Special Session Updates from Raleigh

This has been the special session that just won’t die. In our committee meeting yesterday, we finally got a look at the bill that was crafted behind closed doors over the last few weeks. We were given 20 minutes to read it and decide how to vote. It passed out of committee, and we'll be voting on it again on Tuesday. It’s a doozy.

Class Size Fix

For months our local schools have been grappling with the #ClassSizeChaos problem caused by the legislature mandating lower class sizes without the money to pay for them. Districts have been scrambling to comply with the law, eliminating art, music, and P.E. classes, combining classrooms, reassigning students to other schools, or putting students in trailers.  That kind of chaos and disruption has no place in our schools. We shouldn’t have to choose between kindergarten teachers and art teachers.

We’ve had unanimous support in the House for fixing this problem, but Senate Republicans have refused to budge. Now, after a year of pressure from PTAs, parents, teachers, and local school officials, Senate Republicans have finally agreed to fix the problem.  HB 90 will restore flexibility in class sizes, phase in the reduction, and provide funds dedicated to paying for art, music, and P.E. teachers.

Thank you to everyone who has called, written and e-mailed to bring pressure to bear for this long-awaited fix.  

Ending Pre-K Waiting List

HB 90 also funds one of my top legislative priorities: eliminating the pre-K waiting list.

North Carolina used to lead the nation in pre-K education.  Programs all around the country were based on the model of the Smart Start program started by Governor Hunt. But, years of neglect left us with a waiting list of thousands of kids who could not get the services they needed.  I’m glad we’re finally going to eliminate the waiting list.

The Catch (and there is always a catch)

With this supermajority, no good deed can stand on its own.  All of these good things are in danger because HB 90 doesn’t have a “severability clause,” a common clause in complicated bills that saves the constitutional pieces of a multi-part bill if one part is found unconstitutional.

Since HB 90 doesn’t have a severability clause, if part of the bill is unconstitutional, the whole bill could go down–including the class size fix and elimination of the pre-K waiting list. So, what’s the danger?

Well, two parts of HB 90 deal with unrelated issues, and they've been included in HB90 for political theater. The bill tries again to combine the State Board of Elections with the Ethics Commission, something leadership has already tried twice. Both attempts were unconstitutional. Now they’re trying a third time.  If the provision is struck down, the rest of the bill goes with it.

The other unrelated part of HB 90 deals with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The companies building the pipeline agreed to give North Carolina $58 million to protect the air and water, natural habitat and local farmers in the areas around the pipeline. 

HB90 forbids the Governor from using the money as he agreed to, purposefully setting up another constitutional battle between the Governor and legislative leaders, and if this part is found unconstitutional and gets struck down, so does the rest–plunging our school systems right back into the chaos of the unfunded class size reduction, and forcing kids back on the waiting list for pre-K.

Solutions that are designed to fail aren't solutions at all. We can do better. 

I'll be back in Raleigh to vote on the bill on Tuesday. Hopefully the leadership hasn't dreamed up some newfangled problems by then.  


January Updates from Raleigh

Our special session is now entering its 4th week. This is very unusual. Usually in even years we have a short session that begins in May and ends in July. At this point, our "special" session is going to be almost as long as our regular session. And, we still aren't voting on bills. To meet the technical rules, a "skeleton" session is held every 3 days. Very few legislators are present (if any) and no bills move forward. I'm still working on constituent issues and attending committee meetings when they're scheduled. Here's an update on happenings around the state.

Hometown Strong

Governor Cooper is working hard to bring economic success to our state's rural communities. He launched a new initiative today called Hometown Strong. The Governor's team will work to form partnerships with local leaders to champion our rural communities, leveraging state and local resources, identify ongoing projects and community needs, and implementing focused plans to boost the economy, improve infrastructure and strengthen North Carolina’s hometowns. My hope is that bringing internet to every corner of the state will be one of the initiative's top priorities.

Redistricting and Election Lawsuits - Explained

North Carolina is leading the nation in election confusion. Two bills that were passed over the Governor's veto have been found unconstitutional and this week that garnered us more unwanted national attention. Security and stability in our elections is vital, and the unfortunate gamesmanship we've seen this year is irresponsible and dangerous.

Judicial Primary Elections

Our Constitution provides that voters elect our state judges. Traditionally, we have a primary just like we do for other offices. Last year Republicans cancelled those primaries for all judges, citing the need to redraw the districts. This week a federal judge blocked the cancellation of the statewide primaries for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals since no districts are being redrawn for those races, but did not block the cancellation of local primaries for Superior Court and District Court.

This may all get appealed, but as it stands now we will have statewide judicial primaries for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, but no primaries for local Superior Court and District Court judges.

State Board of Elections

The State Board of Elections is responsible for ensuring our elections run smoothly and that candidates and special interest groups are accurately reporting the money they raise and spend. For the last year, there has been no board. That's because just before Governor Cooper took office, the majority in the legislature passed a new law that changed the board and made it difficult for the Governor to appoint or remove members of the board. 

The NC Supreme Court upheld Governor Cooper's challenge to the law and now a lower court will sort out how we transition back to the old law. Right now, there is considerable confusion and uncertainty, but the Supreme Court’s ruling should put us back on a path to having elections administered fairly, as they have been for decades under both Republican and Democratic Governors.


Several lawsuits challenging our congressional and legislative districts are still working their way through the courts. The bottom line is that we will likely use the same districts for our 2018 Congressional elections that we used in 2016. Legislative districts across much of the state will change, but there is still uncertainty about where those lines will be for some districts. We should know about that next week, but the most likely outcome is we will use some districts drawn by a court-appointed expert and some districts drawn by the legislature. This won't affect Buncombe County because our district lines weren't challenged and haven't changed. If you really want to get into the details of the different lawsuits, NC Policy Watch has a helpful summary of the pending court cases.

We'll have more updates for you as soon as our special session ramps back up. 

December Updates from Raleigh

The General Assembly isn't in session right now, but there is still a lot of work happening in Raleigh as committees meet to get updates from state agencies. Last week, the Environmental Review Commission met to discuss pre-regulatory landfills, the Senate Select Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting met to discuss options for implementing legislative selection of judges, and the Joint Committee on Oversight of Health and Human Services met to receive updates on the state's takeover of Cardinal Innovations and the continuing implementation of NC FAST, just to name a few. If you have questions about the happenings in Raleigh, make sure you reach out to my office so we can get you the information you need.

Court Fees 

If you’ve ever had to deal with a speeding ticket, you know that court fees are often far more expensive than the actual fine. In fact, court fees for some minor offenses can run into the hundreds of dollars.

Until this year, we allowed judges to waive fees for someone who couldn’t afford to pay them, but leadership here in the General Assembly slipped a provision into the final budget this year that makes it virtually impossible for a judge to do that going forward.

The new rule requires that the judge hold a special hearing to give every governmental unit that would have gotten a share of the fees an opportunity to object. The cost of sending notices and holding additional hearings would overwhelm the resources of our local courts, and the likely result is that judges simply won’t be able to waive those costly fees for folks who can’t afford to pay them. That could spell disaster for families already teetering on the edge of poverty. If you are unable to pay the fee within 40 days, you could lose your license, and for a lot of folks in rural communities without access to public transportation, that could mean losing your job. We shouldn’t punish people for being poor, and that’s exactly what this law does. It’s wrong and the General Assembly ought to reverse it immediately. 


Beginning in 2020, federal agencies will implement new, tougher security screenings and you’ll need the new REAL ID to board planes or enter some government buildings. Your state issued driver’s license or ID card can be your REAL ID, but you’ll need to apply for the upgrade at the DMV. You can get a list of the acceptable documentation you’ll need and answers to some other common questions on the DMV’s website.

There are over 7.3 million licensed drivers in North Carolina and only about 200,000 have applied for the new IDs so far. The DMV is encouraging folks to make the switch now so that the other 7 million don’t all show up at the same time in December of 2019! 


The Department of Environmental Quality continues to find more drinking water wells contaminated with the chemical GenX near the Chemours plant in eastern North Carolina. There are more than 85,000 chemicals produced in manufacturing processes today that are not regulated by the federal government, and that means we must rely on our state agency to prevent them from being dumped into our rivers and lakes. Instead of working to ensure the department has the resources it needs to do that important work, the General Assembly this year slashed the department’s budget by millions of dollars and laid off experienced scientists and staff. Protecting our mountains and rivers is one of the most important things we do as a government, and we have to make sure we are providing DEQ with the resources and technology it needs to do that. 

Special Session

We'll be back in Raleigh next month for a special session. Unfortunately, as Democrats we are kept in the dark about what exactly is on the agenda until we get to Raleigh. We've heard that we may be voting on as many as 4 constitutional amendments. I hope that instead we will take the opportunity to resolve the crisis being created in our classrooms by the unfunded mandate to reduce K-3 class sizes and fund the important work being done by the Department of Environmental Quality. Watch your email for more updates in January!



NCGA Passes First Independent Districting Commission

NCGA Passes First Independent Districting Commission

Gerrymandering has been used by both political parties to hold onto power for years. It’s a dire threat to our electoral system, and it has led to increased polarization and gridlock. That's why I'm committed to fighting for independent redistricting, and I'm so glad that we took such a huge step forward today.

Rylan's Law: Protecting North Carolina's Children

Brian was a proud sponsor of Rylan's Law, a bill recently signed into law by Governor Cooper. The law makes important changes to our state's child welfare system to ensure that when we take the important step of reunifying families, we first ensure that the home is safe and the parents are ready to care for the child. Read more here.