By Theresa Opeka
RALEIGH – Sixteen new state laws are now on the books in the new year in North Carolina.
Effective January first, classes in computer science and founding principles of the United States of America and the State of North Carolina are required to graduate from high school. The requirements will apply starting next school year.
House Bill 8, Various Statutory Changes, also contains is a law that requires pornographic websites to have age verification on them. H.B. 8 was signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper in October. Eight House Democrats originally voted against the bill.
“A cell phone in a child’s hand can be a portal into the most sexually graphic and violent content imaginable,” Sen. Amy Galey, R-Alamance said in advocating for the age-verification software. “We need safeguards to protect children from accessing inappropriate and harmful material online. Requiring age verification for pornography sites is a simple but effective way we can keep minors from accessing such content. This is a good provision and data from other states shows it will work.”
ELECTION LAW CHANGES
Sections of S.B. 747, “Election Law Changes,” also went into effect January first including a law that makes Election Day the deadline for absentee votes, and codifying requirements that convicted felons serve their entire sentence, including probation and restitution, before voting rights are restored. Also starting January first, boards of elections in North Carolina are no longer permitted to accept private money to help administer elections. That provision was sparked by the uneven use of seven million dollars in “Zuck Bucks” donations from Mark Zuckerberg’s Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) in 2020. During that election the private money primarily went to Democrat-leaning precincts in North Carolina to fund get-out-the-vote efforts.
Cooper vetoed the bill and drew national attention after he accused lawmakers of “racism.” after its passage. Lawmakers overrode the veto.
“If you are black or brown, Republicans really don’t want you to vote,” Cooper said in an August video statement.
S.B. 747 contains no provisions concerning race. Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, responded, saying Cooper was “mischaracterizing a bill that simply strengthens election integrity in North Carolina.”
A related bill that was set to become law on January first is on hold. No Partisan Advantage in Elections ( S.B. 749) would restructure the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE) by splitting appointments between the majority and minority party leaders in the state legislature. It was vetoed by the governor, and that veto was overridden by the legislature. NCSBE appointments are currently made by the governor on recommendations by the two biggest state parties, with a tie-breaking seat also appointed by the governor. Unlike under current law, unaffiliated voters would be able to serve on the board under S.B. 749.
Gov. Cooper called the bill an “unconstitutional power grab” and said, “The last thing our democracy needs is for our elections to be run by people who want to rig them for partisan gain.”
In November, a three-judge panel agreed unanimously to block the new state law that would replace the current Democrat-majority state elections board with the new bipartisan body. Judges reached that decision after roughly 90 minutes of arguments in Wake County Superior Court.
The new elections board had been scheduled to take effect on Jan.1. With the judges’ decision to issue a preliminary injunction, the current elections board will remain in place throughout legal proceedings in the case titled Cooper v. Berger.
FIRE MARSHAL, LOCAL GOVERNMENT, AND REGULATORY REFORM
Under the state budget that was passed in September and part of S.B. 363, and later, S.B. 409, as of January first, an independent Office of the State Fire Marshal will be created and housed within the Department of Insurance. The insurance commissioner would appoint the fire marshal, who would need to be confirmed by the legislature.
The state insurance commissioner has served as the state fire marshal since the 1940s. Current Commissioner Mike Causey, a Republican, opposed the change.
Another bill taking effect January first increases penalties on counties and municipalities that fail to timely submit an annual audit report. Senate Bill 299, Reimburse Late Audit Costs with Sales Tax Revenue, was vetoed in June by Cooper, but overridden by the General Assembly a little more than a week later. Republican State Treasurer Dale Folwell and former Democrat State Auditor Beth Wood released a statement about the passage of the bill.
“We hope this law is never used, but unfortunately, there are some cases in which it may need to be implemented. Ensuring local governments’ bank books are balanced and taxpayer money is properly accounted for has always been important. With millions of federal dollars flowing through our local governments, that obligation is more important than ever.”
Despite their support for it, Cooper opposed the bill saying the General Assembly should “reconsider this legislation and provide more help for these communities to make sure they do it right rather than impose financial punishment that could make matters worse.”
The Regulatory Reform Act of 2023 also went into effect January 1, despite a veto by Cooper who called it “…a hodgepodge of bad provisions that will result in dirtier water, discriminatory permitting, and threats to North Carolina’s environment.”
The GA overrode his veto on the bill.
Other laws that are in effect include S.B. 157, Limited Provisional License Modification, H.B. 190, Department of Health and Human Services Revisions – AB, H.B. 627, On-Site Wastewater Rules Implementation, H.B. 181, Unclaimed Property Division Changes, H.B. 203, Department of State Treasurer Technical Corrections, H.B. 201, Retirement Administrative Changes Act of 2023 – AB, S.B 615, Adoption Law/Notary Changes/ Guardianship Rights, H.B. 125, NC Health & Human Services Workforce Act, S.B. 477, Amend Business Corporation Act/Business Opportunity Disclosures, and S.B. 415, Stop Addiction Fraud Ethics Act of 2023.
Theresa Opeka is the Executive Branch reporter for the Carolina Journal.