The past two months at the North Carolina General Assembly have been very different, to say the least. Our schedule has been fairly light, as far as voting sessions. It has also been mostly reactive, as far as the court orders on the voting district maps. So, I felt the information in any one week didn’t deserve an article. This is a summary of key information from January and February.
This is usually the interim between the “long session” and the “short session.” However, with the courts deciding the fate of our district maps, the changing Covid environment, and the uncertainty of federal action, we have been technically still in the long session since January, 2021. We believe it is a new record.
Regarding district maps for the N.C. House, N.C. Senate, and U.S. Congress, they were drawn in 2021 by the General Assembly, as the N.C. Constitution and U.S. Constitution require. They were promptly challenged in state court, even before the drawing process was finished. Most of January was spent awaiting the results. The N.C. Supreme Court in February rejected the maps and sent the task back to the General Assembly to redraw them using partisan data, which was not used in the originals.
Given two weeks to redraw them, we sent them again to the court on February 18th, as ordered. On the 16th and 17th, we had passed the N.C. House maps by a strong bipartisan vote of 115 – 5. However, the N.C. Senate and U.S. Congress maps passed by more narrow party line votes. The court upheld the state House and Senate maps, which are still legally described as “court-ordered”. They substituted their own map for the U.S. Congressional districts, which were drawn by a “special master” employed by the court from an out-of-state university. The Speaker has filed, through the General Assembly’s attorneys, a suit in the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the use of those maps. We await the result of that suit.
Whether or not one thinks the Constitutions should be followed on this issue or believes in the separation of powers as did our founders, all may agree that the process as carried out in these lawsuits against the legislature has added chaos to the electoral process. I would hope that no one would think chaos is helpful to our citizens’ ability to thoughtfully elect their leaders.
Also on February 17th, we passed Senate Bill 173 – Free the Smiles Act, which would have left the decision with parents whether or not to send their children to school wearing masks. It passed with bipartisan support in the House, but not so much in the Senate. However, the Governor vetoed it last week on the 24th. It remains to be seen if we have the three-fifths vote in both chambers to override his veto.
We are still awaiting any response we may have to make to the courts or to federal action on mandates or on further funding appropriations distributed to the states. I have been able to meet with citizens in the county and to symbolically present checks for state budget funds to Brunswick Community College, The Ocean Isle Museum Foundation, and the Town of Boiling Spring Lakes.
We are now in an election cycle, but the short session should start at least when the primary elections are over. That election date right now is set for May 17th.