Select Items of Note in North Carolina’s 2023-2024 Budget Bill
Last Friday, state lawmakers in North Carolina gave final approval to a much anticipated, and much delayed, state budget. The 625-page HB 259—2023 Appropriations Act appropriates just shy of $30 Billion in 2023-24, and $31 Billion in 2024-25. The state fiscal year begins on July 1, so passage of the budget bill by the Republican-led General Assembly is almost three months behind schedule. Democratic Governor Roy Cooper is expected to allow the budget to go into effect without his signature or veto.
A major item contributing to the delay of the budget was an effort by legislative leaders and the gambling industry to legalize four commercial gambling casino developments and tens of thousands of video lottery terminals (VLTs) across the state. Fortunately, this effort was abandoned after it became apparent that the votes did not exist in either the State House or State Senate to approve the budget if the gambling expansion proposal was included. An attempt to coerce support from Democratic lawmakers by pairing casinos and VLTs with Medicaid expansion fell flat, after Democrats in both chambers rejected the strongarm tactic in public statements directed at legislative leaders. In the end, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) decided to move forward with a “clean” budget bill that did not include casinos or VLTs.
NC Family is still in the process of reviewing HB 259, but we wanted to provide a snapshot of several select provisions that caught our attention in the ratified version of the budget bill.
- As directed by Senate Bill 20—Care for Women Children and Families Act (the major pro-life bill enacted into law earlier this year over the veto of Governor Roy Cooper), HB 259 appropriates $160 million over the next two fiscal years to fund expanded programs that honor and protect the lives of unborn babies in North Carolina and provide care and resources for their mothers and families. (pg 9)
- HB 259 provides $6.25 million in both the 2023-24 and 2024-25 state fiscal years for the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship to provide grants to pregnancy care centers across the state to purchase durable medical equipment—including ultrasound machines—and to provide training and other vital services. (pg 281-282)
- HB 259 provides $1.5 million in both the 2023-24 and 2024-25 state fiscal years to the pro-life nonprofit organization Human Coalition to help fund its statewide Continuum of Care Program. (pg 282)
- Although state law already prohibits state tax dollars from being used to pay for abortions directly, HB 259 contains a new provision prohibiting state funds from being used to fund abortions indirectly by prohibiting state agencies from renewing or extending existing contracts or entering into new contracts “for the provision of family planning services, pregnancy prevention activities, or adolescent parenting programs with any provider that performs abortions.” (pg 275)
- HB 259 expands North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program to ensure that all students are eligible to participate in the state’s school choice program provided that funding is available. The measure provides that grant amounts are determined on a sliding scale based upon household income, and it significantly increases state funding in future years to provide grants to as many children as possible. The appropriation is $176.5 million in 2023-24, $191.5 million in 2024-25, and this amount increases significantly to $415.5 million in 2025-26, and then increases by $15 million in each of the next six fiscal years, topping $505.5 million in the 2031-2032 fiscal year. (pg 187-194)
- HB 259 establishes the “School of Civic Life and Leadership” at UNC-Chapel Hill to provide course opportunities for students on the “development of democratic competencies informed by American history and the American political tradition, with the purpose of fostering public discourse and civil engagement necessary to promote democracy and benefit society.” (pg 161-162)
- HB 259 provides home school students the opportunity to sit for Advanced Placement and PSAT exams at a public school within their local school district. (pg 134-135)
- With limited exceptions, HB 259 prevents discrimination against individuals based on their COVID-19 vaccination status by prohibiting state and local governments from denying or refusing employment based on a person’s “refusal to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or the person’s refusal to submit to a COVID-19 vaccination or a series of COVID-19 vaccinations.” (pg 62-64)
- HB 259 raises the mandatory retirement age for appellate court judges in North Carolina from 72 to 76 years of age. This provision applies to justices on the State Supreme Court and judges on the State Court of Appeals. (pg 414-415)
- In response to the State Lottery Commission approving online “digital instants” video gambling in August, HB 259 includes a provision that prohibits the Lottery Commission from utilizing digital simulations of “casino-style table games” like poker, blackjack, craps, roulette, etc. in online gambling. (pg 21-22)
Of course, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other appropriations and provisions in HB 259, but these are some of the most notable ones we have found.
Stay tuned for additional updates from NC Family as the 2023 Legislative Session winds down now that the budget bill has passed.