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Child marriage bill gets a floor vote, and NC House prepares to unveil its budget

·5 min read

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Hello. It’s Friday.

North Carolina could soon move one step closer to permanently ending child marriage after months of limbo.

In February, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation to raise the legal marriage age to 18. Under current state law, children ages 16 and 17 can marry if they have parental consent, and even younger 14- and 15-year-olds can get married if they become pregnant.

The legislative effort, as proposed then, would have ended child marriage altogether. North Carolina is one of two states in the country where it’s still legal; Alaska is the other state. But it ultimately was amended to raise the marrying age to 16, not 18, and it passed the Senate in May.

For the last couple of months, Senate Bill 35 had been stuck in the House Family, Children and Aging Policy Committee. Its future was unclear. Then suddenly this week, it was added to the calendar for consideration by the House Rules Committee, which quickly passed it on Thursday morning.

The bill is now scheduled to receive a vote on the House floor next Tuesday. If it isn’t amended again, it could could be sent to the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper for his signature.

You may be wondering why minors under the age of 18 could get married in North Carolina in the first place. And you may wonder what motivated lawmakers to end the practice, and who some of the people are who’ve been affected by child marriage and have pressed the General Assembly to act. Read the following stories by News & Observer state politics reporter Danielle Battaglia, who’s been covering every development of this issue since February:

HOUSE BUDGET INCOMING

In other big news, the House rolled out pieces of its budget proposal in a flurry of committee hearings Thursday — more than a month after the Senate released its budget proposal. The most highly anticipated provisions like tax breaks and state employee raises won’t come until the chamber releases its budget in its entirety Monday, but Thursday’s roll-out gives us a sense of some of the House’s priorities.

Here are some of the big takeaways from our reporters who pored over the budget documents in the hours after its partial rollout:

North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction will receive some $10.1 million if the House gets its way. The education committee did not release its proposed teacher raises, though, which are expected to be higher than what the Senate proposed but likely less than what Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper recommended.

The House included several health care provisions also proposed in the Senate’s budget, most notably a measure that would expand Medicaid coverage to parents who have temporarily lost custody of their children. Under current state law, qualifying parents are no longer eligible for Medicaid when their children are taken into state custody.

This measure, which was also included in a standalone bill, would change that. The House also proposed insurance mandates for telehealth services. It’s a top priority of the House, which also has proposed a standalone version, but opponents say such a requirement would increase health care costs. The Senate is largely opposed to such a mandate.

House lawmakers have proposed spending several billion dollars on public safety, including for the National Guard, Highway Patrol, the state prison system, disaster relief programs and the courts system. The House’s proposal allocates around $500,000 to address the state’s rape kit backlog, but some $35 million to block cell phone signals at state prisons. One Democrat called the large allocation “ridiculous.”

Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson would be allowed to hire two new staffers under the House’s proposal. The budget would give him $120,000 to hire an education policy adviser, and just under $90,000 to hire a second “constituent services” employee. Cooper, by contrast, would not receive any additional staff.

WHAT WE’RE READING

MORE BIG STORIES FROM THE TEAM

  • Four NC Democratic lawmakers joined hundreds of other state legislators in Washington, DC, this week to implore the U.S. Senate to pass federal voting rights legislation before its August recess. Brian Murphy reported on the rally and caught up with Sen. Natalie Murdock, a Durham Democrat, who is this week’s guest on our Closer Look podcast.

  • Cooper, vice chairman of the national Democratic Governors Association, called on embattled New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign after New York Attorney General Letitia James released a report detailing several allegations of sexual harassment, Will Doran reported.

  • More details emerged about the behind-the-scenes battle at UNC-Chapel Hill over the tenure offer for acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones that led to her accepting a tenured position at Howard University instead, thanks to hundreds of trustee emails obtained by Lucille Sherman, Martha Quillin and Dan Kane.

  • North Carolina is poised to receive several billion dollars in federal funds over the next five years for highways, bridges, public transportation, electric vehicles and broadband internet. Brian Murphy and McClatchy DC’s Alex Roarty give us a rundown of where the funds would go.

  • The state Senate unanimously passed a bill on Tuesday that would require all minors who want an emergency-use vaccination, including the COVID-19 vaccines, to get parental consent, Danielle Battaglia reported.

Don’t forget: Listen and subscribe to our podcast wherever you usually like to listen. (Pandora, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Amazon Music, Megaphone.)

Thanks for reading. See you next week.

— Avi Bajpai and Lucille Sherman for The News & Observer’s state politics team. Email us at abajpai@newsobserver.com, lsherman@newsobserver.com.

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