The North Carolina General Assembly's long session began last Wednesday, welcoming new legislators for the year.
Rob Schofield, director of NC Policy Watch, said one of the most important legislations passed each year is the state budget. This includes funding for services such as health care, education and tax policy for the state.
Schofield said there will be big debates about whether N.C. will join other states around the country in expanding Medicaid. This would be a significant step in health care access, as more than half a million North Carolinians could gain health insurance through the decision, according to Schofield.
Ferrel Guillory, founder and board director of EducationNC, said the relationship between the Republican majority and Gov. Roy Cooper in the Democratic party will make up many topics of debate for legislators.
“Polarization is not just a national issue, it's a state condition too,” Guillory said. “I'm gonna be looking and thinking about it and I hope other people are not only aware of how individual issues are handled, but how the legislature operates in the spirit of an open participatory democracy.”
Schofield said N.C. residents will need to be on the lookout to see whether the state continues to move politically right, especially in regard to gerrymandering and abortion.
“Now, of course, the Republican advantage here is that they're able to gerrymander the maps and they've been able to do that — to draw the map so that even if the turnout's fifty-fifty, Democrat or Republican,” Schofield said. “Republicans still win three-fifths of the districts and I think it'll be fascinating to see whether they can sustain that.”
Wednesday's session was the first time new legislators began in their roles for 2023. A few leaders representing the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area were among them.
N.C. Sen. Graig Meyer (D-Caswell, Orange, Person), who was elected in November, said he was pleased to be joined by family on the floor to celebrate his first term in the state Senate.
He said he plans to advance how North Carolina should address the global climate crisis by reintroducing a bill to have green schools by using solar panels and electric school buses.
“I think we have some pretty big issues to take up that North Carolina has to figure out how to address, we need to expand Medicaid and reduce the cost of health care to working people and dramatically increase the mental health services that we have available,” Meyer said.
He said the state must better support high functioning schools.
Meyer said another thing North Carolinians need to watch out for is actions the Republican majority will take on abortion, but he doesn't think the majority of people in the state would support additional restrictions to abortion.
“We are already at the place where it's at the level of restriction that makes it very difficult for people to have access to abortion when they need it and so I'm sure we'll have a battle about that," he added.
N.C. Rep. Allen Buansi (D-Orange) was elected to the state House of Representatives in May. He said that it's important to protect the environment and pass laws that are protective of residents of N.C., especially those who are more susceptible to being adversely impacted by worsening storms and climate change.
He plans to try to "beat back" a lot of bad proposed legislation, particularly around restricting abortion access and targeting LGBTQ+ students unfairly.
The state House passed temporary rules that govern the conduct of business — permanent rules will be passed in February, Buansi estimated.
Buansi said he is concerned with a proposed rule that would allow a vote to override a governor's veto and proceed with essentially no notice.
“That's a particularly concerning rule because it undermines public trust and public transparency,” Buansi said. “It's only fair that members of the public no matter what affiliation you have, that folks be afforded an opportunity to know ahead of time, where we're headed.”
Buansi also said he encourages people to speak out about that rule and about anything else that pertains to transparency if they have proceedings.
The state House and Senate will reconvene on Wednesday, Jan. 25.
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