RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – When state lawmakers ended their session last week, they left Raleigh with several significant issues unresolved, including legalizing medical marijuana and expanding health coverage.
The session began with Republicans in the Senate pushing a series of high-profile bills that would have marked significant policy changes in North Carolina. Among them: expanding Medicaid coverage to about 600,000 people and making other regulatory changes to healthcare; legalizing marijuana for certain debilitating medical conditions; and a controversial bill dealing with parental rights in schools that impacts how LGBTQ issues are taught.
Last year, the Senate also passed a bill to legalize mobile sports betting, which some members in the House tried to get through in the last couple weeks.
None of those bills ultimately got through the House of Representatives and made it to Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s desk.
“One thing I said weeks ago was this was going to be the short session, and that our primary focus was going to be the budget and that anything else we could work in we would,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland).
The House refused to take up the Senate’s Medicaid bill, instead passing one that would study the issue further and allow for a vote in December. The chamber did not vote on any legislation dealing with medical marijuana or the parental rights issue.
The House did take up two bills dealing with mobile sports betting, but one of those bills failed to pass by a single vote. That means the practice remains illegal in North Carolina.
“These are just tough issues to deal with, particularly when we’re in a budget situation where we’re only going to be here six weeks and be done,” said Speaker Moore.
The legislature has set aside time at the end of this month to override any vetoes that Gov. Cooper may issue. Legislative leaders also designated a handful of days the rest of the year to come back into session, primarily to deal with any emergencies that may arise or litigation surrounding the upcoming election, said Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham).
The General Assembly did pass updates to the current two-year budget, which included raises for state workers and teachers. Both chambers approved the budget with significant bipartisan majorities. Gov. Cooper has not said whether he’ll sign that into law.
Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Orange) said he was encouraged to see so many Republicans get behind Medicaid expansion and legalizing medical marijuana, which are both things he’s supported for years. But, he remained frustrated to see no resolution.
“So, we got dead-locked on those things. Ultimately, the people lose just because the House leadership and the Senate leadership can’t agree on the right way to proceed on things that are broadly popular with the public,” he said. “The momentum is already moving on those. Unfortunately, the legislature isn’t moving as quickly as the public wants us to.”
Sen. Berger said even with Speaker Moore’s concern about trying to resolve the Medicaid expansion issue during the short session, he felt it was necessary.
“The Senate is prepared to expand Medicaid. We’re prepared to do it now,” he said. “I felt it was a good time for us to move forward with it. So, to that extent, I think it’s a missed opportunity. I think it’s only a temporarily missed opportunity because I think it’s going to come back.”
Sen. Berger said Republicans would continue to talk in the months ahead as lawmakers prepare for the next long session that begins in January, following this year’s election.
“I just don’t know that it’s that unusual for the Senate to want to do something the House doesn’t want to do or the House to want to do something the Senate doesn’t want to do,” Sen. Berger said.
Republicans are optimistic given the national political climate that their party could retake a supermajority in the General Assembly, making it easier for the GOP to override vetoes Gov. Cooper may issue.
Speaker Moore said it’s a key reason the legislature did not take up any bills dealing with abortion access while lawmakers were in Raleigh. Though the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling gives states authority to regulate abortion access, Moore acknowledged Cooper would veto any bills restricting abortion and Democrats would sustain that veto.
Republicans have committed to pursuing legislation on that next year.