This week the legislature surpassed the 1,000 bill mark with 1,098 bills filed as of Thursday night between both chambers. Contributing to the influx of legislation was the Thursday deadline for Senators to file public bills. The deadline created a rush of more than 350 introduced bills in the Senate this week alone. 195 of those bills were filed on Thursday, just hours before the deadline. While this number may seem large, the House also passed a critical deadline Thursday, to submit to Bill Drafting requests for bills to be filed. The House filing deadline for public bills is just a week and a half away on Wednesday, April 15th. With more than double the members in the House chamber, the number of House bills filed is anticipated to dwarf the number of Senate bills filed this week.
Conferees along with leadership surprisingly announced on Thursday that the Conference Committee for Senate Bill 20, the gas tax legislation, had reached a compromise. The conference report would reduce the gas tax rate from 37.5 cents per gallon to 36 cents per gallon until the end of 2015 and then drop to 35 cents per gallon on January 1, 2016 and 34 cents per gallon July 1, 2016. That is of course unless lawmakers are able to pass an overhaul of the gas tax as they desire to do before the end of the year. Leaders in both the House and Senate indicated that the bill would move quickly next week through both chambers.
On Tuesday, the Senate passed Senate Bill 326, the Job Development and Investment Grant (JDIG) funding bill which adds an additional $5 Million to the depleted fund. The bill, which was filed last week was reviewed quickly in the Appropriations/Base Budget Committee. The bill passed unanimously in committee Tuesday morning and easily passed the full Senate that afternoon and now awaits action in the House.
After lengthy debate, a House Judiciary Committee also gave a rare, “unfavorable” report to House Bill 78, sponsored by Rep. Alexander (D-Mecklenburg) which would have permitted the use of medical marijuana in the state. An unfavorable report is more significant than simply voting a bill down in committee because it further prohibits consideration of the bill and any related proposals from advancing for the next two years. House Bill 317, which is also sponsored by Rep. Alexander to permit medical marijuana for terminally ill patients, has been referred to the same committee.
The House also passed House Bill 152, legislation to replace the recently expired historic preservation tax credit in a vote of 98-15. The broad support in the House is encouraging, but its success in the Senate is questionable.
The House Republican caucus apparently faced some internal challenges related to last week’s UNC Board of Governor’s elections, evident after Speaker Moore removed several bills from Monday evening’s calendar. Tensions were flaring and House Republicans met off site at GOP Headquarters to work out their differences. What is obvious is that even though the House is functioning again, a rift still remains.
In national news, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision, sent Alabama’s redistricting maps back to a lower court for further review. The decision was based on the maps reliance on race when drawing the district lines. Questions have been raised as to the applicability of the ruling to North Carolina’s redistricting plans.
Legislation in the news:
NC parents protest vaccination bill – WXII 12
Among the late flurry of bills in the Senate Senate Bill 526, the Job Creation and Tax Relief Act of 2015, was filed by the three Senate Finance Chairmen, Senators Rucho (R-Mecklenburg), Rabon (R-Brunswick) and Tillman (R- Randolph). The bill would continue the trend of lowering the corporate and personal income tax rates. It also raises the JDIG fund to $15 Million annually, while limiting the amount of the fund that Wake, Mecklenburg and Durham counties may receive. It also includes shifting the state to single sales factor apportionment as well as greatly incentivizing “high yield” projects. Both of those pieces are also included in Sen. Berger’s economic incentives legislation, Senate Bill 338, filed last week.
Senators float tax cut idea – WRAL
On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Brown (R-Onslow) filed Senate Bill 369, the Sales Tax Fairness Act which changes how sales tax revenues are distributed to the counties. Currently, sales tax revenues are funneled back to counties, under a formula primarily based on where the tax was collected, or point-of-sale. This method greatly benefits population dense counties such as Mecklenburg and Wake, but it also benefits counties that attract significant tourism traffic. Sen. Brown said the Senate plan intends to shift the distribution to a per-capita model that would redirect sales tax revenues based on population, significantly benefiting the 80 poorest counties.
Two bills regarding Medicaid reform were filed. Senate Bill 703 entitled Medicaid Transformation was filed by Senate Pro-Tem Sen. Berger (R-Rockingham) and would move Medicaid from a fee-for-service model to a capitated, risk-based, managed care program.Senate Bill 574 entitled 2015 Medicaid Reform is sponsored by Senators Jackson (R-Sampson), Pate (R-Wayne) and Tucker (R-Union), and has been rumored to be the vehicle to move a Senate consensus package. This bill is more in line with the House, which would enact provider-led, capitated health plans. Medicaid reform is coming, but no one seems to know where it is going.
Sen. Apodaca (R-Henderson) filed Senate Bill 702 which would completely repeal the Certificate of Need law in NC. The bill contrasts from House Bill 200 previously filed by Rep. Avila (R-Wake) which would exempt psychiatric facilities, ambulatory surgical centers (ASC), gastrointestinal endoscopy rooms and diagnostic centers from the state CON Law.
Other Notable Bills:
- SB 372 Renewable Energy Safe Harbor– Sen. Rucho (R-Mecklenburg)
- SB 453 Regulatory Reform Act of 2015 – Sen. Wade (R-Guilford)
- SB 513 NC Farm Act of 2015 – Sen. Brock (R-Davie)
- SB 617 Local Government Reg Reform – Sen. Wade (R-Guilford)
- SB 676 Autism Health Insurance Coverage – Sen. Apodaca (R-Henderson)
- SB 688 2015 Tort Reform – Sen. Hartsell (R-Cabarrus)
- SB 700 Limit Sales Tax Refund for Nonprofits – Sen. Wells (R-Catawba)