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Cooper signs teacher pay, criminal justice reform bills

Posted June 26, 2020 3:31 p.m. EDT
Updated June 26, 2020 5:12 p.m. EDT

Classroom generic

— Gov. Roy Cooper signed one bill into law Friday that will give teachers a small bonus this year and another that gives judges more leeway to decide drug trafficking sentences.

Senate Bill 818 funds annual step increases for public school teachers and gives them each a $350 bonus. Cooper said in a statement that he signed the bill because it "funds step increases for teachers that have already been promised" but added that it still "falls outrageously short."

The bill doesn't guarantee any increases for non-certified school workers, including bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers.

Instead, the bill encourages the governor to give those workers a $600 bonus and to tack $600 onto teacher bonuses as well. But the funding would come from a pot of federal pandemic relief money the Cooper administration says it's not allowed to use that way.

"The legislature must make educator pay a top priority when they come back in September," Cooper said in a statement announcing the bill signing.

Republican lawmakers who wrote the bill have noted repeatedly that teachers would have gotten bigger pay raises if Cooper had simply signed last year's state budget, which he vetoed. With the pandemic cutting into state revenues, they said it wasn't prudent to fund those increases or the ones Democrats pushed for this session now.

Cooper also signed the First Step Act, one of two major criminal justice reforms lawmakers passed this session. The measure, House bill 511, relaxes mandatory minimums for some drug crimes.

The governor also signed seven other bills into law Friday, according to his office:

  • Senate Bill 811: Connect NC Park Facilities Operating Reserves
  • Senate Bill 812: Agricultural Sciences Center Funds
  • Senate Bill 814: NC Promise Tuition Plan Funds
  • House Bill 679: Rules of Civil Procedure/ E-Filing and Service
  • House Bill 1218: Salary Related Contribution/Debt Service Funds
  • House Bill 307: Mod. Utility Vehicle Classification
  • Senate Bill 719: Retirement Tech./Protect/ & Other Changes

The NC Promise bill lays out funding to cover costs at Elizabeth City State University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Western Carolina University, which offer $500-per-semester tuition plans for state residents.

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