New year brings new election laws, important deadline for Parents' Bill of Rights

Sean Coffey Image
Tuesday, January 2, 2024
New election laws, important deadline for Parents' Bill of Rights
With the start of a new year comes some big changes for North Carolinians.

NORTH CAROLINA (WTVD) -- With the start of a new year come some big changes for North Carolinians. While several new laws officially take effect on New Year's Day, an important benchmark was also reached in an education reform bill passed last year: Senate Bill 49, also known as the Parents' Bill of Rights.

While SB 49 went into effect in August 2023, Monday was the deadline set for school districts to comply with the new legislation. That window was provided so districts had time to build out their own rules governing how parents could report violations under the new law, as well as provide a framework for districts to respond to those violations. Among other requirements, SB 49 prohibits any public school curriculum on gender identity or sexuality through at least fourth grade and would require teachers and administrators to inform parents if their child changes pronouns. Supporters of the legislation say it reaffirms a parent's right to know what's happening at school.

"Parents are the people who have the ultimate say over their children's education," said Mitch Kokai, Senior Political Analyst at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh. "The Parents' Bill of Rights was designed to move away from a system in which teachers, principals and administrators could take actions without parents knowledge that might end up being harmful toward kids."

Critics, however, say it unfairly targets vulnerable populations, including LGBTQ+ students.

"As a parent, of course, we hope that all of our kids are completely honest with us and feel the freedom to share everything with us," said Susan Book, founder of Save our Schools, North Carolina. "But we know that that isn't true for so many students because they may come from a family that doesn't believe the same that they do."

Meantime, other impactful legislation officially becomes law on Monday. Senate Bill 747 brings major changes to how North Carolinians vote, altering the rules and deadlines surrounding mail-in and absentee ballots in a major election year.

Specifically, SB 747 shifts the mail-in and absentee vote deadline to 7:30 pm on election day -- eliminating the previous, three-day grace period -- makes ballots cast by those who register day-of provisional, requires new signature verification, and provides more power to poll watchers. The bill was vetoed by Governor Cooper in August, only for that veto to be overridden by a GOP supermajority.

"So there's a lot of bad potential impacts that both these laws carry, and they were unnecessary," said Bob Phillips, Executive Director of Common Cause North Carolina. "Again, North Carolinians are voting in record numbers. There is no evidence of fraud. These laws were passed simply to satisfy the election deniers, unfortunately, and that's why they are in litigation right now."

Kokai says they're good policy regardless of whether or not there's widespread fraud.

"I don't think there's major widespread election fraud, but the types of things that are spelled out in Senate Bill 747 are generally good ideas that are good to put in place, regardless of whether there's any evidence of fraud," he said. "It's the type of thing that makes people feel more secure about elections."

The other major election bill passed last year, SB 749, would change the makeup of North Carolina's boards of elections and was set to go into effect today, but currently faces an injunction. That bill would increase the number of people on state boards of election from 5 to 8, and no longer require the Governor's party to control the majority. A ruling on the fate of SB 749 could come as early as this Spring.