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League Bulletin

January 17, 2020

WHAT HAPPENED: State lawmakers filed in and out of the Legislative Building this week during an hourslong mini-session that did not change the status of the governor-legislature state budget stalemate. 

WHAT IT MEANS: Most of the wrap-up news focused on the Senate's upholding of vetoes. Gov. Roy Cooper has red-stamped 14 bills from the 2019-2020 biennium and two of them -- one dealing with teacher pay and another with regulatory reform -- came up for override votes, neither successfully. They did not take up the vetoed budget.  

ON TAP: It all transpired within a matter of hours before lawmakers gaveled out and went home with no plans to return before this year's regular short session, which will kick off in April. 

THE SKINNY: Short sessions usually deal with budget tweaks and pending bills left over from the previous year's long session, among other things, though it might be a little different this time around without a comprehensive state budget on the books at all. (State business has since been fueled by piece-by-piece spending bills, which is not the typical process.) Read on for more details about this and other matters of interest to local governments.

By the time it was over, the only bill that made it to Gov. Roy Cooper's pen from this week's super-brief legislative session was one benefiting children of wartime veterans with scholarship opportunities. "These scholarships are earned through the service and sacrifice of these students and their families," said Gov. Roy Cooper upon signing the bill, SB 560. "Increasing the amount of these scholarships is the right thing to do." The bill appropriated a recurring $2.4 million to that end. Other focuses from the day -- Medicaid expansion, teacher pay and regulatory reform – didn’t lead to any changes, but did make headlines. Two vetoed bills -- one on teacher pay, the other regulatory reform -- hit the Senate floor for override votes and both failed, sustaining the governor's vetoes. While observers wondered whether the also-vetoed state budget would come back up, it didn't, which might strike an unusual chord for the General Assembly's short session in late April. 

Short sessions in part function to amend or update the biennial state budget approved in the previous year, but the state doesn't have an approved budget this time around per hard disagreements between the governor and legislative leaders, who instead approved a series of individual spending plans for government agencies and topics. The Insider State Government News Service quoted Senate leader Phil Berger saying at a news conference that he didn't expect a complete budget to come together in the short session. House Speaker Tim Moore said the same: "You may have more of what we've had with the mini-budgets, where you try to find the areas where it would be very difficult for the governor to draw a controversy," he said. A spokesman for the governor countered​ that legislative leaders are avoiding negotiation. Complete information about bills taken up during the Tuesday session is online at https://www.ncleg.gov/Legislation

Graham, Manteo, Mebane, Murphy, Pilot Mountain and Zebulon will receive up to three years of downtown technical assistance from the N.C. Main Street & Rural Planning Center, the state announced Friday. That's via the Center's Downtown Associate Community Program, launched in 2015 for towns pursuing the N.C. Main Street Program. "All North Carolina communities have tremendous assets that they can leverage for a vibrant downtown that serves as an economic engine for the greater community,” said Department of Commerce Secretary Anthony Copeland. “This program will help Graham, Manteo, Mebane, Murphy, Pilot Mountain and Zebulon attract new investment, grow their business community, and create more jobs.” The announcement​ has more details for municipalities interested in participation.

It's begun. Absentee by-mail ballots have gone out to voters who've requested them ahead of the 2020 primary election on March 3. “By-mail absentee voting officially launches the 2020 primary election,” said State Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell in a press release. “Any registered voter in North Carolina may request a mail-in absentee ballot for the primary.” For anyone wondering, her office has published a quick but complete guide on "How to Vote Absentee by Mail." Request forms for absentee ballots are available online as well. (Related news from last week's Bulletin: "No Photo ID Required for Primaries​.")

One of the longest-serving public officials in legislative memory has returned. Mickey Michaux, who served for decades in the General Assembly until his 2019 retirement, is back for a brief period filling the vacancy left by Durham's Floyd McKissick, a senator who recently resigned to accept an appointment to the state's Utilities Commission. Michaux took his oath in time for this week's quick lawmaking session but indicated he would make way for a new selection before the April short session.

Communities interested in the 2020 Watch for Me NC program -- focusing on bicycle and pedestrian safety -- have until Jan. 31 to submit applications. Submissions are via the Watch for Me NC website. Communities selected for the program will receive free law enforcement training, technical assistance, safety tools and messaging materials for public events. "Watch for Me NC provides valuable, hands-on training to law enforcement while educating the public,” Program Manager Ed Johnson said in a press release with details. “Everyone must be engaged and informed as we work together to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety.”

The League offices will be closed Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and will reopen Tuesday on normal hours.

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