Medical marijuana, sports transparency bills set for House

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The first N.C. House committee step has been set for Tuesday for two controversial Senate bills on medical marijuana and high-school sports and athletes’ birth gender.

Bipartisan Senate Bill 3, titled “NC Compassionate Care Act,” is set for a 10 a.m. hearing in House Health committee — the first of three committees.

Republican-sponsored Senate Bill 636, titled “School Athletic Transparency,” is scheduled for a 1 p.m. hearing in House Education K-12 committee.

As of Friday’s legislative calendar, both bills are designated as “for discussion only” and no committee vote, although that could change at the discretion of the committee chairs.

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SB3 was passed by a 36-10 vote on March 1 — the second consecutive year that the chamber approved the legislation.

With the 2022 version of the legislation shelved by House Republican leadership, it had been unclear whether SB3 would be placed in a committee, much less advance to a floor vote.

The Senate voted 30-20 along party lines on May 3 to advance SB636 out of the chamber.

Legislative analysts say it is likely that House members will amend SB3 to add language that reflects a more conservative perspective on the issue, which the Senate could choose to reject and lead to a concurrence committee for a potential compromise.

The timing of the committee schedule comes as the 2023 session heads into what’s expected to be its final weeks.

Both House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, have said that with the 2023-24 state budget entering the concurrence stage, they are projecting a late June or early July end to the formal part of the 2023 session.

Medical marijuana

Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, is one of three primary sponsors of both marijuana bills, along with Republican Sens. Bill Rabon of Brunswick County and Michael Lee of New Hanover County.

Potential opposition from Moore and House majority leader John Bell IV, R-Johnston, could derail SB3 in the House, said John Dinan, a Wake Forest University political science professor and national expert on state legislatures.

However, the News & Observer of Raleigh quoted Moore as saying in February that SB3 has “decent prospects of passage” given new House members elected in 2022.

“Last year when we didn’t take it up, it was overwhelmingly opposed by most of the caucus,” Moore told the Raleigh newspaper.

“Attitudes have changed, and I think some folks have had an opportunity, once they were back home and met with folks, to see that there’s some potentially legitimate uses for this.”

SB3 would permit the use of medical marijuana for individuals with ALS, cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments, but not for those experiencing chronic pain. It does not allow for recreational usage.

“It can help a number of people at the end of their life at a time that they need compassion … what time they have left should be as comfortable and as easy as they can be,” Rabon said.

“There’s not anyone in this room who has not had someone in their family, or a close friend, that could have benefited from this legislation.”

Opponents have expressed numerous concerns, including that the legislation would serve as a gateway to legalizing marijuana in North Carolina by 2024, and medical research isn’t definitive on benefiting users.

Moore told the News & Observer that for a medical marijuana bill to clear the House, there would need to be “reasonable controls,” and a balance to have enough distributors to prescribe and avoid a monopoly.

Rabon called SB711 “the tightest, best-written bill, seeing what other states did wrong and trying to omit those pitfalls.” 

Sports transparency

SB636 was amended to reduce the transgender language in SB636 to just the phrase “biological participation requirements.”

Sawyer indicated that language would be covered by Senate Bill 631, which specifically focuses on restricting eligibility for middle- and high-school transgender athletes.

That bill cleared the Senate by a 29-18 vote on April 20. It has not been placed in a House committee as of Friday.

If SB636 becomes law, North Carolina would be the 28th state to allow high school athletes to profit from high school name, image and likeness authorizations.

SB636 was amended on the Senate floor to prohibit NIL authorizations by the NCHSAA.

Language was inserted in a section addressing student participation rules. The bill does not allow those rules to be delegated to a third-party administering organization.

Instead, the State Board of Education would be in charge of providing such student participation rules authorizations, according to Sen. Todd Johnson, R-Cabarrus.

That action was taken after the NCHSAA’s board of directors approved by a 15-3 vote authorizing NIL contracts for high school athletes, effective July 1.

The NCHSAA said athletes will only be able to profit from third-party organizations, and cannot monetize from schools, school districts, conferences, the NCHSAA or the National Federation of State High School Associations, for example, which would suggest direct pay-for-play practices.

NIL interactions must be separate from the schools, with officials not being allowed to facilitate deals, act as agents or use NIL for recruiting or enrollment purposes, according to the board.

Records of NIL deals for athletes will be required to be reported by the athlete’s school to the NCHSAA.

The NCHSAA disclosed on April 18 that its membership reached the 75% threshold required to approve amending its bylaws to allow for up to seven classifications.

There will be a 64-school cap on all classes, bringing the NCHSAA to at least seven classifications with the start of the 2025-26 school year.

According to HighSchoolOT.com, the NCHSAA has not expanded classifications since the 1969-70 school year. A similar proposal to expand classification failed in 2020 with just 68% of members voting yes.

The bylaw amendment also states that teams will be placed into classifications solely by ADM (average daily membership). The current model takes into account a school’s Wells Fargo Cup points and ISP data from the past three years.

SB636 would place limits on students who live in one school district, but want to play sports in another.

They would be prohibited from doing so if it can be proven that the school attendance is solely for athletics. Students found in violation of the proposed restriction would be ineligible for postseason play for an entire year.

A student eligible to gain priority enrollment in a charter school as the child of a full-time employees would be ineligible for athletic teams if the enrollment is determined to be fraudulent.

SB636 revives language that provides a system of demerits for infractions of game play and participation rules which still allow for player and team disqualifications and forfeits, but no monetary fines of any kind.

Students, parents and schools would be able to appeal sanctions to an appeals board established by the superintendent of public instruction.

rcraver@wsjournal.com

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@rcraverWSJ

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