5 things to look for this Legislative Session

As we head into this year's legislative session here is what we are keeping our eyes on and what we think you should too.

As we gear up for summer, there is a lot to be excited about. Spending time at the beach, hanging out by the pool with your kids, snacking on fresh watermelon, and more. But for advocates in North Carolina, there is one even bigger thing on our minds…the start of the state legislative session. 

This year, we are in year two of the 2021-2022 Legislative session, meaning that we are in what’s known as the “short session.” The “short session” is typically for finishing up business from the previous session and making budget revisions. But even in the short session, we know there are lots of issues at stake. 

Here are the top 5 public interest issues to keep your eyes on this summer:

1. Moving North Carolina Beyond Plastics

Nothing we use for a few minutes should threaten our health and pollute our environment for hundreds of years. Single use plastics lead to more plastic waste overfilling our landfills, more plastic breaking down in our waterways, more dirty air from incinerators, and more litter and litter cleanup costs. As such, we support policies dedicated to the principles of reduce, reuse, recycle and policies that put us on a path to zero waste. 

The NC Managing Environmental Waste Act of 2021 is a bipartisan bill calls for action on plastic waste reduction, including:

  • Increasing revenue to cities and counties with programs to reduce plastic waste,

  • Establishing a pilot program to reduce plastics in state-operated food service facilities, and

  • Directing a committee to study the issue of plastic waste and present findings and recommended solutions back to the NC General Assembly.

This bill passed the NC House unanimously last summer and now it’s time to get it over the finish line to move our state a step closer to tackling our plastics problem.

2. Right to Repair

Agricultural Right to Repair legislation was introduced for the first time in North Carolina in this year’s North Carolina Farm Act of 2022. 

Farmers in North Carolina and across the country rely on their tractors and other equipment to get the job done, so when it breaks down, they need it fixed quickly. But manufacturers often refuse to provide farmers and independent mechanics with all the materials—particularly basic software tools—needed to fix modern tractors.

In fact, a recent report from NCPIRG Education Fund and the National Farmers Union surveyed farmers from 15 states and found that 77% of farmers have opted for older equipment that doesn’t require dealer intervention to fix and 95% of farmers surveyed support Right to Repair reforms, which would require manufacturers to provide access to all of the repair materials needed to fix modern farm equipment. 

Farmers are asking for help, and we should listen. We need to open up repair choices for farmers and let them get back to producing the food that goes on our tables and the goods we sell in our stores. So we will be supporting measures to give farmers the Right to Repair agricultural equipment and educating more general assembly members on this important topic. 

3. Zeroing Out Toxic “Forever Chemicals”

PFAS chemicals are a class of toxins, nicknamed “forever chemicals,” that don’t break down in our environment.  These chemicals are often used to grease or water-proof items and are found in everyday products like clothing, food packaging, and even firefighting foam. But the more we use these chemicals, the more they end up in our environment where they bioaccumulate in wildlife and our bodies over time. The result is these chemicals have been found in the blood of over 98% of humans tested

It’s time we prevent these chemicals from ending up on our shelves, in our homes, and in our bodies to protect our public health and safety. This summer, we have two key opportunities to do that. 

First, we should pass PFAS legislation, such as HB 355, the Firefighting Foam Registry/PFAS Ban bill. This bill is a bi-partisan bill that passed the house unanimously last summer but has been stuck in the Senate since then. The bill would create a registry of where PFAS is used in firefighting foams across the state and ban the use of certain types of PFAS chemicals for the purposes of training, practice, or testing to limit unnecessary exposure and contamination to these toxic chemicals. We hope to see this bill get taken up in the senate this summer. 

Additionally, there is funding for additional PFAS studies in Cooper’s proposed state budget additions. This would include funding to hire 4 full time employees within the division of Public Health to measure exposrue to PFAS in the Cape Fear Region, one of the most affected regions in our state. This funding could be the first step to understanding the scale of this problem in our state and lead the way for further legislative action in the future.

4. Moving toward a cleaner energy future 

A healthy climate is key to a healthy and safe future for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren. 

Cooper’s proposed budget contains a few nuggets to help move our state towards a cleaner energy future including funding projects such as the following: 

  • Clean Energy Repairs and Innovation–  This budget item would provide $50 million in funding in order to implement energy efficiency and cost reduction improvements across state agencies and the UNC system.  Improving energy efficiency is a key step to reducing our carbon emissions and moving more quickly toward cleaner, renewable sources. 

  • Clean Energy Access & Energy Efficiency Supplement – This is $15 Million funding that would be used to support existing weatherization programs to help low income homes.  Weatherizing homes helps to improve energy efficiency to help lower both energy costs and usage. 

  • Local Grants for Energy Efficient Schools– This project is $10 Million for a state grant program for K-12 schools and community colleges to implement clean energy, clean transportation, or energy efficiency projects. These projects can help ensure cleaner air and clean energy for our children. 

  • Bicycle & Pedestrian Local Government Grant Program– This project is a state grant program with $10million to provide funding oportunities for local bicycle and pedestrian projects. Investing more in these types of projects can help to lessen our reliance on cars and dirty fossil fuels.

5. Clean Water 

Access to clean water is an essential component to public health. But everyday things ranging from the chemical we use to the pipes our water comes from threaten the safety of our drinking water. 

The Governor’s budget contains $20 million to support drinking water and wastewater infrastructure improvements. This money can help ensure all North Carolinians have access to clean water. 

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Authors

Katie Craig

State Director, NCPIRG Education Fund

Katie directs NCPIRG's statewide campaign strategy, organizational development, research, communication and legislative advocacy efforts. Katie was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, and continues to live there now. When she’s not working, Katie enjoys traveling and spending time with friends and family.

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