Legislators consider dozens of bills
by Kellen Moore and Anna Oakes
The N.C. General Assembly reconvened Wednesday for the new legislative session, and members filed dozens of important and quirky bills for consideration in the first two days.
Rep. Jonathan Jordan was not the primary sponsor of any of the early bills, though he was a secondary sponsor of 10. Sen. Dan Soucek was a primary sponsor of two bills: one honoring the Boy Scouts of America and another intended to increase access to career and technical education classes.
Watauga Democrat has compiled a listing of some of the legislation currently being considered. None of the bills will become law until approved by legislators and signed by the governor.
For more information, visit http://www.ncleg.net or contact your local delegates: Jonathan Jordan (919-733-7727 or Jonathan.Jordan@ncleg.net) and Dan Soucek (919-733-5742 or Dan.Soucek@ncleg.net).
House Bill 16 and Senate Bill 4, both short-titled “No N.C. Exchange/No Medicaid Expansion,” would reject state participation in a state-federal partnership health insurance exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act and would ensure that Medicaid eligibility cannot be expanded unless approved by the General Assembly.
The Affordable Care Act creates new health insurance exchanges meant to serve as one-stop shops or marketplaces for consumers to compare health insurance plans. The ACA gives states three options: a state-run exchange, a state-federal partnership or a federally operated exchange. North Carolina received a $74 million grant from the federal government in January to set up its health exchange, but House Bill 16/Senate Bill 4 would immediately cease expenditures of federal funds for such a purpose.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year upheld the Affordable Care Act but struck down a measure requiring states to accept federal funding for expansion of Medicaid to adults with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Currently, Medicaid is only available to low-income parents, children, seniors and people with disabilities.
House Bill 4, which matches Senate Bill 6, proposes unemployment insurance changes designed to more quickly pay back the debt North Carolina owes the federal government, which totaled about $2.5 billion as of mid-January.
The state began borrowing federal money when it exhausted its own unemployment fund amid high joblessness. Now, businesses are paying an additional $21 per employee per year until the debt is gone.
Among the changes are: Reducing the maximum weekly benefit from $535 to $350; reducing the maximum duration of benefits from 13-26 weeks to 13-20 weeks; changing the way weekly benefits are calculated; raising state unemployment tax rates on employers by .06 percent.
Legislators are moving forward with a July 1 effective date even though that would cut off up to 47 weeks of extra federal benefits available to unemployed people.
The bill is scheduled for a vote in the House on Monday.
House Bill 5: Temporary Funding Extension for Group Homes passed the N.C. House of Representatives unanimously Thursday and now moves on to the Senate. The bill requires the Department of Health and Human Services to provide temporary funding for residents of group homes who have lost their eligibility for Medicaid-funded personal care services.
Last year, the legislature approved increased eligibility requirements for personal care services, requiring recipients to need hands-on assistance with at least three daily living activities. Under the new requirements, which took effect Jan. 1, many persons with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses who live in group homes no longer qualify for the personal care services assistance, which represents a significant funding source for group homes.
In a statement Thursday, House Speaker Thom Tillis said he is confident the state will find a long-term solution to the problem.
With House Bill 7: Eugenics Compensation Program, lawmakers will try once again to win approval of $50,000 payments to compensate victims who were forcibly sterilized by the state of North Carolina last century. Following recommendations by the state’s Eugenics Compensation Task Force, the N.C. House of Representatives approved funding for compensation as part of its budget bill last year, but the spending did not win approval in the Senate.
Tillis, who called the roadblock to compensating victims a “personal failure” last year, is a primary sponsor of House Bill 7.
Senate Bill 27 would create the position of school safety marshal, a person permitted to carry a gun on school property to provide additional protection. The marshals could be volunteers, school staff or others and would have to be trained by the N.C. Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission. Local school boards would be responsible for approving applicants for the position but are not required to begin using safety marshals.
House Bill 8: Eminent Domain would authorize a state referendum on a constitutional amendment “to prohibit condemnation of private property except for a public use and to provide for the payment of just compensation with right of trial by jury in all condemnation cases.” The bill authorizes similar changes to the General Statutes, striking the words “or benefit” from language that states “for the public use or benefit.”
House Bill 17 and Senate Bill 28 both deal with gun permits and confidentiality. The House bill allows concealed handgun permit holders to take guns into restaurants unless the owner posts a sign forbidding it. Both bills would make the names and applications of gun permit holders confidential and not available for public viewing.
House Bill 29 provides harsher sentences for methamphetamine manufacturing convictions when the drug is created in the presence of minors or disabled or elderly adults.
House Bill 38 would repeal second primaries. Currently, second primaries can be requested if the winner of the first primary does not receive a “substantial plurality,” as opposed to a straight plurality.
Senate Bill 39 would restore partisan judicial elections. Although the races are currently nonpartisan, many candidates receive financial and logistic support from their respective parties.
House Bill 44, called “Transition to Digital Learning in Schools,” indicates the General Assembly’s intent to transition from traditional textbook funding to funding for digital materials, including textbooks and other resources, by 2017.
House Bill 30: Repeal Combined M.V. Registration/Tax System would repeal the legislation requiring annual vehicle property taxes and registration fees to be paid together. The requirements are scheduled to take effect later this year as part of a program the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles has dubbed “Tag & Tax Together.”
House Bill 59 would eliminate annual vehicle safety inspections and to review the fiscal impact of vehicle emissions inspection requirements.