NC budget, immigration enforcement, other measures sent to Cooper as legislative session wanes
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper hasn't said whether he'd support the $27.9 billion spending plan, but was expected to veto the immigration enforcement proposal.Posted — Updated
The Republican-controlled Senate and House gave their final approval of the annual spending plan in a procedural vote early Friday after securing bipartisan support for it on Thursday.
Critics of the spending plan included teachers groups, who said the spending plan didn’t reserve enough for raises at a time when schools are struggling to hire and retain employees. They said the budget’s 4.2% average pay raise for teachers and 3.5% increase for most state workers falls well short of the 8.6% inflation rate over the past 12 months.
Nonetheless, Republican leaders in both chambers said the top priority was preparing for economic headwinds.
The budget doesn’t achieve major policy aims discussed this year, including Medicaid expansion, medical marijuana legalization and online sports betting.
State Rep. William Richardson, a Cumberland County Democrat, called on lawmakers to reconvene to expand Medicaid, which would provide a health insurance option to roughly 600,000 low-income residents. He voted for the budget, but said it is filled with missed opportunities. “Let's call a special session and let's dare to be audacious,” Richardson said, referring to Medicaid.
Cooper hasn’t publicly weighed in on the spending plan, but he could find his hands tied after Republicans secured support from more than enough Democrats to overturn a potential veto from the governor.
Under current law, prison administrators must send a query to ICE where possible when a person’s legal status can’t be determined. The bill seeks to create a more standardized statewide process where a prisoner subject to an ICE detainer would be held in custody for up to 48 hours.
Cooper rejected a similar immigration enforcement measure in 2019, saying in a veto message that such a proposal “weakens law enforcement in North Carolina by mandating sheriffs to do the job of federal agents.”
Cooper spokeswoman Mary Scott Winstead said Wednesday in an email that the governor “has previously expressed concern about politically motivated laws that allow Washington, D.C., to supersede local law enforcement's ability to keep our communities safe, and this appears to be one of those.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina opposes the bill, as do a number of immigrant advocacy groups. They argue the bill would further erode trust between immigrants and local law enforcement.
Nonetheless, the Senate sent the bill to Cooper on Friday after the House passed it Thursday.
Republican Sen. Chuck Edwards, who led the effort on the bill, said he believes this year’s legislation is more narrowly tailored than the 2019 bill. He said the collaboration between prison officials and ICE would occur for serious crimes, such as homicide, rape, kidnapping and human trafficking.
“What this law would do is to remove all doubt that sheriffs should cooperate with ICE,” said Edwards, a western North Carolina Republican and congressional candidate who ousted U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn in May. “I believe there’s a very loose interpretation now of the law where we have sheriffs across North Carolina not cooperating.”
Other notable items sent to Cooper on Friday include:
- Extra oversight for deaf and blind students. Senate Bill 593 places the state schools for deaf and blind under the purview of five-member boards of trustees and other advisors. The State Board of Education presently serves as the de facto governing board for the schools. The proposed five-member board would include two nominees from the House, two from the Senate and one from the governor.
- A bill to address transportation laws. With a divisive license plate reader provision removed after objections in the House on Thursday, both chambers sent Senate Bill 201 to Cooper. Several Republicans and Democrats cited concerns about privacy and potential abuse of the technology. The technology, which can take photographs of cars and sometimes drivers and passengers, is then uploaded to a central server. Some privacy advocates say the readers are too invasive. The removed item would’ve allowed the Department of Transportation to enter into agreements allowing the State Bureau of Investigation to place and use automatic license plate reader systems
- Regulatory relief bill. The House sent a measure to Cooper over the concerns of some Democrats who identified a provision that could impact consumers. In House Bill 911, lenders could get money from a borrower through a legal device called a confession of judgment, which is often found in a contract clause. Buried in some contracts are provisions where borrowers agree to allow a creditor to obtain a judgment against them over an unpaid bill, often without advance notice or a hearing. Opponents argue the process is a function of predatory lending. While the House amended a separate bill to strike down the provision, it still heads to Cooper because the Senate adjourned earlier in the day.
- DNA testing expansion. The House signed off on a plan that expands the number of crimes for which the state will collect a DNA sample and add to the DNA crime database. The bill also seeks to keep hospitals from charging victims of sexual assault for the costs of collecting rape kit evidence.
- Remote learning. A proposal sent to Cooper sets out requirements for “remote academies” operating next year and beyond and an examination of whether the programs are working. The bill also moves two virtual charter schools that have been criticized for academic performance out of their pilot program status and extends their charters by five years. Healthier snacking in school. North Carolina lawmakers sent House Bill 159 to Cooper, which would require vending machines in middle schools and high schools to include snacks with no more than 200 calories. Sugared sodas are also prohibited before and during the school day. The measure includes a number of other education policy changes, including ones that make it easier for aspiring pre-kindergarten and early childhood teachers to enter the workforce.
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