On Wednesday, January 27, 2021, North Carolina lawmakers reconvened to begin the 2021-22 Legislative Session in earnest. The General Assembly’s major focus in the coming months will be on COVID-19 relief in the areas of healthcare, the economy, and education. As always, NC Family will be a constant presence at the legislative building in Raleigh through NC Family President John Rustin, and Counsel and Director of Community Impact Jere Royall. John and Jere join host Traci DeVette Griggs on the latest episode of the Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast to discuss the new legislative session, and what we can expect lawmakers to address these next two years.
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear from John and Jere!
TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. November’s elections are becoming reality from Washington DC to Raleigh, North Carolina, as new lawmakers are sworn in and new legislative sessions are called to order. To take a look at what North Carolina can expect in state public policy this year, I’m joined today by two key players here at NC Family, President John Rustin and Jere Royal, Counsel and Director of Community Impact. John and Jere work tirelessly to be voices of persuasion for family values in the halls of North Carolina government.
John and Jere, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
JOHN RUSTIN: Hey Traci, great to be with you.
TRACI GRIGGS: Now that the elections are behind us, tell us about the makeup of North Carolina’s executive and legislative branches.
JOHN RUSTIN: Honestly, not a whole lot of change from what we’ve had the last term in the General Assembly. Of course, Governor Roy Cooper, the Democrat, won his reelection bid and will be in the office of governor for the next four years. And he is working with a General Assembly that is led by Republicans. Republicans need 30 seats or 30 votes in the state Senate to override a governor veto, and they need 72 votes in the state House to override the governor’s veto there. So, you know, Roy Cooper has vetoed more bills than probably all of his predecessors combined since North Carolina gave the governor veto. And during the first term, when Republicans held super majorities in both chambers, they were basically able to override the governor’s veto at will. During this last term, they were unable to override the governor’s vetoes in both the state House and state Senate. So, it’s going to continue to be a good bit of gridlock that we’ll be seeing politically, this battle between a Democrat governor and a Republican-led General Assembly.
TRACI GRIGGS: So John, you don’t anticipate that the relationship between the governor and the legislature will improve at all?
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, we seem to be saying there’s more political divisiveness consistently, both on the federal and the state level, but on a vast majority of issues, and quite frankly, many of the issues that we work on at the Family Policy Council. Issues of life, religious liberty, school choice, there is a clear, distinct difference in positions on those issues between the legislature and the governor. So, you know, there’s some issues that they’ll be able to get along well on, there are other issues where they have different priorities and the legislature may well pass a bill, but the governor’s likely to veto it.
TRACI GRIGGS: So, speaking of priorities, do you have a sense of what Governor Cooper’s priorities will be for the upcoming years?
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, let me direct that question to Jere who is our main presence down at the General Assembly and has been working for years in the legislature, developing relationships, building and deepening our relationships with lawmakers and folks within the Executive Branch.
JERE ROYALL: Thank you, John. Two of the areas that we’ve heard about from Governor Cooper, of course, healthcare is primary right now. COVID has been and will continue to be until things change, top priority as far as policy and what the best approach is as far as the physical health of the citizens, as well as the economic health of our state. In addition, of course, the governor has from early on, made a priority in the area of healthcare with Medicaid expansion. He has also mentioned in previous years, and again mentioned this year, his hope for a bond issue for state infrastructure for things like school construction. Earlier proposals have been in the range of $4 billion, so that’s a significant part of what he is looking at.
When we look at legislative leaders and how they are looking at the upcoming session this year, they of course, are looking at a lot of these same issues and trying to see, well, where is the common ground? And that is a message that thankfully we heard a lot in the opening of the legislative session from both the majority and minority leaders, talking about the fact that we need to try to find common ground and see how we can work together as they realize that as Democrats and Republicans, too much of the time in the past session, a deadlock, which doesn’t help the state move forward. And so hopefully there will be a different approach this year as they work together and come forward with their priorities.
TRACI GRIGGS: What about any other priorities for Republican legislators? Are there other things we need to be looking for?
JERE ROYALL: Certainly, and this is an encouraging sign. I know Senator Berger in his opening remarks this year talked about that he has already met multiple times with Governor Cooper, just as far as talking about the priorities and how we can move ahead. I know that for both of them, education is a priority. They have had different approaches. Senator Berger, that’s one of the things he has mentioned early on as well as Speaker Moore is looking at the school situation. I know that Speaker Moore mentioned one of the top priorities is children returning to the classrooms. We obviously are facing a very challenging situation right now with so many children still at home. And just the differences that makes and how our education system works.
Another area that I think they all agree on, I know they agree on, is providing more relief for those who are struggling. And thankfully, that was one of the areas where there was a lot of agreement last year. Hopefully that will continue and they will see how they can work together. Of course, there’s been a lot of federal funding that was allocated as well as state funding, so I think that’s going to be an area where hopefully there’ll be more and more consensus. There are a lot of challenges, but there is a lot of hope as far as hearing how both Democrats and Republicans and the leadership are talking about, let’s find ways to work together.
TRACI GRIGGS: So, on the pro-life front, let’s talk about that. North Carolina’s legislative leaders are currently defending several of the state’s excellent pro-life laws against legal attacks from both state and national pro-abortion groups. But in addition to defending those in court, do you anticipate any kind of pro-life legislation action on the state level?
JERE ROYALL: On the legislative level, we are not really clear about what might happen. I think a lot of people are looking at what happened in the last session when the Abortion Survivor bill was passed by the legislature and the governor vetoed that, and there were enough votes in the Senate to override the veto, but not in the House. I think that indicated to a lot of people was any pro-life legislation was going to be very difficult to pass because quite honestly, that bill was one that I think a lot of us thought there would be maybe almost unanimous agreement on. The fact that an unborn child could survive an abortion procedure, what this law proposed, would have done, would have said that that child should receive the same care as any other child born alive. And sadly, there was not unanimous agreement, as I mentioned, really there weren’t enough votes to override the governor’s veto. Because of what’s happened last year, I think there’s going to be more, still hesitancy.
JOHN RUSTIN: And I would add to that too Traci, that the General Assembly has been successful in including provisions in the budget that provides funding for pregnancy care centers in the state. And particularly for them to purchase ultrasound machines and to provide training on how to use those machines. We know what an incredible impact it is on a woman who’s facing an unplanned pregnancy, who goes into a pregnancy care center and is able to see the ultrasound of that unborn child. And then in so many of those instances that she recognizes in plain view that that unborn child is a baby and decides for life. And so that is something that we’re going to encourage the General Assembly to continue to do, instead of providing funding, which they have done in past years to Planned Parenthood, instead provide those funds to pregnancy care centers across the state.
JERE ROYALL: And just to mention too, on areas we need to be praying about for wisdom is for the judges in our court system, because right now there are really two major challenges to our existing pro-life laws. One of those is one that really would be attacking almost all of the pro-life legislation that has been enacted since 2011. These are laws that are under attack in our courts right now. There’s also another case that involves a ban that was put in place for abortions after 20 weeks, and that was in place from January of 2016 to May of 2019. But then, because of a court challenge to that, there’s an injunction on that, that case is still in the court system. So again, we’ve had a lot of good pro-life laws, excellent pro-life laws that have been passed, but those are being challenged now in our court system. So we want to pray that those will be upheld by our courts.
TRACI GRIGGS: Let’s talk about school choice now. We know that the governor has not been a friend of school choice, but throughout the pandemic we’ve seen more and more families very interested in those options that that brings. Do you anticipate the legislature to continue expanding school choice opportunities for families and students in the state?
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, we certainly hope so, Traci. The legislature had the wisdom a number of years ago to forward-fund opportunity scholarships, which provides scholarships, educational scholarships, to lower income families across the state to go to the school of the parents choosing. The funding, was put in place for 10 years from the time that that was passed, which was a couple of years ago. And so we’re into that 10-year time period, but the legislature has continued to express very strong support for school choice in North Carolina. And I think with all of the impacts of COVID on the education of our children, that that’s a major area that the General Assembly is going to be looking at. And we want to encourage our lawmakers to look at a myriad of ways that they can help support parents in these educational endeavors, especially if parents have chosen to educate their children at home..
JERE ROYALL: And to add to that, John, as the support for school choice has continued to grow, I know polling, and more recently, they’re now showing seven out of 10 support the Opportunity Scholarship funding which John mentioned; right now it’s up to $4,200 for lower income families. And with the change in our approach to education in many people’s minds because of what’s happened with COVID, there’s strong support and growing support for school choice.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well, we are so grateful for all the work that you guys do down at the legislature and across the state on these very important issues. Those of us who follow state politics understand how important state policy is, you know, it can influence other states, it can bubble up and influence the federal level, and of course it can save lives.
John, before we go, would you like to just tell people how they can stay in touch with us and help when it’s needed?
JOHN RUSTIN: Oh, absolutely Traci, thank you. And thanks for those who are listening out there. If you are not already a partner with NC Family, we would encourage you to become one. The easiest way to do that is to go to our website at ncfamily.org. Again, that’s ncfamily.org, and just click on the signup page and you can sign up to receive our daily emails, our calls to action, our flagship publication, Family North Carolina magazine, and also of course, listen to this radio program, Family Policy Matters, so that you can stay up-to-date and informed about what’s going on. And then of course, be the salt and light that Jesus tells us that we are as Christians in this world, and reach out and contact your lawmakers and let them know what you feel about what they’re doing in Raleigh, in your local communities, and also up in Washington, DC.
TRACI GRIGGS: NC Family President, John Rustin, and Jere Royall, counsel and Director of Community Impact here at NC Family, thank you guys for joining us today on Family Policy Matters.
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