Cookie dough vs. masks, plus progress between lawmakers and NCHSAA

·4 min read

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Hello. It’s Friday.

Last week, it looked like the future of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association was in jeopardy. Republican lawmakers were quickly moving forward with legislation to dissolve the association and replace it with a new athletics commission whose members would be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders.

The association responded by calling House Bill 91 a “full-scale attack” and saying it would inject politics into North Carolina’s high school sports.

But behind the sharp rhetoric, both sides were exploring the possibility of continuing their months-long dialogue in the hopes of reaching an understanding that would eliminate the need for HB 91 in its current form.

The association dispatched James Alverson, its spokesperson, and Randolph Cloud, a prominent Raleigh lobbyist, to meet with lawmakers as they voted to pass the bill out of the education and finance committees in the Senate. And the GOP senators who said during committees they had reached the end of the road with the association later indicated they might still be open to resuming talks.

Sen. Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell) kicked things off last Friday by sending NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker a formal invitation to meet at the legislature and discuss the concerns GOP lawmakers have with the association over its finances and governance of high school sports in the state.

On Tuesday, the association confirmed Tucker would attend a closed meeting with lawmakers the next day. Joining her at Wednesday’s meeting were several members of the association’s staff and board of directors, including Bobby Wilkins, board president and principal of Hendersonville High School.

After two hours, lawmakers emerged from the conference room smiling and laughing, thanking NCHSAA representatives for making the trip to Raleigh. Both sides said the meeting was productive and a good first step, but declined to offer specifics of what, if anything, they agreed on.

Asked if they discussed HB 91, Wilkins declined to comment. But lawmakers told us that some version of legislation — perhaps not the current language they had initially proposed that would see the NCHSAA replaced — will be needed.

“Today was kind of what I see as the first step in some potential teamwork and working together to continue to work on the legislation,” said Sen. Todd Johnson (R-Union). “I do think legislation will still move forward, but maybe having them at the table with us is a good step, and their willingness that they expressed to us to work with us is a positive step.”

So, what comes next? It’s unclear how much negotiating room lawmakers and NCHSAA leaders found on Wednesday, but based on their remarks after the meeting, the association appears to be in a much better position than it was last week.

Ignore CDC guidance, Senate Leader Phil Berger says

Amid the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance on Tuesday recommending that anyone entering a school building should wear a mask. The guidance also recommends that vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas of “high” or “substantial” community spread.

In North Carolina, that means all but 21 counties, according to a map from N&O investigative reporter Tyler Dukes.

On Wednesday, Senate Leader Phil Berger sent out a fundraising email equating the CDC’s latest mask guidance to advice against eating raw cookie dough, calling it “something to ignore.”

“This decision isn’t about science,” the email stated. “It’s about Left-Wing bureaucrats playing political games and trying to control Americans lives.”

When asked about the email, Berger’s office directed N&O state politics reporter Danielle Battaglia to Dylan Watts, the political leader of the Senate GOP Caucus, who said calling the federal guidance something that should be ignored was a mistake.

“I will say that it shouldn’t say go ignore the advice,” Watts said. “I think the headline probably should have said CDC issued new guidelines; people will ignore it.”

WHAT WE’RE READING

More big stories from the team

  • What would it take for the state of North Carolina to take control of a town? We may be about to find out, Will Doran reports.

  • President Joe Biden tapped former North Carolina Department of Public Safety Secretary Eric Hooks to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brian Murphy scoops.

  • The Wake County GOP held a second fundraiser at a farm owned by a man who faces a felony peeping charge for allegedly hiding a camera in the women’s bathroom there, Will Doran reports.

  • Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday that there will be no new statewide mask mandate, Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan reports.

  • What will the CDC’s new mask recommendations for vaccinated people mean for NC? Lucille Sherman reports.

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Thanks for reading. See you next week.

— Avi Bajpai and Lucille Sherman for The News & Observer’s state politics team. Email us at abajpai@newsobserver.com, lsherman@newsobserver.com.

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