills are on the legislative radar this week — a key one being House Bill 514, known as the “Youth Health Protection Act.”
If enacted, the bill would prevent any individual from engaging in activities that would “facilitate the minor’s desire to present or appear in a manner that is inconsistent with the minor’s sex.” The bill defines a “minor” as anyone below age 21 and “sex” as “the biological state of being male or female, based on sex organs, chromosomes, and endogenous hormone profiles.”
A joint statement from N.C. Democratic Party Chair Bobbie Richardson, NCDP Transgender Political Caucus President Angela Bridgman and LGBTQ+ Democrats of NC Auxiliary President Ginger Walker criticized the bill.
The group of officials said a person’s ability to access health care should not be limited by their gender identity. They also said the effort was dangerously inappropriate and hateful towards LGBTQ+ people in the state.
“These bills are yet another bigoted, cruel, and heartless attack by North Carolina Republicans aimed to stigmatize transgender and gender-nonconforming youth,” the statement read.
This bill comes after HB 358 was introduced last month. The bill could require middle, high school and collegiate athletes to compete on the team correlating with their sex assigned at birth, and the N.C. House is holding a hearing about it on Wednesday.
In addition to HB 514, there are a few other, less contentious bills on the agenda. A bill to temporarily defer the payment of ABC permit renewal fees and a bill changing the eligibility criteria for financial aid in schools to more students in North Carolina will both be on the House floor for debate during the week.