Rowan’s state lawmakers reflect on past session, look ahead to short session later this spring

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, March 23, 2022

SALISBURY — Rowan County lawmakers agree that a lot was accomplished during the historically long 2021 legislative session, including a compromised budget granting constituents millions of dollars and several bills passed.

The regular session that kicked off in January 2021 turned out to be the longest session in North Carolina’s history, spanning 14 months and just short of 200 days. Lawmakers will return for a few days on April 4 and for another few days on May 4 before the short session begins on May 18, one day after the 2022 primary election. It’s not expected that lawmakers will vote on any substantial legislation during those short trips back to Raleigh in early April and May, but they’ll be around for budget tweaks and potential appointments recommended by the governor.

Rep. Harry Warren, R-76

Rep. Harry Warren, who represents Rowan County, said the length of the session was justifiable for the most part. The months-long delay of 2020 Census data pushed back the redistricting timeline. Additionally, approval of the 2021-23 budget was delayed while House and Senate members worked on a compromise for the final dollar amount. Leaders from both chambers then worked with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on the first comprehensive state budget signed in three years.

Warren also credited the House with reaching a bipartisan consensus on the state district maps, while N.C. Senate and congressional maps passed mostly along party lines. He added that it demonstrated more compromise and collaboration than previously seen in past legislatures.

Warren said a “lot of lessons were learned” during the lengthy session, but what was clear was the dedication of members on both sides of the aisle to come to the legislature when needed without losing sight of their constituents.

Warren was able to pass a few of his bills during the session. In July, the governor signed into a law legislation allowing the towns of Spencer and Banner Elk to regulate utility vehicles. Also in July, Cooper signed Warren’s bill decreasing the amount of lead in drinking water that constitutes a “lead poisoning hazard.” That limit moved from 15 parts per billion to 10, and Warren told the Post he’d like to decrease that amount further in the future.

Another bill of Warren’s extends sex offender premises restrictions to those convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor. In that bill, Warren closed a little-known gap in the laws governing the state’s sex offender registry. Prior to Cooper’s signature, someone convicted of making, distributing or possessing child pornography was allowed to be on school properties or other locations where children frequent.

In November, Warren’s bill protecting public safety dispatchers and 911 dispatchers was signed into law. That bill exempts such dispatchers from being liable for damages in civil suits except in cases of gross negligence and wanton or willful misconduct.

But a number of Warren’s bills remain in motion and can be voted on in the short session. One is the “Managing Environmental Waste Act of 2021,” which would increase revenue distributed to municipalities with programs in place to reduce plastics waste, establish a pilot program to reduce plastics waste at state-operated food service facilities and direct a committee to study the issue. Warren said this bill could allow the state to be a nationwide leader as it would hold governmental agencies accountable for not adding to the single-use plastic pollution in landfills and the ocean.

Other legislation involves HOA restrictions on solar panels, the prohibition of non-electric vehicle parking in spaces designated for electric vehicle charging and regulation of video lottery terminals. The latter would help crack down on illegal “fish arcade” businesses and instead regulate it, with some of the revenue earmarked for the state’s public Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Additionally, the bill would create a community college scholarship loan forgiveness program for North Carolina residents.

Rep. Wayne Sasser, R-67

Rep. Wayne Sasser, who represents parts of Rowan, Stanly and Cabarrus counties, saw eight of his bills passed. Sasser is the only pharmacist in the General Assembly, and despite being in his second term, Sasser said he was able to get a lot done due to his position as chair of the House Health committee. The governor signed a bill from Sasser allowing pharmacists to administer certain injections such as birth control and psychotic medication, along with another that further regulates wholesale distribution of prescription drugs. Another bill amended conditions for when a physician assistant or nurse practitioner is required to consult with a supervising physician when prescribing a targeted controlled substance.

Additionally, H.B. 20 allows connections for residential and mixed-use development lots to waterlines funded by the Clean Water and Natural Gas Critical Needs Bond Act of 1998.

Two bills Sasser passed not related to health include an exemption of the 10% area cap on voluntary annexations for the towns of Norwood, Oakboro and North Wilkesboro, along with established residency requirements for district court seats in District 20A.

Sasser said he hopes to see action on a bill to require naloxone, a drug reversal medication, to be prescribed with narcotics to address the opioid epidemic.

“We need to make sure we have naloxone in every place,” he said.

Additionally, Sasser is working on legislation that allows prescribing physicians to directly send an order to insurance providers rather than routing through the pharmacy. By doing this, Sasser said doctors can be notified instantly whether their patient needs a prior authorization rather than pharmacies having to wait for that agreement from insurance agencies before they can fill the prescription.

The benefit of the long session, Sasser said, is that “most of the legwork” on these bills has been done.

Sasser also praised the budget, which included millions of dollars for constituents across his district.

Sen. Carl Ford, R-33

Sen. Carl Ford, who represents Rowan and Stanly counties, did not see a gubernatorial stamp on any of his legislation. However, Cooper vetoed a bill Ford sponsored in June to limit the powers granted to North Carolina governors during states of emergencies. That measure is included in the approved 2021-23 budget.

While Ford is “not happy” with the outcome of redistricted maps, he counts lowered tax rates included in the state budget and millions on the way to Rowan and Stanly counties as wins for the long session. He’s “shocked” the governor signed the budget, but is glad he did, Ford added.

Ford said it’s anticipated the short session will end by July 4, but he’s not optimistic. He plans to revisit parts of the budget to catch any needed tweaks.

Rep. Julia Howard, R-77

Rep. Julia Howard, who represents Rowan and Davie counties, could not be reached by time of publication. But five of her bills were signed into law, with one requiring hospitals to allow clergy members to visit admitted patients despite state of emergency declarations. Additionally, Howard led legislation to clarify changes to the laws governing the North Carolina State Auditor as well as legislation allowing for remote meetings for nonprofits.

Cooper also signed Howard’s bill keeping the base tax rate for unemployment insurance at 1.9% rather than the 2.4% that was expected before the pandemic. Another bill of Howard’s eliminated bond requirements for applicants seeking certification by the North Carolina Real Estate Commission.

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About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com or call her at 704-797-4246.

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