The North Carolina legislature’s “short session” came to a close earlier this month after passing a $27.9 billion state budget. But perhaps more significant for families in North Carolina are the bills that did not pass.
NC Family President John Rustin, and Counsel and Director of Community Impact Jere Royall, are at the legislature nearly every day it is in session to be voices for family values. They join host Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s episode of Family Policy Matters to recap the short legislative session.
Of note in the state budget, shares Rustin, is “an expansion of the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides low-income families with vouchers for school choice…” There was also $2.6 million for ten pregnancy care centers in the state, that was “in addition to the over $13 million that was appropriated [for them] in last year’s budget,” adds Royall.
Two bills that thankfully didn’t pass were a bill to legalize sports wagering, and a bill to legalize medical marijuana. “I would consider it do be—and I think Jere would agree—miraculous that that [sports gambling] bill failed,” says Rustin, “because we were really working against huge forces: the gambling industry, sports teams, and associations like the NBA and the NFL…”
“But what we saw was that, really, the most conservative Republican legislators and the most liberal Democrat legislators, generally speaking, came together to form this coalition to stand in opposition to this bill.”
With the medical marijuana bill, NC Family continued our practice of bringing the facts rooted in science and medicine to this issue, despite impassioned opposition. When it comes to marijuana use, “the [American Medical Association] says there’s ‘significant deleterious effects that abound,” says Royall. “Public health risks are immense; drug abuse and addiction, change in brain function, lung disease, intoxication, impaired driving, development interference, impaired cognition, psychological illness, cardiovascular abnormalities, and cancer. […] This is the reality that we tried to bring to the Senate.”
Rustin and Royall concluded with a sneak peek of next week’s radio show, in which they will discuss our state’s pro-life landscape in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling. “We’ve been talking with and working with our legislative leaders to encourage them to embrace a more significant standard that would protect life at the point that a heartbeat is detected,” shares Rustin, “or even at the point of conception, as many of our neighboring states have done.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear John Rustin and Jere Royall recap these and other issues that arose during the 2022 short legislative session. And be sure to tune in next week for our show on North Carolina’s pro-life landscape!
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. North Carolina lawmakers wrapped up their legislative work for the year just in time for the Independence Day holiday. While passing a state budget was the top priority, their efforts on behalf of the people in North Carolina were wide ranging.
To take a look at what happened—and in some cases, more importantly, what did not happen—I’m joined today by NC Family President John Rustin…
JOHN RUSTIN: Hi, Traci.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: And NC Family Counsel and Director of Community Impact Jere Royall…
JERE ROYALL: Hello, Traci.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: John and Jere work on your behalf each legislative session to be voices of persuasion for family values in the halls of the North Carolina legislature, and we are all so grateful for the way you all work behind the scenes and make such a huge difference in your work there. So, thank you so much. All right, John, as we said, the primary focus of what’s called the “short session” is passing a budget, which happened. What do we need to know about the new budget?
JOHN RUSTIN: This year, our lawmakers passed a $27.9 billion state budget. There were lots and lots of different matters that are involved in the budget, of course, but some of the things that we were really excited to see our legislators approve is an expansion of the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides low-income families with vouchers for school choice so that that the parents can choose the best educational environment for their children. Not only did the legislature appropriate more funds for Opportunity Scholarships in North Carolina, but they also increased the eligibility standards for that so a greater number of families will be able to take advantage of that. So, we were really excited to see that. North Carolina is one of the leading states in the nation when it comes to school choice, and this is just a further expression of the commitment of our state lawmakers for Opportunity Scholarships and school choice in North Carolina. Another very important part of the budget, which is not a huge provision as far as how much money was spent, but the fact that our lawmakers did appropriate over $2.6 million to 10 pregnancy care centers across North Carolina. These are direct appropriations to help support the efforts of crisis pregnancy centers across our state.
JERE ROYALL: And John, that $2.6 million was in addition to the over $13 million that was appropriated in last year’s budget, which is through this same two-year period. Similarly on the scholarship part, the Disability Scholarship funding was also increased. So, really important additions were made to these programs.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right. Well, some of the biggest news out of the General Assembly may have actually been bills that died. I think sometimes people don’t realize how important that is. Of particular interest was the bill that sought to expand legal gambling in North Carolina that had quite a roller coaster run. Tell us about that.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, Traci, there was a huge push to legalize sports wagering in North Carolina, and so much so that we saw the bill pass the state Senate last year and then a committee in the House in November of last year. Then, it remained eligible for consideration during the short session. Right near the end of the session, they brought the bill up again. It passed three committees in the House and then got to the House floor and was actually defeated by only one vote. So, it was really remarkable. I would consider it to be—and I think Jere would agree—miraculous that that bill failed because we were really working against huge forces: the gambling industry, sports teams, and associations like the NBA and the NFL and the hockey league, and all of these were favorable toward this bill.
So, it had a lot of push behind it. But what we saw was that, really, the most conservative Republican legislators and the most liberal Democrat legislators, generally speaking, came together to form this coalition to stand in opposition to this bill. I think a lot of these legislators understand the implications that gambling has on individuals, families, and communities across our state. We’ve been studying this issue for decades, and the research that we have seen just clearly shows consistent increases—when there is an expansion of gambling or more forms of gambling that are available, that there are inevitably increases in things like domestic violence, child abuse, divorce, substance abuse, embezzlement, job loss, personal bankruptcy, and even suicide. These are the results of gambling addiction. So, these are the things that we share with our lawmakers that are great concerns about legislation like this. Fortunately, we saw a majority of lawmakers—albeit a very slim majority—stand in opposition to this bill and defeat it on the House floor. So we were very, very grateful for that.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Folks, you heard it here: our lawmakers are capable of working together and bridging that divide, working across the aisle. So, to me, that is a huge thing. We’re not seeing that necessarily very much on the federal level, but that to me is very exciting.
JERE ROYALL: Exactly, Traci. Because we did see, in the House, literally, it was almost evenly divided among Republicans and Democrats—half for, half against. What really prevailed, and John’s used the word miraculous, we really do believe that God worked in people’s hearts and minds, because one of the votes earlier in the day in one of the committees was 13-3 in favor of the bill. Yet, we and others continue to meet and talk with members. The debate on the floor, a lot of it was focused on the harm that this would bring to thousands of additional citizens. So, it was very encouraging to see how God did work in people’s hearts and minds to bring about this victory. Yet, we know that battle is going to continue.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right. So, speaking of miraculous and speaking of things that aren’t good for the state of North Carolina, another big topic of conversation this session was the potential legalization of marijuana, which managed to pass the Senate, but couldn’t get through the House. Jere, what happened there?
JERE ROYALL: Well, again, it’s amazing what happened. I know this is an issue we’ve worked on for many years. This bill was entitled “The North Carolina Compassionate Care Act,” and that in itself made it a difficult subject to debate. It meant that—in the Senate, they had five committee hearings on this—and in a lot of the early discussion, they brought in military veterans who had experienced horrible trauma. They shared that medications had not helped, counseling had not helped, and that marijuana had helped in their particular situation. But what we did, as we’ve done for years, was we tried to find the facts and the truth about this particular question. What we have found in the past and continue to find, the [American Medical Association], the [Food and Drug Administration], neurologists, and psychiatrists are all continuing to say, “Study medical marijuana, but what we’re finding are harms, not help.”
The AMA says there’s significant deleterious effects that abound, that public health risks are immense, drug abuse and addiction, change in brain function, lung disease, intoxication, impaired driving, developmental interference, impaired cognition, psychological illness, cardiovascular abnormalities, and cancer. Then, specifically on Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, they say people end up in a worse condition if they use medical marijuana. So, this is the reality that we tried to bring to the Senate.
Unfortunately, the vote was very strong in favor of this bill when it passed in the Senate. When it went to the House…and this is the interesting thing about how our system of government works—sometimes things can (this one wasn’t unanimous), but they can pass unanimously in one chamber, go to the other, and not even be brought up. That is what happened on this bill. The opposition in the House was strong. We continued to hear up until the last week that they might bring it up, but there was very strong opposition. So, we are very thankful for the outcome. But, we realize, because this bill went through months of deliberation in the Senate, that they’re going be right back again, pressing on this. That’s the reality of our work. We press on and endure and try to be there to be a voice for truth, and to speak the truth in love about these important issues.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: And I would also encourage people to research this. If this is surprising to you, please research what Jere’s saying because there’s great evidence out there. As a matter of fact, our most recent Family North Carolina magazine has a long article on it that is compelling, and it’s something you can share with your kids and your neighbors. So, I would encourage you to do that.
So, let’s move along. Like much of the country, North Carolina also began taking a closer look at parental rights, especially related to education and medical situations. Now, what was included in HB 755–Parents Bill of Rights and where does this particular issue stand now?
JOHN RUSTIN: Yeah. Well, thanks Traci. This is another bill that actually was a House bill that was amended in the Senate. It passed the Senate after it was amended and went back to the House, and they did not take it up, unfortunately. But what this bill intends to do is to provide parents more transparency with respect to what their children are being taught in school. What this bill proposed to do would be to affirm and strengthen the rights of parents to take an active role in their child’s education and healthcare. It also had a couple of provisions in it, one that would prohibit schools from teaching lessons on sexual orientation or gender identity before the fourth grade. I mean, we think it’s completely inappropriate for schools to be instructing children on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, and even after that. So, this bill would clarify that that would not be allowed.
It would also require, for example, teachers to inform parents if a child has requested a change in their name or their pronouns, how they’re referred to in the school. The schools should not create a wall between children and parents when it comes to important issues like that. So, this bill, again, it passed the Senate, where it was amended. It went back to the House, and the House, unfortunately, did not take the bill up.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Okay. So we’re going to have an entire conversation about North Carolina’s pro-life landscape in wake of the Dobbs ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. But, I feel like we’ve got to mention it here, right? So, just briefly, will one of you just talk about what the landscape looks like in North Carolina going forward as far as pro-life legislation?
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, thank you for that question, Traci. We will unpack this more in a future radio program and podcast, but basically, where we are in North Carolina is that we have had a law that’s been on the books for decades that is basically a ban on abortion after 20 weeks. But a federal judge enjoined that law about three years ago and said that it conflicted with the viability standard that was established by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. So, what we have now in North Carolina is abortions are legal up to the point of viability. We’ve been talking with and working with our legislative leaders to encourage them to embrace a more significant standard that would protect life at the point that a heartbeat is detected, or even at the point of conception, as many of our neighboring states have done. This is all still very much in flux right now. We are hopeful that if we are able to secure pro-life super majorities in both the State House and the State Senate after the upcoming election in November, that our legislative leaders are going to come back in in January and pass a heartbeat bill in North Carolina, or something potentially even stronger, to protect life from the earliest possible moment.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right. So, it sounds like we’ve got some very, very important state elections coming up. Well, we’re just about out of time for this week, but before we go, John, want to say anything to our listeners?
JOHN RUSTIN: Just a huge thank you to all of our listeners out there, especially those who tune in on a regular basis and also receive our emails and our action alerts and respond to those and reach out to their lawmakers to express their interest and concerns about these very important issues. Because they are very important and they do affect our lives on a daily basis. So, Jere and I spent a lot of time down at the legislature, and by God’s grace, we’ve been able to develop meaningful relationships with a lot of our state leaders. But the work that we do and the voice that we seek to present down there would mean nothing if it weren’t for constituents back home in these legislators’ districts, reaching out to them, contacting them, and expressing their concerns and interests on all of these very important issues. So, we’re very grateful for the participation, the prayers, and the support of folks across the state who believe in what we do and what we stand for. So, thank you all and please keep it up because it’s incredibly important.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Right, and if you have not already, make sure you sign up for the emails and legislative alerts from NC Family, because these guys will keep you in the loop on what’s happening. You can go to NCFamily.org to do that. So John Rustin and Jere Royall, thanks so much for joining us today on Family Policy Matters.
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