RALEIGH — Abortion rights, medical marijuana, substation protections, requiring sheriff’s offices to cooperate with ICE, and electing positions for the State Board of Education were among some bills the first day of filing for the 2023 long session.
In all, 20 bills were filed in the House and 18 in the Senate on Jan. 25. Many of the bills filed are on topics Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed in past sessions. The governor’s current veto total stands at 75; more than the total held by all former North Carolina governors who had veto power combined.
House Bill 10, filed by Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell), revisits requiring sheriffs in the state to cooperate with ICE on administrative warrants and detainers placed on an illegal alien that may be in the custody of a sheriff’s office. Rep. Brenden Jones (R-Columbus) Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), and Rep. Carson Smith (R-Pender) are also co-sponsors of the bill.
“It’s sad that this small number of woke Sheriffs are actively choosing to place politics above public safety. Cooperating with ICE about illegal aliens charged with serious crimes in our state should be common-sense,” Hall said in a press release. “Their decision to cut off communication with immigration officials only puts more innocent people and officers in harm’s way.”
During his tenure, Cooper has vetoed two similar ICE cooperation bills; Senate Bill 101 in 2022 and House Bill 370 in 2019. The veto messages were similar, accusing the bills of trying to “score political points” and “using fear” to divide citizens.
A bill seeking to protect energy substations in the state following attacks on substations in Carteret, Moore, and Randolph Counties was also filed. Filed by Rep. Ben Moss (R-Richmond), House Bill 21 requires public utilities in the state to have security systems at substations running 24 hours a day to protect against vandalism and threats.
Democrats in both chambers filed bills pushing for the legal codification of abortion rights.
House Democratic Leader Rep. Robert Reives filed House Hill 19, titled “Codify Roe and Casey Protections.” The bill is a single page outlining the state shall not impose an “undue burden” on a woman to choose if she terminates a pregnancy “before fetal viability.” While the bill defines undue burden as any “substantial obstacle” in the way of women seeking abortions, it does not define the term woman.
Two bills seemingly identical to House Bill 19 were filed in the Senate by Wake County Democrats Sydney Batch and Dan Blue.
House legislators are also revisiting changes for the Schools for the Deaf and Blind with House Bill 11. The bill appears to be very close to the same as Senate Bill 593, which Cooper vetoed last session.
The governor objected to a single part of the bill; the creation of a dedicated board of trustees for the school. Legislators did not undertake a veto override attempt despite being urged to do so in a letter from State Superintendent Catherine Truitt.
“His [Cooper] rationale had nothing to do with the merits of the bill but was instead about the appointments process,” Truitt wrote in her letter to Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain).
Given the recent formation of a governance board by Cooper designed to challenge control over the UNC system appointments, the latest iteration of the Schools for the Deaf and Blind will likely result in another veto.
House Bill 14, titled Back the Blue Act of 2023, seeks to create a revenue laws study committee examining the cost and benefit of excluding retired law enforcement officer pay from state individual income taxes.
A related bill, Senate Bill 4, would exempt retirement income for government employees who have at least 20 years of service from state income taxes.
Another bill, House Bill 20, would prevent retail stores from refusing to take cash as a form of payment. The bill is titled the Cash Commitment Act gives exception to a situation where there is a sale system failure making the processing of a cash payment impossible or there is an inability to provide proper change.
A final House bill of note filed on opening day would make the N.C. State Board of Education members elected positions and would make the state superintendent board’s chair as well as the board’s administrative officer. The filers of House Bill 17, titled Elect the SBE/SPI as SBE Chair, include the House K-12 Education committee chairs Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke) and Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston).
The idea of electing state board of education members and placing the superintendent in the role of chair was part of the final report by the House Select Committee on An Education System for North Carolina’s Future. Torbett chaired the committee which held dozens of meetings and listening sessions across the state during 2022.
Medical marijuana use will also be returning this session in the form of Senate Bill 3, titled the NC Compassionate Care Act. A similar act was introduced last year that garnered bipartisan support in the senate but did not advance in the house.
Democrats nationally, including President Joe Biden, have advocated for the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.
In North Carolina, the governor’s North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice co-chaired by Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein and N.C. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anita Earls has repeatedly made recommendations for decriminalizing marijuana in general.
Another bill that made the rounds in previous sessions barring use of an electronic device while driving is also back.
Senate Bill 15, titled Hands Free NC, would prohibit a vehicle operator from using a wide range of devices, including a cell phone, personal digital assistant, electronic device with mobile data access, laptop computer, pager, smartwatch, broadband personal communication device, electronic game, and portable computing device.
Exceptions to the prohibitions would be made for first responders, police officers and firefighters.
Hands Free NC includes escalating fines of $100, $150, and $200 for repeated incidents. The penalties also include insurance points “as authorized” under state insurance statutes.
A 2019 house bill with the same “Hands Free” name did not advance and died in a committee.