Big changes come to North Carolina as GOP pushes through policies

The GOP supermajority upends decades of settled law and redefines the state’s political vision.


RALEIGH, N.C. — Six months ago, top Republican state lawmakers met with conservative allies to preview their strategy for the legislative session.

The party controlled the entire lawmaking process in North Carolina for the first time in more than a century, and top legislators made their ambitions clear.

The leader of a conservative political organization left the meeting calling the agenda “breathtaking.”

After the session, the description seemed like an understatement.

Once the new laws take effect, the new North Carolina will require photo identification at the polls, levy a flat income tax that reduces rates for many, make it harder to get an abortion, offer fewer unemployment benefits, require cursive-writing education in schools, give low-income families vouchers for private schools, require fewer government regulations on businesses, resume executions for capital crimes and allow concealed handguns in bars and restaurants.

Republicans began the change two years ago when they took control of the Legislature. They passed restrictions on abortions, limited civil lawsuits, loosened gun rules and began to erode long-protected Democratic programs such as early childhood education.

But this year, House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger took it a step further, advancing more significant changes with a fervor that surprised even some Republican allies.

The difference this year, in substance and tone, grew from the 2012 elections, which installed a Republican governor and legislative supermajorities. The GOP holds a 77-43 advantage in the House and a 33-17 Senate edge.

In the previous session, Republican lawmakers pushed to require photo identification at the polls, but then-Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed it. This year, the GOP pushed a more sweeping bill that will make voting more difficult for hundreds of thousands, and Gov. Pat McCrory is expected to sign it.

It’s a similar story for the Racial Justice Act, which allowed convicted killers to be spared the death penalty if they could prove racial bias in their cases. Republican lawmakers weakened it last year but repealed it completely this session.

Even conservative measures deemed too extreme a year ago found new life. A bill to prohibit Islamic Sharia law in North Carolina courts that died in committee in the previous session is now headed to the governor’s desk.

“It’s a completely different ballgame,” Murry said.

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