DEBATE ON GUNS IN CHURCH DETERIORATES QUICKLY: Rep. Terry Garrison, D-Vance, questioned the need for weapons. "If your faith is greater in a gun than in God, then so be it," said Garrison. "If you’re not willing to go into the house of the Lord and have faith that he will protect you, well OK, fine, you have that right. But that is not where I stand as a Christian." "My faith in God? Unshakable. But God gives me the right – as a matter of fact, God gives me the responsibility – to protect my family and my loved ones," Kidwell told Garrison. "God created man," Kidwell added. "Colt made him equal." Several others also took Garrison's dig personally. "For me, that’s not a bellwether of your Christian faith. That’s personal," responded Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union. "Please don’t accuse me of not being a Christian because I see evil in the world and can do something to stop it." "I don’t believe being armed means you don’t trust in the Lord," said Rep Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus. "You can trust him to guide your aim if need be."
GOVERNOR SIGNS 2ND 2021 PANDEMIC RELIEF BILL, DESPITE RENTAL ASSISTANCE ISSUES: North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law Thursday $1.7 billion in COVID-19 relief for the state, in the second spending bill this year as the state allocates billions in federal money. Cooper said in an emailed statement: “While I will ask legislators to revisit some areas of this legislation, including changes necessary to quickly deliver rental assistance, these funds will bring needed relief for people who are struggling, schools and small businesses as we strive to emerge from this pandemic,” Cooper said. The bill was fast-tracked over just a few days in the General Assembly. Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Winston-Salem Republican, said during a floor debate that the sooner lawmakers passed the bill, the sooner the money can get to those who need it. The bill also caps rental assistance to counties that could slow disbursement of funds, The News & Observer previously reported.
SENATE REPUBLICANS FAST-TRACK BILL TO FORCE NC SHERIFFS TO COOPERATE WITH ICE: Republican legislation ordering North Carolina’s sheriffs to note the immigration status of jail inmates and assist federal agents who want to detain them received state Senate approval on Thursday. The legislation passed along partisan lines after a divisive debate that touched on race and ethnicity. The bill generally echoes a 2019 measure that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper successfully vetoed. Now, as then, the GOP’s House and Senate majorities aren’t veto-proof. Immigration enforcement bills are popular with the Republicans' voter base. The sheriffs called out by the legislation say they follow what state law currently requires by seeking an inmate's legal status, and that the current proposal goes too far and could lead to lawsuits. Along with immigrant advocates, these sheriffs also argue the measure would discourage immigrants from contacting police about crimes for fear of deportation. And they noted that under the bill, suspects could be taken away by ICE before they can be tried in state court. “What kind of dignity is that for victims?” asked Democratic Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed of Mecklenburg County. “This bill only serves to create uncertainty and fear in these communities.”
REPUBLICAN VOTER SUPPRESSION LAWS ARE THE WORST SINCE RECONSTRUCTION: The GOP’s national push to enact hundreds of new election restrictions could strain every available method of voting for tens of millions of Americans, potentially amounting to the most sweeping contraction of ballot access in the United States since the end of Reconstruction, when Southern states curtailed the voting rights of formerly enslaved Black men, a Washington Post analysis has found. In 43 states across the country, Republican lawmakers have proposed at least 250 laws that would limit mail, early in-person and Election Day voting with such constraints as stricter ID requirements, limited hours or narrower eligibility to vote absentee, according to data compiled as of Feb. 19 by the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice. Even more proposals have been introduced since then. The rush to crack down on voting methods comes after many states temporarily expanded mail and early voting in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, leading to the largest voter turnout in more than a century. The changes reshaped both who turned out and how they voted, with an astounding 116 million people — 73 percent of the electorate — casting their ballots before Election Day, according to The Post’s analysis. Congressional Democrats are also pushing a sweeping proposal to impose national standards that would override much of what Republican state lawmakers are trying to constrict, including measures that would provide universal eligibility to vote by mail, at least 15 days of early voting, mandatory online voter registration and the restoration of voting rights for released felons. The measure has passed the House but faces steep opposition in the evenly divided Senate.
PRESIDENT BIDEN'S FIRST ADDRESS TO THE NATION UPBEAT AND HOPEFUL: President Biden made a case to the nation Thursday night that it could soon put the worst of the pandemic behind it and promised that all adults would be eligible for the vaccine by May 1. During a 24-minute speech from the East Room, Mr. Biden laced his somber script with references to Hemingway and personal ruminations on loss as he reflected on a “collective suffering, a collective sacrifice, a year filled with the loss of life, and the loss of living, for all of us.” Speaking on the anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic and the moment at which the virus began tightening its grip, the president offered a turning point of sorts after one of the darkest years in recent history, one that would lead to more than half a million deaths in the country, the loss of millions of jobs and disruptions to nearly every aspect of society and politics. With the stimulus bill about to give the economy a kick, the pace of vaccinations increasing and death rates down, Mr. Biden said Americans were on track to return to a semblance of normal life by July 4 as long as they took the chance to get vaccinated and did not prematurely abandon mask wearing, social distancing and other measures to contain the virus. The speech, which advisers said the president had line-edited for the better part of a week, followed Mr. Biden’s signing of the stimulus package, the American Rescue Plan, into law, setting off a huge disbursement of federal funds to individuals, states and struggling businesses through legislation that also amounted to a down payment on an expansive Democratic agenda. Among its many other provisions, the plan provides some $130 billion to assist in reopening schools. “This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country,” Mr. Biden said to reporters who had gathered in the Oval Office, “and giving people in this nation, working people, the middle-class folks, people who built the country, a fighting chance.”