Under the Dome: A congressman’s diagnosis, a budget update and pushback on masks

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Good morning! ☀️ Here’s what you need to know in North Carolina politics today.

The General Assembly’s budget process has yet to “go off the rails.” Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, told reporters earlier this month that the following two weeks would be “crucial” in determining if the budget process would stay on track for a June bill, as I previously reported. I asked him on Tuesday morning about the status of those rails and the budget.

The state budget bill is often what drags out session durations longer than expected. North Carolina law does not call for an official adjournment time for the long or short sessions, but generally lawmakers are expected to be done with their work in the summer. But for at least the past five years, it has dragged out longer.

“I’m not ready to sound an alarm yet. I think we’ve still got time to get things moving so that we can get finished by the end of June,” Berger said.

Berger told me he was having a few meetings on Tuesday to get an idea of how conversations have been going so far between the Appropriations Committee chairs in the Senate and House. Two things that Berger says should be part of this year’s budget: funding to deal with child care needs and fully funding the Opportunity Scholarship program, which provides tuition vouchers for private schools.

Berger said lawmakers “passed the legislation last year to create a program that provided for assistance to all families in North Carolina that chose to opt into the Opportunity Scholarship. We have the money, I think we should make sure we fund it,” Berger said.

There will be no votes on the floor in the Senate today, Berger said, but expect some on Thursday. The House will have votes this afternoon at 3 p.m., according to an announcement during Tuesday’s nonvoting session.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan

Keep reading for more from our team and Stephanie Loder, correspondent.


One item we’re expecting on the House’s agenda this afternoon is a vote not to concur with the revised bill the Senate sent over last week that includes the controversial provision that would make it illegal to wear a mask in public for health and safety reasons.

GOP senators acknowledged in committees last week that the provision, which raised alarm among people who are immunocompromised or have other health conditions that require them to regularly wear masks, could be amended in the House to make clear that masking for medical reasons wouldn’t be penalized.

Senate Republicans said that the bill would just restore the law banning masks in public to what it was before the pandemic, and that people who mask in public to protect their health shouldn’t be worried.

But Democrats pushed back, arguing that clarifying the legislative intent behind the provision wasn’t enough, and that the health and safety exception to the ban on masking should stay in place.

The Senate’s changes to the bill are now expected to be debated and hashed out in a conference committee, after House Speaker Tim Moore’s office confirmed that the House would vote not to concur with the bill during today’s voting session, news that was first reported by Axios Raleigh.

A few House Republicans had already said they were troubled by the provision repealing the health and safety exception, and wanted to see it removed before the bill moved forward.

Rep. Erin Paré, who announced she would vote not to concur with the bill over the weekend, told The News & Observer on Tuesday that a number of her constituents were worried about the bill, including a woman who said her entire family wears masks everywhere they go, because her husband has cancer.

Paré said she supports the other parts of the bill that increase criminal penalties for people who wear masks while committing crimes, to hide their identities, and impose penalties for people who participate in protests that block traffic or emergency vehicles.

— Avi Bajpai

NC congressman says prognosis is excellent

U.S. Rep. Greg Murphy, a Republican from Greenville, announced on social media Tuesday afternoon that doctors have diagnosed him with a base of skull tumor, known as a pituitary macroadenoma.

“It is thought to be a benign tumor, however given its size and location, and its subsequent ability to affect vital structures in the brain, I am scheduled to have it surgically removed,” Murphy posted. “As every patient should, I have the utmost faith in my physicians and surgeons to get me through this and back on the road to recovery.”

Murphy said his prognosis is excellent and he plans to return to work full-time soon. He did not give details on the length of his recovery, and his staff directed McClatchy back to his statement when asked.

Republicans in the House currently hold a slim majority with 217 members of their party and 213 Democrats. There are five vacancies.

Lawmakers from across the state immediately began wishing Murphy well after he announced the news, including Sen. Thom Tillis and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson.

– Danielle Battaglia


Alex Baltzegar, who was previously the spokesman for Republican Bill Graham’s gubernatorial campaign, was named executive director of NC FreeEnterprise Foundation, known as NCFREE.

Graham, a Salisbury businessman and attorney who ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for governor in March, lost to Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson.

Mike Rusher, board chair of NCFREE, which does research and analysis, said in a news release that Baltzegar will “strengthen the bridge between business and North Carolina’s politics, benefiting enterprises across the state.”

Baltzegar also previously worked for the Carolina Journal, the newspaper of the conservative John Locke Foundation. He replaces Anna Beavon Gravely, who left NCFREE in December and founded The Ottoman Co., which encompasses her work as a political speaker along with her podcast and event venue.

– Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan


Public access to autopsy reports in North Carolina could be limited under a new proposal.

Changes would apply only to cases that are being prosecuted criminally and not to other cases, according to Robeson County Republican Sen. Danny Britt, who on Tuesday presented House Bill 250.

Among the list of current public records available from the state Office of Chief Medical Examiner are:

  • Death certificates

  • Autopsy reports

  • Investigation and toxicology reports

The proposed changes would mean no public access to photos, video or audio recordings in autopsy reports. Written reports could be limited, too.

Get the full story from Luciana Perez Uribe Guinassi here.


The Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina is asking for official recognition from the state.

Tuscarora Chief Cecil Hunt spoke Tuesday at the legislature along with Republican Rep. Ed Goodwin of Chowan County, who has filed a bill to recognize the Native American tribe in and around Robeson County.

Goodwin’s bill also would give the Tuscarora representation on the Commission of Indian Affairs. Goodwin has filed a bill to recognize the tribe during previous sessions, but the bill has never made it to a vote.

The Tuscarora Nation wants state recognition to gain benefits offered to Native American tribes, like scholarship eligibility and being able to compete in powwows.

Get the full story from Kyle Ingram here.


GOP politicians, campaign advisers and candidates agreed after last week’s runoff that an endorsement from former President Donald Trump is the benchmark for a win.

Jonathan Felts, a campaign adviser for two Trump-endorsed primary winners, told McClatchy in a statement, “A Trump endorsement is without question the best asset any Republican primary candidate can have, but it’s misleading to suggest voters are not the ones determining the winners and losers in primaries.”

Republican leaders acknowledge it might appear Trump’s influence strips voters of some of their role in choosing a representative.

But the bottom line, they say, is that Trump’s views are in line with what Republican voters want.

Get the full story from Danielle Battaglia here.


Jaime Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, plans a two-day, six-city North Carolina campaign tour beginning Thursday to encourage Black and rural voters.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have made numerous campaign stops throughout the state, a large part of the Biden campaign’s strategy to retain the presidency.

Harrison’s stops include:

  • Elizabeth City

  • Williamston

  • Rocky Mount

  • Greenville

  • Kinston

  • Smithfield

Harrison said in a written statement that he knows “the path to the White House runs through North Carolina.’‘

He said he wants to make sure voters in Eastern North Carolina understand “what’s at stake in this election.”

Get the full story from Danielle Battaglia here.


More than 39,000 families on the waiting list for a North Carolina school voucher would have made too much money under the old rules for eligibility.

It’s a “good news, bad news” situation for those families wanting an Opportunity Scholarship.

The good news for those families: State lawmakers changed the eligibility requirements for the vouchers and opened applications to all families, allowing them to qualify.

The bad news for them: So many applied and qualified that there currently are 55,000 families on a waiting list for funding for fall.

Democrats call the expanded voucher program “welfare for the wealthy” since families with high incomes have become eligible for private school vouchers.

Republicans say there’s nothing wrong with a millionaire’s family getting a taxpayer funded voucher to send their children to private school.

The Senate passed a bill that would provide an additional $463.5 million in private school voucher funding, but the House hasn’t acted on the bill.

Get the full story from T. Keung Hui here.


North Carolina’s 12-week abortion ban also allows for exceptions in cases of fetal anomalies. A list of the exceptions that appeared in Tuesday’s newsletter was incomplete.

That’s all for today. Check your inbox Wednesday for more #ncpol news.

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