As attorneys for the North Carolina General Assembly, Luke Gillenwater L’11 and Jeremy Ray L’11 assisted state lawmakers this spring with bipartisan legislation aimed at countering the economic and public health damage caused by COVID-19.
This story was originally published in the 2020 issue of the Elon Law Alumni News Bulletin.
It was a relatively rare sight in Raleigh.
On a morning in early May, the most powerful lawmakers in North Carolina – three Democrats, including Governor Roy Cooper, and the two Republicans who lead their majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly – stood together at a news conference to share details of bipartisan legislation prompted by the COVID-19 global pandemic.
The relief package, passed unanimously by both chambers of the General Assembly, contained $1.6 billion in measures for expenditures related to public health and safety, education, small business assistance, and state government operations.
Like all significant pieces of legislation, there were many people whose work in the preceding weeks made it possible, including Elon Law alumni Luke Gillenwater L’11 and Jeremy Ray L’11.
Their roles are largely invisible. Confidentiality is key. Gillenwater, an attorney in the bill drafting division, assists lawmakers who request his expertise in writing legislation. They’ll bring to him their ideas before he researches and drafts legislation on their behalf.
“I love being behind the curtain,” said Gillenwater, who typically assists with drafting bills that affect the criminal justice system. “We try to make sure their ideas, their decisions, are reflected in the legislation they introduce. And we try to make sure everything runs smoothly, that it’s drafted correctly, and that we provide sound legal advice.”
If Gillenwater is one of the legislative ghostwriters for members of the General Assembly, that makes Ray one of their editors.
A legislative analyst for both chambers, Ray is among those who help lawmakers rewrite legislation debated in committee. He is primarily assigned to committees that handle legislation affecting insurance, administrative law, and unemployment in North Carolina.
Ray’s work on COVID-19 included another facet that remains largely hidden from the public. As a legislative analyst, lawmakers turn to him with questions they’ve fielded from their own constituents. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits? How do I access particular services? What are my rights under federal and state laws?
“People are dealing with an unprecedented time in their lives that is very scary,” Ray said. “The greatest satisfaction I get is providing meaningful feedback to individual constituent requests where a business owner is seriously concerned about whether his or her business will be able to continue to operate, or if someone may be eligible for a particular form of unemployment insurance benefit that will help weather the storm.”
Ray worked for a few years at the Division of Employment Security before moving in 2016 to the General Assembly. The native of Buncombe County in western North Carolina was the first in his family to attend graduate school, and he and his wife, a pediatric critical care physician, are the parents of young twins. One of his biggest passions is riding a 2015 Harley-Davidson on backroads around the Triangle.
Gillenwater, who grew up in Winston-Salem, briefly practiced at an insurance defense firm in Charlotte before moving to the General Assembly in 2012. Married to Laura Lee Howell Gillenwater L’11, an attorney for the global health care company Grifols with offices in Research Triangle Park, the father of two spends what free time he can find enjoying UNC basketball and the U.S. and French national soccer teams.
Gillenwater and Ray say that the relative anonymity of their roles in the North Carolina General Assembly is part of the appeal to their work. So is the nonpartisan nature of their positions.
And it never fails to surprise people to learn of the vast support staff that helps a lawmaking body function with elected leaders who rely on their expertise.
“Most people don’t understand we exist. I was guilty of that myself!”Gillenwater said. “They have the same assumptions I did! That members will draft bills themselves… or they have their office staff that draft it. Most don’t understand there’s a nonpartisan division that handles this work.”
So how do both men view their roles in helping draft historic COVID-19 relief legislation and providing lawmakers with answers to constituent requests? Modestly. Or, as Gillenwater describes it, as “just another day at the office.”