Now that the election results have determined the landscape of the general assembly, what does it mean for criminal justice issues?
Legislative Balance of Power – Few Changes
The balance of power in the General Assembly is nearly the same as it was for the past session. The breakout is 74 (R ) – 46 ( D ) in the House with the Democrats gaining one seat. The breakout in the Senate is 35 (R ) -15 (D) with the Republicans picking up a seat. As a result, we are likely to see trends similar to those of the last six years. With these legislative super-majorities, whoever wins the Governor’s race is unlikely to sustain a veto.
Republicans have chosen their leadership for the coming biennium. Tim Moore will continue as speaker, John Bell (Goldsboro) will continue as Majority Leader and Sarah Stevens will become the new Mayor Pro Tem, a position that was filled by Rep. Skip Stam who has retired from the General Assembly.
Tax Cuts and Spending Reductions -Even when the budget outlook is positive, expect continued efforts to reduce taxes and cut spending. Don’t anticipate significant re-investments in much needed community based services that will help reduce recidivism and spending on incarceration. Funds for Public Defenders and the courts will still be in short supply. Chief Justice Mark Martin’s efforts to modernize the courts will become the most significant driver of court funding. At the same time, a continued emphasis on budget cuts may continue to keep the state from building new prisons.
Issues that have gained support on the Republican side of the aisle, like raising the juvenile age and improving mental health treatment inside the criminal justice system still have the potential to advance, but required funding to achieve common goals will remain a major challenge.
A New Attorney General – Josh Stein will step into the Attorney General’s role and is widely regarded as a smart and thoughtful leader with previous experience in the Department of Justice. Since Stein, like his predecessor Roy Cooper, is a Democrat, expect some sparring with the Republican led General Assembly. Stein has a stellar track record of working on issues that affect consumers. In the criminal justice arena, Stein supported the Racial Justice Act and has repeatedly voiced support for Re-entry programming. It remains to be seen whether funding for re-entry will be forthcoming from the legislature.
Court Packing? – Michael Morgan’s win in the non-partisan Supreme Court race against Bob Edmunds puts Democrats in a majority on the NC Supreme Court. Rumors have been circulating in Raleigh that when the General Assembly returns to address the flood in December, the legislature might add two new members to the NC Supreme Court. It would be hard to view this as anything more than an power grab. We don’t think it’s good for the state and hope the leadership does not choose to move in that direction.
And the Governor?
With the inauguration right around the corner, the Governor’s race is still not final. Wake, Mecklenburg, Durham, Halifax and Cumberland Counties- led by local Republican election boards – have formally rejected election challenges. While there are complaints about voting problems, there is little to no evidence to support the complaints and Cooper’s lead continues to grow. When the race is resolved we’ll offer an analysis of what role the Governor might play in the current landscape.