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Political Notebook: Lawmakers talk focus areas ahead of next legislative session

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Though the election may be over in North Carolina, with the exception of a tight race for N.C. Supreme Court chief justice, local lawmakers say there’s no time to rest as they prepare for the upcoming legislative session in January.

All of Rowan County’s incumbent legislators will return for another term. And while COVID-19 will continue to be a major conversation when the General Assembly reconvenes, it’s not yet determined what those conversations will be. Some areas of focus among local lawmakers include attempts to modify the emergency powers bill, change language in domestic violence and parental visitation rights laws and refile a bill to allow the attorney general to put an end to debt adjusting and debt settlement.

Sen. Carl Ford, R-33, said he’s been meeting with staff and is preparing for upcoming caucus meetings because “there’s a lot to do.” Some areas of focus Ford is tuned into involve another attempt at modifying the governor’s use of emergency powers, saying Gov. Roy Cooper’s pandemic-related restrictions have been an abuse of power.

Ford supported Senate Bill 105 in this year’s session, which would have required the governor to receive approval from the Council of State before closing businesses further or exercising other emergency powers. That bill was ultimately vetoed. Ford said he’d rather see the governor have powers for four weeks and then require full approval from the Council of State for further actions. After 60 days, the General Assembly should reconvene and allow lawmakers to be involved in the decision-making process, Ford said.

Another measure involves collaboration with Rep. Steve Jarvis, R-80, who previously served as a county commissioner in Davidson County. The two are working on a bill that would implement blue lights on emergency response vehicles, such as fire trucks and ambulances, to avoid collisions. Ford said some research suggests blue light catches the eye better than red lights.

Another bill could involve cracking down on the North Carolina High School Athletics Association, which is an independent group that governs high school sports across the state. Ford said there is an issue with the association collecting millions in revenue and “just banking money” while many athletic organizations are suffering.

Other areas of focus include measures to address the opioid overdose crisis, in which Rep. Wayne Sasser, R-67, could lead based on his background as a pharmacist, Ford said. While Sasser is in the House, he and Ford both represent Stanly County. 

Rep. Harry Warren, R-76, said his staff is currently looking into a list of at least a dozen bills, with him serving as the lead primary sponsor on most of them. Some of those bills include modifying the language in several state statutes.

For example, the state currently has a mandatory retirement age of 72 for some judges, which Warren called a form of “age discrimination.”

“We’ve lost a lot of judges and institutional knowledge and experience (over the years),” he said. 

That measure would modify General Statute § 7A-4.20, which states, “no justice or judge of the General Court of Justice may continue in office beyond the last day of the month in which he attains his seventy-second birthday, but justices and judges so retired may be recalled for periods of temporary service …” 

Other laws Warren wants to improve upon involve implementing language to be more inclusive of modern families and ensure equal protection of the law, he said. For example, state laws regarding domestic violence and parental visitation rights are still written in a way that only accepts heterosexual relationships, thus requiring “us to go back and look at those and how they impact modern families,” Warren said, as they’re “not the only couples we recognize” as a state.

Some of Warren’s bill ideas aren’t within his field of expertise, and he has reached out to other attorneys for guidance. To help ensure these bills make progress through the General Assembly, Warren said he’s been talking with Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-90, who also serves as the speaker pro tem of the North Carolina House. 

And while it’s yet to be determined what the conversations surrounding COVID-19 may sound like in Raleigh when the General Assembly reconvenes in January, Warren is still a member of the House Standing Committee on COVID-19 as part of the Economic Support Working Group. He said the committee hasn’t met since federal CARES Act funds were disbursed in September and that conversations surrounding the pandemic have primarily been among the House and Senate appropriations chairs. 

Rep. Julia Howard, R-77, said her focus moving forward will be related to revenue laws, though it’s not yet determined which of those laws will be of priority. She serves as senior chairman of the House Finance Committee. 

One measure Howard plans to push on is refiling the debt settlement bill she sponsored that passed the House and Senate during the short session in June. Ultimately, the Senate refused to bring it back to the floor for a vote. 

That bill proposed changes to a current law that states it’s a criminal offense for debt adjusting and debt settlement. Debt adjusting is taking money and promising to pay it to someone else’s creditor. Debt settlement is going between the debtor and creditor to negotiate on behalf of the debtor. Both are misdemeanors under current law. The bill aimed to make it clear that the attorney general has all authority to stop this activity and it helps the debtor who might want to sue.

“That will be the No. 1 bill to file on the first day,” she said. 

Howard said pandemic relief funding will likely be part of the conversation when lawmakers reconvene. She is also part of the House Select Committee on COVID-19, and she co-chairs the Economic Support Working Group. 

 

State board of elections releases statement on post-election vote-counting process

RALEIGH — The state Board of Elections on Wednesday released some facts related to the post-election vote-counting process as misinformation continues to spread rapidly.

The post-election canvass process takes place after each election, which ensures votes have been counted correctly and required audits have been completed. While county boards of elections have finished counting absentee by mail votes to certify 2020 general election results, the state will complete its canvass on Nov. 24 at 11 a.m.

Any remaining absentee by mail ballots that counties received after Nov. 3 must have been received no later than 5 p.m. on Nov. 12 in order to be counted, as long as they were postmarked on or before Nov. 3.

Part of county canvassing meetings also included counting provisional ballots, which are used when the voter’s eligibility is in question. Prior to those meetings, current law, like § 163-182.2, mandates that county boards conduct research to determine if provisional ballots will be wholly or partially counted.

On Nov. 11, the Rowan County Board of Elections counted 332 absentee by mail ballots and accepted 175 provisional ballots. Of those provisional ballots, 13 were considered partial because those voters weren’t eligible to cast a vote in the state House race that they marked on their ballots, said Rowan County Board of Elections Director Brenda McCubbins.

“The post-election period ensures that the ballots of eligible voters will be counted as long as they meet statutory deadlines and comply with all other laws,” said state Board of Elections spokesperson Patrick Gannon in a statement. “This allows more eligible voters to lawfully exercise their right to vote.”

After each election, the state board randomly selects two precincts in all 100 counties to audit. That audit involves hand-counting the paper ballots for the highest contest on the ballot — in this case, the presidential race — and compare it with the tabulated results. The audit is also called the “sample hand-to-eye count,” and includes bipartisan teams who have already began auditing, Gannon said.

The results of all audits will be submitted to the state board as part of the final certification of the election.

Additionally, Gannon said that many North Carolinians have contacted local election officials to question why certain races have been called while others have not. He reminds North Carolinians that the state and county boards have not, and never will, call or project a race for any candidate.

“Projections are made by media and/or candidates using unofficial results, typically based on the vote difference and the number of votes yet to be counted in a contest,” Gannon said. “In some cases, including the North Carolina governor’s race and the North Carolina U.S. Senate race, the trailing candidates ‘conceded’ when they realized they could not make up the vote differential with the ballots still uncounted.”

Once the state board certifies the results of the election on Nov. 24, boards of elections will issue certificates of election to the prevailing candidates, which is required by § 163-182.15.

 

House Republicans to announce caucus leadership for 2021-22 year

RALEIGH — The incoming Republican majority of the state House on Monday will announce the results of its leadership elections for the 2020-21 year.

The announcement will be delivered in front of the North Carolina Republican Party Headquarters at 4 p.m.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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