Last week, members of North Carolina’s General Assembly met in the state Capitol for the first time as the legislative session began. State Republicans come into 2023 with a veto-proof supermajority in the Senate and one seat short of another in the House. Republicans have already begun capitalizing on their advantage, creating a rule that would enable the GOP to hold a vote on overriding a veto without prior notice. Here are the biggest items on the docket for 2023.
The issue of abortion access is sure to attract the most attention in this year’s session. Following the summer’s Dobbs v. Jackson Supreme Court decision, states across the country have begun adopting more restrictive abortion laws. In North Carolina, a federal judge reinstated a 20-week ban in August 2022.
House and Senate Republicans are reportedly working on a proposal that would ban abortions after 13 weeks, but allow for exceptions in the case of rape or incest. Governor Roy Cooper has vowed to veto any abortion restrictions passed by Republicans. But a vote from a single House Democrat would make the bill veto-proof, a notion that Assembly leaders have said is a very real possibility.
While these provisions would be less extreme than most of the laws passed in the last year, they would still have dire consequences for those seeking abortions. Very few abortions in the state of North Carolina are conducted after the first trimester, and most second or third trimester abortions have to deal with the health of the parent or the fetus. Most evidence indicates that criminalization doesn’t prevent abortions from occurring and healthcare professionals warn that the legal framework for a ban would only put patients at more risk during otherwise safe procedures.
Republican Senate and House leaders have promised that Medicaid expansion will be a part of this year’s legislative session after both chambers failed to come to a consensus on specifics in 2022. North Carolina is one of 12 states that haven't expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Expanding the program will extend healthcare to an estimated 621,000 low-income North Carolinians, a development especially powerful for university students. Studies show that Medicaid expansion has been linked with a general improvement in quality of healthcare, health outcomes, state economic growth and a decrease in mortality.
Another subject the General Assembly failed to get over the line in 2022 and is set to revisit is the legalization of medical marijuana. North Carolina is one of 13 states yet to legalize the medical use of marijuana despite overwhelming public support. The Compassionate Care Act entered the legislature in 2021 and passed in the Senate last year but stalled in the House. Cooper believes that the General Assembly will once again take up the issue this session and that it has a chance of becoming law.
While this potential development is good news for North Carolina, the state remains well behind the rest of the nation. Twenty-one states have already legalized recreational marijuana and more are taking up the issue. North Carolina’s partial decriminalization does not reflect the will of its population, a majority of whom support full legalization. Reversing the history of draconian marijuana laws and customs in the United States is one of the most sensible and pressing political priorities of this generation; state lawmakers who oppose these measures are out of step with the 21st century.
One of the more interesting sagas in the General Assembly is the proposed legalization of sports gambling. A bill to legalize the practice narrowly failed in 2022 but lawmakers have already promised the legislation will be reintroduced in this year’s session.
In a similar vein to the usage of marijuana, the existence of sports gambling is already widespread in North Carolina. The industry has been booming underground in the state for years; befriend anyone in a fraternity and you’re bound to be offered a promotion from their bootleg bookie. Officially bringing the betting industry to North Carolina will not only generate millions of dollars in revenue and potentially create thousands of jobs, but it would also allow for formal oversight to regulate the practices of gamblers.
The issues our state legislature chooses to address illustrate the direct effect politics can play on the lives of everyday people. Staying informed on their activity enables the NC State community to absorb, react and play a part in the process. The dominating Republican majority will bring some good in efficiency and producing results but will also bring some bad in the policies they choose to pursue.