As the North Carolina General Assembly slows down for the summer, NC Family wanted to take a minute to update you on some of the important measures we have been working on during this “Short Session.” For the most part, lawmakers continue to hold “skeletal” sessions with limited activity as they await Governor Cooper’s action on various bills that have passed both chambers. They do, however, continue to consider some substantive measures as they attempt to satisfy the Governor’s objections to certain bills. The legislature is expected to hold intermittent sessions in the coming days to finish up a handful of pending matters and to hold veto override votes.
NC Family worked hard with legislators and fellow pro-life organizations to protect unborn lives during this short session. In March, we joined five other statewide organizations in urging Governor Cooper to suspend abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic. State Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen had instructed hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers to “suspend all elective and non-urgent procedures and surgeries,” but did not include abortion clinics in this mandate. NC Family argued in our letter to the governor that abortions should be classified as elective and non-urgent, and thus should be prohibited during this critical period.
We also supported SB 168, a bill that addressed certain appropriations and laws relating to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. This bill contained an appropriation of $650,000 for pregnancy care centers. This measure was necessary, because Governor Cooper vetoed last year’s budget bill that contained similar pro-life funding. SB 168 passed the General Assembly by a nearly unanimous vote at the end of June, but was also vetoed by the Governor on July 6, reportedly, because it also contained a provision that would have shielded certain death investigation records from the public. Lawmakers then pledged to craft additional legislation to remove the provision in controversy in order to avoid a veto, but Cooper chose to veto the bill anyway. State lawmakers are presently pursuing the passage of these appropriations measures through another bill.
SB 380—Clarify Felony Possess Sweepstakes Machine would have created a new Class G felony offense in state law for operating certain sweepstakes gambling machines in North Carolina. NC Family Director of Community Impact and Counsel Jere Royall testified before the House Rules Committee in June to express our support for the bill. Royall pointed to the fact that this bill would not only maintain the current law that all sweepstakes gambling machines are illegal, but that it would also create a new separate felony offense for placing certain quantities and formats of video gambling machines into operation. “We think that this legislation will be another step in helping to end this harmful activity in our state,” Royall told the committee. “Decades of research clearly show the undeniable link between gambling and increases in theft and other crimes, divorce, domestic violence, child abuse, personal debt, bankruptcy, and even suicide.” Unfortunately, the bill failed in the committee on a tie vote and did not make it to the House floor.
As NC Family has shared numerous times, SB 315—the North Carolina Farm Act of 2019-20 has been the subject of heated debate for months due to the issue of smokable hemp. The bill finally passed the General Assembly in early June, but not before all the provisions related to hemp were removed—including the part that would prohibit smokable hemp. Multiple law enforcement agencies including NC Sheriffs, Chiefs of Police, District Attorneys and the State Bureau of Investigation testified on multiple occasions that the failure to ban smokable hemp could result in the de-facto legalization of marijuana in North Carolina, since the two are essentially indistinguishable aromatically and visually. Another bill, SB 352—Amend NC Controlled Substances Act, was brought up in the House Rules Committee on June 11 with a provision that would have prohibited smokable hemp, but it was withdrawn from consideration before a vote was taken.
Stay tuned for additional updates from NC Family as the 2020 “Short Session” continues!