General Assembly

General Assembly Adjourns After Late Night

GASessionAdjournedRALEIGH – The General Assembly officially completed this year’s work session this morning after nearly 10 months on the job.

The session ended shortly after 4 a.m. Wednesday morning once legislators finalized a large “technical corrections” bill.

The state budget passed just two weeks ago after a stalemate and negotiations on Medicaid changes.

Barring a veto from Governor Pat McCrory, the state legislature is not scheduled to reconvene until next April.

North Carolina Lawmakers Return to try to Wrap Up Session

General_Assembly_NCRALEIGH—Legislators still have many votes to take before what is expected to be the last week of this year’s North Carolina General Assembly session.

The House and Senate return to Raleigh on Monday and will debate and vote on several bills.

The House is ready to vote for a $2 billion bond package that cleared the Senate last week and requires a statewide referendum next year for the borrowing to occur. The final flurry of committee meetings of the year kicked off throughout the day as lawmakers look to finish up work on bills that just a vote or two away from completion or others that are being heard for the very first time.

“The purposes of this article are to establish an agricultural pilot program for the cultivation of industrial hemp in the state,” said Rep. Jeff Collins, a Nash County Republican.

A proposal that got no opposition, after assurances were made that the THC level is mandated to be at a level so low it could not get a person high, like marijuana could.

Other bills that have already gotten some big public debate were back in the spotlight, including a bill that needed a House concurrence vote which would end the marketing and sale of fetal tissue in North Carolina.

It is proposal that some say is unnecessary and based off of controversial videos of Planned Parenthood, but others say shows a strong stance from North Carolina.

“It is not based on reality, on true videos, but they are based on doctored, heavily edited and untrue videos,” said Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham County Democrat.

“I’m disgusted, and I hope you will vote for this bill because you are just as disgusted as I am,” said Rep. Pat McElraft, a Carteret County Republican.

Also in the House was a bill to help one rural hospital in Belhaven to re-open by creating a definition for a legacy hospital under state certificate of need laws.

“Right now DHHS does not have a policy in regards to how long you can be closed without being an existing facility. They don’t have case law to support any decisions DHHS would and there is no statute that would also allow for any direction,” said Rep. Paul Tine, a Dare County Independent.

As the bills continue to move quickly from committee to the floor and then on the other chamber, leadership says this is the pace that’s necessary for this session to come to an end.

“Understand this is the final few days of session and I would expect over the next two to three days that there will be times where we are in session where we have to take a recess to have committee meetings or conference committees to meet, but then coming back to dispose of business,” said NC Speaker of the House Rep. Tim Moore.

Both chambers are expected to work long hours over the next few days as they plan to adjourn from session for the year.​

– Loretta Boniti

Medicaid Overhaul in North Carolina Now Officially Law

medicaid_bill1RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory says his signature on far-reaching Medicaid legislation is just the beginning of a years-long process to transform the health care program that serves more than one in six North Carolina residents.

McCrory signed a Medicaid overhaul bill into law during a ceremony Wednesday at the Executive Mansion, surrounded by legislators who helped negotiate the law. Also there was Rick Brajer, the new secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which will carry it out.

The law will phase out the fee-for-service method North Carolina Medicaid uses to pay for treatment for most of its 1.8 million enrollees. Insurance companies and provider networks will enter into contracts and receive a fixed amount per month for each patient. This change isn’t expected until 2018 or 2019.

– Associated Press

Chamber Votes Beginning for Final State Budget

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Read the full budget bill here.

RALEIGH—North Carolina lawmakers are finally about to vote on a two-year spending and tax package that was supposed to be ready July 1.

Senate Republicans on Tuesday scheduled the first of two required chamber votes on their compromise state budget with House Republicans. The House could begin voting Wednesday. The bill would then go to Gov. Pat McCrory.

The plan spends nearly $22 billion and includes money for teaching assistants and driver’s education in schools. There are $750 bonuses for state employees and teachers. Teachers also get experienced-based raises.

The personal income tax rate would fall in 2017, but sales taxes also would soon apply to things like car repairs and appliance installations.

Senate Democrats complain the budget is being voted on too quickly after details were finalized in secret.

– Associated Press

Details of State Budget Plan Released

budget_releasedRALEIGH—State lawmakers released their final budget proposal for the next two years.

Lawmakers met behind closed doors early Monday to talk about the deal. Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore put the finishing touches on the plan late last week and held a news conference Monday afternoon to release some of the details about the $21.7 billion spending plan.

“It is a fair compromise.  we started off with two very different positions on a number of things. But the process worked the way it should,” said NC Speaker of the House Rep. Tim Moore.

The Senate will begin voting on the budget on Tuesday.

Budget Overview:

• 3.1% increase spending
• increase early career teacher pay
• preserves funding for driver education and teachers assistants
• Restores historic reservation tax credits

Other state employees will also see a one-time $750 bonus, as well as a 3 percent raise for highway patrol. But there will be no cost of living increase for retirees.

There will be optional grant money made available for local law enforcement purchase body cameras and there will be increased fees at the division of motor vehicles.

The budget was supposed to be in place July 1, but negotiations have dragged through the summer.

Both the House and Senate must vote twice in favor of the compromise before it goes to Gov. Pat McCrory. The governor raised questions over the weekend about the tax changes in the plan.

– Loretta Boniti

Gov. McCrory Signs Unemployment Bill

unemploymentGASTON COUNTY — A controversial unemployment bill is now law.

Gov. McCrory signed the bill in Gaston County on Thursday morning. It requires people who receive unemployment benefits to increase their contacts with potential employers from two to five times a week.

McCrory says this new bill will make North Carolina more competitive.

He also says the whole point is “helping people who can’t help themselves, while encouraging those who can.”

McCrory said this is a game-changer when it comes to unemployment benefits

“Getting a job is a job, and you should treat it as a job,” said McCrory.

Senate Bill 15 is an unemployment legislation that changes a lot, like requiring people to show a valid federal ID when collecting unemployment benefits

“A photo ID will ensure the person who deserves and qualifies for the benefits is the same person getting the checks.”

It also allows them to check criminal justice databases to make sure inmates aren’t applying for unemployment benefits, which happened two years ago in the state.

“In 2012, three Swane County jail inmates were collecting unemployment benefits while they were locked up. That’s not acceptable.”

One big change: people getting unemployment benefits now have to make five job contacts a week, up from the previously required two.

“The five contact can also be done via the Internet.”

But most importantly, McCrory says it’ll help people find jobs quicker, so they can get back on their feet.

“I care for the people trying to find employment, and we want to help you, but we also want you to help yourself,” said McCrory.

– Christina Watkins

Differences Slowly Dwindle in State Budget Talks

senate_budgetRALEIGH— House and Senate Republicans have narrowed further the number of their differences that must be resolved before a state budget can be finalized.

Legislative leaders are continuing to say they are close to a deal, but there are still some big issues to work out before next Friday. Both the state House and Senate gaveled in for session on Tuesday, but the focus is on the work behind closed doors where budget negotiators are meeting.

“We are looking at Wednesday/Thursday, or Thursday/Friday, whenever we can get it done,” said NC Speaker of the House Rep. Tim Moore.

Senator Phil Berger said he would like to think that the few issues remaining can be worked out by weeks end, and allow the legislature to vote on a final budget by their current deadline of Sept. 18. But he said there are still a lot balls in the air.

“Like a lot of negotiations, until you have everything tied down and worked out, it is difficult to be overly optimistic about ‘We’re going to get it done by this date or that date.’ But we’re still working and we’re still going in the same direction, the right direction, we’re not going backwards at this point,” said Sen. Berger.

The chamber leaders are pretty tight-lipped at this point about what you will see when a budget is unveiled. But when asked what is left, they both are standing firm on the issues they highlighted at the beginning of this negotiating process as to what are top concerns.

“I think teacher assistants is the one that we really think of as being out there, Drivers ED. There were some environmental policies that were brought in at some point that are being discussed,” said Rep. Moore.

“We have all along had some concern with, ‘How do you put this budget together and do Medicaid reform and what’s the transition?’ So those are some issues that still need to be resolved,” said Sen. Berger.

Lawmakers currently have a deadline of Sept. 18 to get a new budget approved, or else they would need to approve fourth extension of the current state spending plan.

– Loretta Boniti

NC May Have Single March Primary for All Races

Early_votingRALEIGH—North Carolina legislators are considering whether to move all primary elections next year to March instead of just the presidential primaries.

This is two months earlier than they are currently scheduled for, but would allow voters to avoid heading to the polls twice in this presidential election year.

Republican leaders decided in 2013 to move up the presidential primary so state voters could have more influence on choosing nominees. Separate elections also would cost several million dollars more to operate.

The state house voted Wednesday to not accept a bill that would move the state’s presidential primary to March 15. However leaders say that’s not because they don’t want the move to happen, but because they might want to move *all* primaries to that date.

“There was quite a bit of encouragement to move all the primaries when we made the change two years ago as a cost saving measure. We did not act on it at that time. We are going to explore that as one of the considerations this time,” said Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican.

The Senate has said they will talk about the issue but are not ready to say the move should happen.

There is also a cost issue associated with the way the primaries are currently constructed—that would be one for the presidential races… and one for the rest of the races.

State election officials say that carries a several million dollar price tag.

If the primaries are on the same date, it could be more costly for down ticket candidates who are fighting for airtime against what is expected to be a tough presidential primary.

“The argument that the airtime will be expensive because of the availability is frankly legitimate and frankly one of the reasons this change was made two years ago to make two separate primaries. I don’t think that concern has gone away, it is just we want to take one more look at the balancing act between the cost to hold separate primaries and the accessibility if you will for the lower ballot races to heard,” said Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican.

North Carolina lawmakers moved the presidential primary two years ago, in an effort to make the state more relevant in the primary process.

But national party leaders said they went too far, and needed to back up the date to March. The deadline for that move is looming and must be official by Oct. 1.

Lawmakers say they hope to resolve this latest voting question by then.

If North Carolina does not move its presidential primary it would go from being one of the most influential states in the Republican nominating process to one of the least important, because of sanctions it would face from national party leaders.

– Loretta Boniti

Gov. McCrory Confident Legislators Will Agree on Budget Before Temporary Spending Measure Expires

McCrory_At_DeskRALEIGH—Gov. Pat McCrory said legislators should have approved a final North Carolina budget months ago but acknowledges lawmakers must sort out a range of opinions.

McCrory talked to reporters Tuesday about the budget negotiations. The governor says he’s still pushing for his initiatives but considers his role as facilitating dialogue between House and Senate leaders.

He says he believes he has helped. Two weeks ago, he announced a bottom-line spending number of almost $22 billion after a breakfast meeting with legislative leaders.  A two-year budget was supposed to be on his desk by July 1, but Republican lawmakers got stuck over policy changes and funding levels for this year.

He said he is confident legislators will agree on a budget before a temporary spending measure expires Sept. 18.

Democrats Choose Former House Member to Replace Glazier

glazier_repalceCUMBERLAND COUNTY—Fayetteville lawyer Billy Richardson is the choice of Cumberland County Democrats to finish the term of retiring state representative, Rick Glazier.

Richardson was selected during a gathering of party officials on Saturday. Glazier’s final day as the representative for District 44 was Friday. Richardson is  a former member of the General Assembly himself and he had plenty of praise for his predecessor.

“You cannot replace Rick Glazier. You can only fill the seat and do the best you can. But Rick Glazier IS irreplaceable,” said Richardson.

By law, the governor must appoint the selection of the county party. Richardson hopes to be sworn in by early next week.