The first major votes of the 2023-24 session of the North Carolina General Assembly took place this past week.
And while bills requiring teachers to out LGBTQ+ students, criminal penalties for rioting, and another effort to expand Medicaid grabbed the majority of the headlines, action began on measures impacting the state’s visitor economy, efforts to address the essential housing shortage and other bills.
Another push is underway to repeal a state law requiring schools to open no earlier than the Monday nearest August 25 and end the school year by the Friday closest to June 11, with the introduction of House Bill 62 and HB 86.
The current law passed in 2004 was backed by the state’s tourism industry along the coast and in the mountains to address staffing issues that arise when students depart while business is still in peak season, and limits the ability of families from around the state from being able to vacation in August.
Members of northeastern North Carolina’s delegation have said they support giving local districts more say in setting the calendars.
The Senate voted Thursday to approve SB 53, entitled “Hotel Safety Issues”, a second attempt to amend state law that changes protections for people who are temporarily living in hotels or motels that’s being sought by the lodging industry. It also adds campgrounds and RV parks to the statute.
A similar bill was vetoed by Governor Roy Cooper last year.
The Associated Press reports the bill is intended to address the increasing numbers of families or low-income people that are using hotel rooms or campsites for long-term lodging during an affordable housing shortage.
Supporters told a Senate committee fewer innkeepers will be willing to accommodate long-term guests without more restrictions and requirements, while opponents called for additional provisions such as a 24-hour notice before eviction.
The N.C. Tribune reported that during Thursday’s floor debate, Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed (D-Mecklenburg) proposed four different amendments to add exceptions to the bill for vulnerable people like domestic violence victims, families with young children, veterans and victims of natural disasters.
The amendments were tabled without debate, and the bill passed on a 28-16 party line vote. Sen. Bobby Hanig (R-Currituck) and Sen. Norm Sanderson (R-Pamlico) voted in favor of sending the measure forward.
No action has been taken on companion bill HB 41 in the House.
HB 54 entitled “Make North Carolina Home Act of 2023”, would have the state’s Department of Commerce take an increased role in addressing the lack of housing that’s affordable for essential workers. It also requires the North Carolina Building Code to be translated into Spanish.
Sen. Hanig is one of the primary sponsors of SB 70, “Promote North Carolina Sawmills”, which backers say would lift a regulatory burden on small sawmills that will give them increased ability to sell lumber for some home construction.
“With sawmills being such a vital industry for the economy of North Carolina, I am taking steps to make sawmills even more available and productive,” Hanig said.
“Lumber production is one of the biggest industries in North Carolina, contributing $4.4 billion and nearly 19,000 jobs to the North Carolina economy in 2016,” Hanig said. “Softwood pine production encompasses a vital part of the economies of the Piedmont and coastal plains regions of the state, with the vast majority being used for residential and commercial construction.”
“This bill will increase profits and job creation in one of the biggest industries in the state and will bolster growth in the district and the state at-large.”
The legislation would have the N.C. Building Code Council amend the N.C. Residential Code for one- and two-family dwellings to allow the use of lumber that has not been grade-stamped under the authority of a lumber grading bureau as long as the boards are sold directly by a sawmill to the owner of the home or an authorized representative.
It would also require the lumber to meet or exceed the state’s building code requirements as certified by a third-party inspector and a code enforcement officer.
HB 28, NC Managing Environmental Waste Act of 2023, which was cleared by a House committee this week, gives new incentives to cities and counties to reduce the amount of single-use containers going into landfills.
Under the bill, five percent of the revenue from the state’s solid waste disposal tax must be used “for plastics recycling and food service ware waste reduction programs and services, including for the procurement of alternatives to food service ware to be used by the city or county.”
According to Rep. Harry Warren (R-Rowan), the bill was developed with help from the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Environmental Quality and the N.C. Retail Merchants Association.
“This bill has no mandates at all on the private sector,” Warren told the N.C. Tribune. “I believe it would make North Carolina a leader among state governments.”
SB 83, No TikTok on Government Devices, co-sponsored by Sen. Hanig would ban TikTok and WeChat, along with other apps owned and created by the Chinese government, from any state government-issued device.
Governor Cooper has already signed an Executive Order banning the apps, with the bill codifying the policy.
“It is inconceivable that the state should leave its information so easily accessible for our foreign adversaries, and I will take every measure to make sure China cannot deceive us so easily,” Hanig said.
Nels Roseland was confirmed to a seven-year term by unanimous votes in the House and Senate to be the next state controller, nearly a year after being appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper to replace Linda Morrison Combs who retired last spring.
Also confirmed by the Senate was Todd Ishee as Secretary of the Department of Adult Correction, a Cabinet-level position created last year.