Raleigh was busy this week with legislative oversight committees beginning to wrap up their work for the 2017-2018 interim. Topics included IT projects, transportation, education, energy, school district division, and economic oversight. A handful of the committees put out legislative recommendations for consideration before the legislature in the 2018 short session.

Strategic Transportation Planning

The Select Committee on Strategic Transportation Planning and Long Term Funding Solutions started off this week’s legislative meetings Monday.

Economic Development and Transportation Planning

The meeting opened with a presentation from Chris Chung, CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) on the role of transportation in business recruitment and site development. He covered who the EDPNC is, what matters to businesses, what the state’s unique transportation assets and challenges are, and what the state needs to be successful. Chung informed the committee of the six most pressing transportation factors for economic development: highway/interstate proximity, availability of direct-access rail service, commercial airport with domestic/international flights, seaport proximity, intermodal capability, and public transportation/mass transit.

Railroad Discussion

Scott Saylor, President of the NC Railroad Company (NCRR), spoke to the committee about NCRR’s economic development strategies and initiatives as they apply to transportation. He let the committee know NCRR’s economic impact on the state. According to Saylor, 19% of NC freight carloads begin or end on the NCRR line, which constitute 11.4 million tons of freight. NCRR’s vision is to improve the state by expanding fright rail opportunities to grow business, enabling rail to move people, and investing in NC.

Airports and Economic Development

Next, Bobby Walston, Director of Aviation at the NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT), gave a presentation to the committee on the connection between airport infrastructure and economic growth. Walston told the committee that the impacts of aviation investments are significant. He referenced the 2016 Economic Impact of Airports in North Carolina study which shows that historic funding for commercial service airports was $6.5 million annually with a return to the state of $353 million in revenue. Today, Walston said 2017-2019 appropriations have increased funding to $115 million, which will provide more return on investments, accelerate needed projects, keep critical infrastructure in good repair, attract industry and businesses, and keep NC competitive with other states.

Legislative Proposals

Finally, the committee discussed, but did not vote on, seven legislative proposals. The proposals include bills for the following:

The committee will vote on the proposals at their May meeting.

Education Oversight

The Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee heard from Margaret Spellings, President of the UNC System and Co-Chair of the My Future NC Commission. The statewide Commission is comprised of top thought leaders from the education, business, philanthropy, faith-based, and nonprofit communities from across the state. They work together to discuss state education and training needs, identify obstacles to meeting those needs, and generate policy recommendations. The Commission’s foremost responsibility is creating a multi-year education plan and a broad-based agenda for a stronger and more competitive North Carolina. Spellings updated the committee on the progress the Commission has made in its first two meetings and took members’ suggestions on items the Commission should consider.

The committee also adopted the legislative report from the Joint Subcommittee on Medical Education and Medical Residency Programs.

Energy Policy Commission

The Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy talked nuclear power this week. They received a presentation from Preston Gillespie, Senior VP and Chief Nuclear Officer at Duke Energy, on an overview of the state’s current nuclear power resources, quality of maintenance, and status of license renewal for plants. Then they heard an overview from Jeff Merrifield, Partner a Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw, Pittman, LLP, on the regulatory and policy status of 20-year life extensions for nuclear power plants. Nils Breckenridge of NuScale Power followed with a presentation on small modular nuclear reactors. The commission closed with an update from Mike Abraczinskas, Director of the Division of Air Quality and the NC Department of Environmental Quality, about the Volkswagen settlement funds and state agency activities relating to the Beneficiary Mitigation Plan.

Study Committee on School District Division

The Joint Legislative Study Committee on the Division of Local School Administrative Units met again to hear presentations from representatives of a number of schools from across the state.

Vance County Schools presented on innovations in service options for at-risk learners. The Contentnea-Savannah K-8 School presented on their school and told the committee they provide resources to the parents of their students on how to navigate PowerSchool. Surry County Schools gave a presentation on next-generation high schools that provide college credit, flexible scheduling, optional pathways, and work-based learning. Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools came to talk about Project LIFT and its many successes as well as its challenges. Finally, the committee heard from Sugar Creek Charter School, whose mission is to eradicate generational poverty by providing a college and career preparatory education from kindergarten to 12th grade.

The committee is scheduled to meet again on April 11 and they plan to have a draft committee report ready. The chairs indicated the report will contain no legislative recommendations.

Information Technology

The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Information Technology met Thursday for their final 2017-2018 interim meeting. Members heard updates from three state agencies on the progress they have made with their standing IT projects.

Health and Human Services

Sam Gibbs and Danny Staley from the NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) updated the committee on the status of two projects. First, NCTracks, a multi-payer claims payment system supporting NC Medicaid and the Divisions of Public Health, Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities/Substance Abuse Services, and the Office of Rural Health. Second, the Medical Examiner Information System (MEIS), which is the new system that medical examiners in nine facilities across the state will use to document information about autopsies they perform, as well as all medical examiner cases in the state.

Commerce

Kevin Carlson from the NC Department of Commerce gave an update on the status of the SCUBI program - also known as the Southeast Consortium for Unemployment Benefits integration. The program is a three-state consortium comprised of NC, SC, and GA working together with federal and state involvement to implement a new unemployment insurance benefits program. He went through SCUBI’s purpose, organizational structure, advantages, and challenges before explaining where the consortium is in the process and what lies ahead for successful implementation.

New Elections and Ethics Board

Kim Strach, Executive Director of the state’s newly formed State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement provided the final IT projects update to the committee. The two boards, Elections and Ethics, only formalized their merger a few weeks ago. This means that some projects are delayed because there were not board members to approve actions or make key decisions. Strach explained that the new agency put everything else into place that they could without a formal board decision. Their elections-based projects include new elections management systems and voter system procurement. They are also working towards a new, unified disclosure system and a new, unified compliance management system. The disclosure system will bring together the formerly disparate components of campaign finance, statements of economic interest, and the lobbyist system. The new compliance management system will combine what used to be six systems covering campaigns/elections, ethics, and lobbying issues into one system with three parts: audits/evaluations, advisories/advice, and complaints.

Anything Else?

The committee also voted to approve their committee report, which contained no legislative recommendations.

Transportation Oversight

The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Transportation met Thursday to cover a lengthy list of issues, including a presentation of a report on the International Fuel Tax Agreement and the International Registration Plan for DMV, and a report from NCDOT Division 14.

Dredging

Multiple dredging studies were presented, including a cost-benefit analysis of dredging, a study on the use of a dredge in Manteo, and a study on the acquisition of a dedicated dredging capacity. The studies were conducted to evaluate the current state of waterways on the state’s coast, identify the state’s needs, assess potential costs, and determine options for Manteo and other areas of NC’s coast.

NC Global Transpark

Allen Thomas, Executive Director of Global Transpark presented a report to the committee on the NC Global Transpark, a 2,500-acre multimodal park coming to Kinston, NC. The report covered the Transpark’s strategic and marketing plans. Thomas went through the project’s team, process, challenges, achievements, and objectives. The Transpark will include aerospace, automotive, defense, agribusiness, food science, and government components.

What else?

The committee also covered legislative proposals from NCDOT, received a customer service update from NCDOR, and voted to approve the committee report with one exception - section three was removed and sent to committee for further review. The recommendations include one that will allow the sale of alcohol on ferries in order to generate more revenue for the Ferry Division.

Economic Development and Global Engagement

The Joint Legislative Economic Development and Global Engagement Oversight Committee (EDGE), which may have one more meeting in May, closed out the week of legislative meetings in Raleigh. The committee received the annual report from the Economic Development Partnership of NC (EDPNC), heard a few presentations on economic development in NC, and heard from the Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) on demographic trends in the state.

EDPNC Annual Report

EDPNC exists to advance the economic interests of NC’s 100 counties and more than 10 million residents through its collaboration with state, regional, local, and private-sector partners in new business recruitment, existing employer support, international trade and export assistance, small business start-up counseling, and tourism promotion. Chris Chung, CEO of the EDPNC presented the committee with the organization’s 2018 annual report as well as the results of a 2018 corporate survey. His presentation covered four main topics: what matters to businesses, what EDPNC’s performance results were in 2017, what EDPNC needs to be more successful, and how other states are incentivizing jobs and investment. Chung also recommended the state lift its cap on Job Development Infrastructure Grants (JDIG).

Economic Development

Presentations were given by the perspectives of the NC Chamber, the Charlotte Chamber, the Wilson Economic Development Council, and the NC Rural Center on the state of economic development in NC. The committee was able to hear varying economic development challenges, strengths and opportunities from urban areas like Charlotte as well as more rural areas across the state. Gary Salamido, VP of Government Affairs at the NC Chamber, told the committee that 90% of the Chamber’s membership feels good about the direction in which the state is headed. According to their analysis, NC’s business tax ranking has gone from 44th to 11th, and of all states with a corporate tax, NC’s is lowest. He credited that along with tort reform and other legislation with making the state much more business friendly and encouraging economic development.

Demographic Trends

The committee wrapped up with Dr. Mike Kline, State Demographer at OSBM. Dr. Kline informed the committee that NC is the 9th largest state in the US at 10.3M residents. He talked about the swell in in-migration the state has seen and how it compares to our neighboring states in the southeast. He also covered the fiscal impacts our population will have on the census.

A Look Ahead to Next Week

Monday, April 9, 2018

9:00 AM Select Committee on School Safety, Student Health Working Group

11:00 AM Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

9:00 AM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on General Government

9:00 AM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services

1:00 PM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Medicaid and NC Health Choice

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

9:00 AM Revenue Laws Study Committee

11:00 AM Committee on Dispute Resolution Options for Homeowners, Associations and Governing Entities

1:00 PM Joint Select Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting

1:30 PM Joint Legislative Study Committee on the Division of Local School Administrative Units

Thursday, April 12, 2018

8:30 AM Committee on Private Process Servers

9:00 AM Joint Legislative Emergency Management Oversight Committee

1:00 PM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources

1:00 PM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety

2:30 PM Committee on Access to Healthcare in Rural North Carolina