RALEIGH — Another week means another step in the process of House Bill 91 becoming law.
The legislation passed on a full Senate vote Wednesday with a 28-14 margin in its third and final reading.
The amended version of HB 91 seeks to reform the N.C. High School Athletic Association instead of dissolving it.
The vote was mostly along party lines.
Sen. Kirk deViere (D-Cumberland) was the lone Democrat to vote in favor of the bill. Seven Democrats were absent from the session.
All Republicans voted in favor of the bill, with the exception of Sen. Ted Alexander (R-Cleveland), who was absent.
The House of Representatives will next consider the bill in committee process, starting in the education committee.
The House could offer amendments and send it back to the Senate, but if it passes as is, it will go to Gov. Roy Cooper, who would decide whether or not to sign the bill.
The legislation states that the NCHSAA will have to accept financial and administrative changes if it wants to continue in its role.
The measure instructs the association and the State Board of Education to come up with a written agreement by mid-October on how the NCHSAA will carry out board policy on interscholastic sports.
Cooper was asked about HB 91 during a press conference on Thursday.
“First, it's important for our high schools to have athletics and that they be properly regulated,” he said. “I do have concerns with the bill in dismantling what's in place now.”
Were Cooper to veto the bill, it would take three-fifths of lawmakers present to override the veto.
“I will look at this legislation. I haven't seen the latest version of it,” Cooper said. “I know that it still has to go through the House. I will be glad to work with the legislature on it, and as it goes through the process, I will consider it.”
Senate Republicans previously in favor of eliminating and replacing the NCHSAA are now looking to keep it in place, but requiring more transparency in its decision-making activities and adding constraints on its finances.
The nonprofit association is 108 years old and oversees more than 20 varsity sports across nearly 430 member schools.
According to an Associated Press report, NCHSAA leaders have received scorn from Republican legislators, who say they've heard constituents complain about what they consider the association's strong hand on game and eligibility appeals and monetary penalties on schools, even as the group's coffers are flush.
The association, which began in 1913 and became an independent nonprofit in 2010, had assets of nearly $42 million as of last year.
“Members, I ask you to vote in support of this legislation so we can redirect our student-athletes and make them the focus and not the money-making machine they have become,” said Sen. Vickie Sawyer, an Iredell County Republican and the bill's author, said before the vote.
A bill approved last month by the Senate Education Committee would have dissolved the NCHSAA at the end of the 2021-2022 school year and created a new state athletic commission with its members chosen by the governor and legislative leaders.
The measure was amended after complaints from Democrats and association allies that it would inject partisanship into high school sports and effectively end the NCHSAA.
The new bill focuses on transparency.
The NCHSAA would be required to publish proposed changes to game-play and penalty rules on its website and allow for public comment, and apply and enforce rules set by the board of education, which would have the authority to deem any rule proposed by the NCHSAA unenforceable.
It would also require the association to comply with open records and public meetings laws and apply federal privacy standards to student records, adopt an internal ethics policy that would “(require) board members to avoid conflicts of interests and the appearance of impropriety,” and submit to an annual audit by the North Carolina state auditor.
Finances are also a large focus of the legislation.
The NCHSAA would be prohibited from charging unreasonable fees and required to reduce annual fees for member schools by at least 20%, if the association’s fund balance reaches 250% of its expenses from the previous year, and prohibited from retaining more than 33% of the net proceeds from any state tournament games.
It would also be prohibited from soliciting grant funding or sponsorships for anything other than state tournaments, and prohibited from regulating or controlling the intellectual property of schools, including team logos, mascots, and the audio or video of games outside state tournaments, and prohibited from designating preferred vendors for member schools to purchase equipment from.
Bill sponsors previously said they had heard from schools that said they could not afford equipment costs arising from the association’s preferred vendors.
The legislation also addresses classification of schools in the association.
It would allow charter and non-public schools to continue participating in the NCHSAA, but those athletic programs would bump up a classification.
All classifications would be determined based solely on enrollment. The bill states that four classifications would be used, which is something the NCHSAA membership has attempted to change in recent years as the number of member schools continues to grow.