Missed Opportunities in the 2019 Legislative Session
As the decade comes to a close, the NC General Assembly missed key opportunities to advance the well-being of families and communities. Here are just a few of the policy choices that could have supported people in having the income, health, and connections to opportunity that ensure our state can thrive.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY #1 Putting money in people’s pockets
Despite several bills being introduced that would raise the minimum wage (HB 46: Economic Security Act of 2019 and HB 366: Raising Wages for NC Workers) and put in place protections for workers who are misclassified (HB 831: NC Fair Wage Act) or subject to unfair scheduling practices (HB 533: Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights), the General Assembly brought no bill to committee or the floor for a vote this session. In addition, state employees and educators received only the smallest pay raises that are unlikely to keep pace with the rising cost of basic, everyday goods.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY #2 Valuing time with family
Caring for family members, whether old or young, is a critical role that many people are playing in their family across the state. Lawmakers introduced a number of bills, including HB 899 (Enact KinCareAct), HB 423/SB 223 (Caregiver Relief Act), and HB 696 (NC Families First Act), that would establish family leave programs in the state in recognition of both the value of caretakers’ time and the importance of supporting the growth of our youngest children and the health of our oldest community members. None of these bills were brought to the floor for a vote this session.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY #3 Preparing for the next recession
While the economy remains in recovery today, many are concerned about the next recession and its harm to communities, particularly given the underinvestment by state policymakers in good economic times. Beyond the austerity budgeting of recent years, North Carolina policymakers failed to make progress in fixing the problems with our state’s unemployment insurance system which make it the worst in the country for stabilizing families and communities when jobs are lost. North Carolina policymakers also failed to remove barriers to securing flexibility for accessing food assistance in hard times, putting at risk the ability of the state to ensure people have food on the table. Neither HB 713 (Unemployment Changes/Restoration) nor HB 762 (Nutritional Assistance for Employment Deserts) was heard in committee or brought to the floor.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY #4 Building healthy classrooms that support learning and communities that promote healthy outcomes
North Carolina policymakers failed to move forward with proposals that would have financed through bonds at least a portion of the backlog of school construction needs in the state. In communities in the east and west, students are learning in buildings that have mold and lead or are overcrowded. The stalled HB 241 (Education Bond Act of 2019) – along with a failure to advance comprehensive conversations about broader state infrastructure needed to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink – blocks progress on key health goals for the state.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY #5 Closing the coverage gap
North Carolina policymakers failed to vote on the floor of either chamber on proposals that would close the coverage gap in health care and provide the nearly 500,000 North Carolinians currently without affordable health insurance with the opportunity to enroll in Medicaid. HB 5/SB 3 (Close the Medicaid Coverage Gap) would have provided affordable, quality care through Medicaid to those who don’t qualify under current narrow eligibility.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY #6 Connecting every person to opportunity
Several missed opportunities that would have connected more people to opportunity through providing tuition equity to immigrant children were not brought to the floor in either chamber this session. HB 319 (In State Tuition Equity) would have authorized certain immigrant youth to receive in-state tuition at UNC system and NC Community Colleges.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY #7 Dismantling barriers to reentry for people with criminal records
Lawmakers failed this session to push through policies that would have provided formerly incarcerated North Carolinians with opportunities to reintegrate with their families and communities. SB 562/HB 874 (Second Chance Act) would greatly expand expunction eligibility by providing that a misdemeanor or felony charge dismissed or disposed “not guilty” on or after July 1, 2020, will be automatically expunged, among other expansions. Although the proposal passed the Senate, it stalled in the House.
North Carolina policymakers should be making decisions that advance our state and don’t lock us into stalemates that stagnate our progress. We need your voice and engagement to ensure state policymaking is focused on the priorities of people and communities across the state.