The budget gridlock rumors on Jones Street are real. A decorated Christmas tree arrived in the Senate chamber this week to emphasize how far apart the two chambers are on next year’s spending plan. Next year starts on Wednesday. Speaking of next year, in the absence of a new budget the legislature must pass a “continuing resolution” to keep state government running or face a government shutdown. We don’t know exactly what was going on behind the closed doors of the caucuses, but the General Assembly adjourned until Monday with no plan in place. Early next week will be a pressure cooker.

Keeping the Government Running

Because the final budget won’t be in place by the end of the fiscal year (June 30), the General Assembly must pass a continuing resolution that will keep the government running until a compromise budget bill can be worked out.  On Thursday, the House and Senate both took a recess after completing their calendars in hopes that a continuing resolution could be voted on and passed before legislators went home for the weekend.  After extending the recess several times, both chambers adjourned for the day without taking anything else up.  Leaders from both chambers weren’t able to agree on a few things, including:

  • Teacher assistant funding- While the House budget plan leaves teacher assistant funding levels unchanged, the Senate budget cuts about 5,000 teacher assistant positions.  This point of contention is being addressed in the continuing resolution because school districts will need to begin making personnel decisions before the school year starts in August.
  • Driver’s education- While the House budget plan leaves driver’s education funding intact, the Senate budget eliminates the limit on the fees a local school board can currently charge a student for driver’s education for the 2015-2016 school year, moves driver’s education to community colleges in 2016-2017, and eliminates the requirement that students take driver’s education.
  • The length of time the continuing resolution would cover- While House leaders would like for the expiration date to be somewhere around the end of September, Senate leaders want an earlier date.  House leaders are predicting that budget negotiations could last several months, but Senate leaders have dismissed that idea.

Leadership from both chambers are hoping to have an agreement by early next week.  

Reforming Medicaid

HB 372 – 2015 Medicaid Modernization – passed the House this week and was sent to the Senate.  Instead of being welcomed with open arms, the bill was sent directly to the Senate Ways & Means Committee, aka “The graveyard of the Senate.”  The Senate sends bill to that committee as a statement.  In this case, the Senate has included their much more dramatic Medicaid reform proposal in their budget and will continue to push for it during budget negotiations.

The House plan:

  • Medicaid would remain within the Department of Health and Human Services
  • Provider-led entities would be the only organizations allowed to operate health plans
  • Full capitation would be phased in over five years
  • Supported by the Department of Health and Human Services, the North Carolina Hospital Association, and the NC Medical Society

The Senate plan:  

  • Medicaid would be removed from the Department of Health and Human Services and would be overseen by a new Health Benefits Authority which would be run by an appointed board
  • The board would contract with three private healthcare management providers who would serve Medicaid patients state-wide
  • The state would be divided into six regions and offer contracts to two local provider-led organizations in each region
  • Full capitation would be phased in over two years

A Blue Law Topples  

A conference report for HB 640 – Outdoor Heritage Act – has been adopted by the House and Senate, toppling one of the remaining blue laws in NC which prohibited Sunday hunting with a gun; it awaits ratification and the Governor’s signature. The bill would allow hunting on Sundays with guns on private lands with permission of the owner, without dogs, and not between the traditional church-going hours of 9:30 am – 12:30 pm.  There is no hours restriction on private hunting preserves.  No Sunday hunting in Wake or Mecklenburg counties (they meet the 700,000 population threshold).  The three hour no hunting period was a nod to the conservative religious movement that seeks to keep the congregation in church on Sundays whether they hunt or not.  The conference report received bipartisan support from urban and rural legislators.

Greensboro City Council   

SB 36 – Greensboro City Council Changes – is a bill that we told you about back in March.  Introduced by Senator Trudy Wade, the bill makes changes to the Greensboro City Council by shrinking it from nine members to seven, making the mayor a non-voting member in most cases, and extend member terms from two years to four years.  Although it passed through the Senate easily, it was met with resistance in the House.  The Guilford County House delegation (with the exception of Rep. John Faircloth) has banded together and come out against the bill or insisted on adding a referendum which would allow Greensboro residents to vote on the changes.  As a result, they garnered the votes to add a referendum to the bill.  However, seeing that her bill was meeting resistance, Senator Wade added the language to a House bill that was being heard in the Senate.  HB 263 – City Elections/Trinity – was originally a non-controversial bill that only applied to the City Council in Trinity.  It passed the Senate and has been sent back to the House for concurrence with the new title “City Elections/Trinity and Greensboro.”

The original bill sponsor, Representative Pat Hurley, is urging her fellow House members to concur with the changes made by the Senate in order to save her original bill.  It was placed on the calendar twice this week, but not voted on because it didn’t have the votes.  It has now been placed on Monday’s calendar.  It’s anyone’s guess as to whether it will actually be voted on.