Many large groups of the general public descended on the General Assembly this week in an attempt to have their voices heard on various issues. One such issue was vaccinations, which resulted in a lot of women walking around with babies strapped to their backs while pushing a stroller with one hand and holding a toddler’s hand with the other.  It was actually pretty impressive to see. 

There were also a number of groups there to support the medical marijuana bill, with Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) back for their second week in a row.

The Senate’s bill filing deadline was Thursday of this week.  Almost 200 bills were filed on that day, including one that would name the Linville Caverns spider as the state’s official spider.  If you want to know more about the Linville Caverns spider, I’d suggest taking a trip to the Linville Caverns because Google isn’t going to give you much information, other than the spider’s confidence level is “confident.”  I’m guessing that spider confidence is a good thing, but it’s probably not enough information to make an informed decision on a majorly important issue such as this. 

The House filing deadline for public bills is April 8. 

However, if your clients have problems after the bill filing deadlines have passed, don’t worry!  There are still ways to continue to solve problems after those deadlines, and language can still be added to bills through different means.  So, continue to let us know if we can help you with anything!

Medical Marijuana

HB 78 – Enact Medical Cannabis Act – was unanimously voted down on Wednesday in a House Judiciary Committee.  The committee opened the floor to public comment and heard passionate pleas from both sides for an hour.  After the public had spoken, there was no debate amongst the committee members before they voted for an unfavorable report and killed the bill.  However, supporters of the bill weren’t too pleased with Rep. Dean Arp who made the motion for an unfavorable report.  As Rep. Arp was leaving the committee room, he was struck in the back by one of the bill proponents who was then quickly pulled back by a very large, ex-football playing lobbyist.  Capitol Police then ushered the man away.  After being presented with an apology note, Rep. Arp chose not to press charges.

Vaccinations Bill

A bill filed a few weeks ago, which would repeal the religious exemption from vaccinations in NC, will not pass in its current form.  Primary sponsor Senator Jeff Tarte told us this week that he thinks Senate leadership would like to see the bill passed, but only after it undergoes some changes.  One possible change could be an informed consent provision to replace the religious exemption, which Tarte thinks may be overused by people who are just personally opposed to vaccinations.

Gas Tax Agreement

The House and Senate announced an agreement this week on the plan to temporarily revamp the gas tax in order to avoid a drop in the tax to 30 cents per gallon in July.  They estimate that drop would result in a loss of around $400 million in funds towards building and repairing roads.  While the current gas tax is 37.5 cents per gallon, the new agreement will cut it and set a floor of 36 cents on April 1, 35 cents on January 1, 2016, then 34 cents on July 1, 2016.  This plan will give the legislature time to come up with a new permanent plan of transportation funding that is less volatile, which they’re hoping to do by the end of 2016.  The agreement also contains the IRC update provision to help North Carolina’s tax laws match the federal government’s.  In addition, the bill makes it to where taxes will be charged on mortgage debt that has been forgiven, treating it as income.  The House and Senate will vote on the agreed upon conference report next week, after which it will go to the governor’s desk.

More Economic Development

The House Finance Committee discussed yet another economic development bill this week.  However, the discussed bill – HB 89 – is a bill sponsored entirely by Democrats.  Nevertheless, Finance Chair Jason Saine told us that they wanted to discuss the bill and its ideas as part of a robust discussion on economic development.  The bill will be used as a starting point for a bi-partisan bill which will include historic tax preservation credits, film tax credits, and credits for construction of low-income housing and for users of state-owned ports.  This will be the second economic bill filed by the House.  Why?  Because the Senate hasn’t expressed much interest in taking up the first bill that the House sent over.  Maybe the second time’s the charm…

Tax Cuts

SB 526 – Job Creation and Tax Relief Act of 2015 – was filed Thursday by Senate leadership and includes about $1 billion in tax cuts.  The bill lowers personal income tax rates from the current 5.75% to 5.625% in 2016, and then to 5.5% in 2017.  The corporate income tax rate would also be lowered to 4.5% in 2016, and then to 4% in 2017.  The bill also provides for the transition to single sales factor apportionment.  House leadership has expressed concern about ending up with a shortfall in state revenue if taxes are lowered too quickly.