Jere Royall, Director of Community Impact and Counsel at NC Family, speaks about the upcoming legislative session, the lawmaking process, and how citizens can get involved.
INTRODUCTION: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Today, we are going to be speaking with a special member of our staff, Jere Royall, who serves as Counsel and Director of Community Impact for NC Family. Jere is also one of our registered lobbyists and spends a great deal of time at the North Carolina General Assembly speaking with and developing relationships with state lawmakers, as we seek to inform and educate them about issues that are important to families across our state.
Today, Jere and I are going to be looking ahead at this year’s session of the North Carolina General Assembly, offering some insights into how the Legislature works, some of the items that are likely to be considered this year, and how you, our listeners, can actually get involved in helping to shape and influence laws and policymaking in North Carolina.
Jere, welcome back to Family Policy Matters, it’s always great to have you on the program.
JERE ROYALL: Thank you John, it’s good to be back.
JOHN RUSTIN: Jere, for starters, this year is the beginning of what is referred to as a two-year legislative biennium. So in the odd numbered years following the General Election, like in 2017, state lawmakers will meet in what is referred to as the “regular” or “long” legislative session. This session typically begins at the end of January and runs into the summer, typically July or later. Then, next year, in 2018, lawmakers will continue the two-year session, usually starting in early May and meeting for a couple of months, and that session is typically referred to as the “short session.” Jere, what is the difference between the “regular” or “long session” and the subsequent sShort” legislative session?
JERE ROYALL: In the long session year, what the General Assembly does is establish a budget for the next two years. And that is a long process where they determine where revenues are going to come from and then how those revenues are going to be appropriated. In addition to that, they look at basically all of state law, as far as proposals that are being made to either make new laws or to amend existing laws or even to repeal existing laws. In the short session years, technically, the General Assembly just looks at making adjustments in the budget and a few other exceptions are made like constitutional amendments that might be considered. But as we know, sometimes they can find a way, if they really do want to bring up an issue in the short session year, they do that. But a lot more is considered in a long session year and that’s what makes it last that much longer.
JOHN RUSTIN: Jere, the 2016 General Election did not really affect the balance of power in the General Assembly all that much. In fact, Republicans slightly expanded their veto-proof supermajorities in both the State Senate and State House, but lawmakers are returning to a divided government with a newly elected Democrat governor Roy Cooper. How do you think that is going to change bills that are considered and the overall political environment of this year’s legislative session?
JERE ROYALL: The next four years may be similar to what we saw eight years ago when there was a Democrat governor and a Republican legislature in both the House and the Senate. You may have some policy differences but, just as you’re saying, when there’s a supermajority in the both the House and the Senate, the reality is that the legislature is going to be able to pass laws that are more in line with their policy positions and if the governor vetoes those, they will have the necessary votes to override that veto. But, it may look that way on paper but we’ve seen—even with a Republican governor, the same thing can happen. You can think that the veto override will be automatic but when those votes are taken, often they’re very close votes.
JOHN RUSTIN: Jere, the lawmaking process is certainly one that is fraught with challenges, with twists and turns, and sometimes even political danger and intrigue. Generally speaking, Jere, how does a bill become law in North Carolina and how long does that process usually take?
JERE ROYALL: One of the things that would be very helpful to point out when you’re just thinking of the whole process is the fact that, the way our government works, citizens can literally be involved at every stage of a process of a bill being passed in the legislature, even at the very beginning stage when a bill is drafted. Individual citizens across the state can draft a bill and the next step is to take it to a member of the General Assembly who then will introduce a bill. They’ll give it to the staff of the General Assembly—the bill-drafting and research part of the staffing there—and then once the bill is drafted, it’s introduced either in the House or the Senate. At that point, it’s then referred to a committee where there’s discussion and debate and then they vote on a particular bill. And actually, even before that happens, quite honestly, sometimes the committee chair has the discretion of whether or not to even bring up a bill. We’ve seen that happen over the years when we’ve been involved with encouraging what we believe to be very important, legislation will be introduced but not even be brought up. But once it is brought up, there are opportunities for citizens to interact with members of the committee, citizens can even come and testify in the committees.
Then the bill goes to the floor of the chamber where it’s been introduced. Say, if it’s in the House, there they debate it and they vote on a bill there. If it passes, it goes over to the other chamber and goes through a similar process, through the committee and then through the floor. If it passes both chambers, a bill then goes to the governor where the governor can sign the bill. If the governor doesn’t sign the bill within a certain number of days, it goes into effect. But if the governor vetoes a bill, then it comes back to the legislature, comes back to the original chamber where there has to be a three-fifths vote of the members present and voting in order to override a veto. And then if it is overridden, there it goes to the other chamber. So even at every stage of that process, while it’s in the General Assembly or while it’s in the governor’s office, we as citizens all have an opportunity to interact with our elected officials to encourage them to pass good legislation or to encourage them not to pass legislation that we don’t think would be good for our citizens.
JOHN RUSTIN: Because a big part of our mission here at NC Family is to positively affect North Carolina’s public policy or laws and regulations on behalf of families, we will once again be spending a lot of time at the legislative building, monitoring legislation and promoting strong family policies. While there is no surefire way to know exactly what legislators will consider during any given legislative session, what do you anticipate will be some of our top priority issues this year?
JERE ROYALL: One of the main things, as I was reflecting on that, would be that we maintain the progress that’s been made in recent years. And thankfully we have seen some very good laws passed in critical areas like sanctity of human life, religious freedom, educational choice. These were significant changes that were made in our state laws and, as always, once a good law is passed, there are challenges to those laws. And so I think we’re going to have a real focus on helping to maintain those laws that have been passed in the last few years.
JOHN RUSTIN: I couldn’t agree more, and also continue to work to keep bad laws from being enacted. We’ve seen efforts to legalize sweepstakes gambling in North Carolina, even to push medical marijuana or the legalization of illegal drug use and things of that nature. Physician-assisted suicide has been a big issue in a lot of other states and I expect that we’ll see proposals dealing with that—at least introduced, if not considered this session. So, we really have our hands full. Are there some other issues that you can think about that we’re going to be involved with?
JERE ROYALL: You have mentioned some things that point out the reality of part of our work: It’s not only encouraging good laws to be passed but trying to stop ones that are not good. And some of the ones you mentioned are ones that have been proposed in recent years: assisted suicide, medical marijuana, video sweepstakes. We have done extensive research in each of these areas showing the harms if these laws are passed. And that’s again, a vital part of the process for us to try to help inform legislators as they’re making decisions on these laws, but also again coming back to the fact that the citizens across the state are a vital part of how information is shared with legislators. When they hear from people at home, it makes a tremendous impact on them to know that the people they represent have taken the time to be informed and to contact them and communicate them about laws that they’re considering.
JOHN RUSTIN: Jere, before we depart, I do want to ask you about that last point that you’ve made about citizen involvement. Do you really believe that citizens can have an impact in the legislative process? I mean we often tell them that they can but we may have some listeners out there saying, ‘Now, come on! That’s really not the case.’ Can they really have an impact?
JERE ROYALL: The facts in this case are what we’ve heard from legislators about the impact that it makes when they hear from the people they represent. Now one thing we have heard along those lines is that the more personal the contact, the greater the impact. Emails are good but I think when you become more personal and make a phone call or write a letter, sometimes they say even a handwritten letter, will make a tremendous impact on them. And probably the greatest impact will be if you personally visit with legislators. Whether it’s at the Legislature or in their home district. They know that they have been elected to represent the people that live in their district and when they hear from them, they tell us it makes a tremendous difference in their decision-making process. Especially when they’re hearing the facts and the truth about an issue that they’re considering.
JOHN RUSTIN: I completely agree with you and have experienced that in my years down at the General Assembly. One thing additionally that I would encourage our listeners to do—something that’s simple but is extremely important—is to pray for their elected officials. To first of all find out, if they don’t know already, who those elected officials are, whether they’re members of the local school board, the city council, the county commissioners, the State Legislature, or even their representatives in Congress, in the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, our President, that’s all extremely important. It gives individuals a much more personal tie and relationship with those elected officials because they are lifting them up in prayer. They’re supporting them and I think that is a great place to start. And then reach out and call, contact your legislators. As you said, go see them in Raleigh or talk to them when they’re home over the weekend, back in the district. And let them know that you’re praying for them. Let them know that you care about them, that you support them, that you appreciate all the sacrifices they make on our behalf. And that really can create that rapport with them so when an issue comes up, you’ve got a natural audience there to go to and to talk with about the issues. And they’re going to be much more inclined to listen to you if you have invested time and energy in that relationship. So, it really does come down to relationships. And the more we all can develop relationships with those elected officials, the more we can help support them in the service they’re providing for us, but also the more likely they are to listen to us when we bring issues of concern of interest to them.
Jere, as we close, where can our listeners go to learn more about the goings-on at the General Assembly and all the work that NC Family is doing to be an advocate on their behalf?
JERE ROYALL: Probably the easiest way to get involved is going to our website ncfamily.org and there on our homepage you can click ‘sign-up’ and that will allow you to then receive our publications to help inform you about issues being considered by the Legislature.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thank you, Jere. So, if individuals go to our website at ncfamily.org, they can sign-up to get our emails and other correspondence, especially Action Alerts that we send out when it’s most important for members of the public to contact their elected officials. I want to encourage all our listeners to go to the NC Family website at ncfamiy.org to make sure you are signed up to receive our emails and especially our Action Alerts so that you know when it’s most important to contact your elected officials about issues you care about. And with that, Jere Royall, I want to thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters and for your great and very important work here at the North Carolina Family Policy Council.
JERE ROYALL: You are welcome, thank you. It’s a blessing to work together.
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