Back to back committee meetings and busy agendas have been the trend for North Carolina legislators this session. This week was no exception. The House passed a bill proposing a constitutional amendment restricting eminent domain while Senate Education committee members heard presentations by both the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent.

Under a bill filed this week, North Carolinians who are not able to make it to the Legislative Building to see the House in session may soon have a new option. HB218: Broadcast NC House of Reps Sessions would call for the installation of video equipment in the House chamber and place legislative staff in charge of streaming sessions online.

Both chambers will meet again on Monday, the House at 7:00pm and the Senate at 2:00pm.

Hands Free Phone Use

How North Carolina drivers are able to talk on the phone while driving is up for debate through a House bill filed last week. Under, HB144: Hands Free NC, a driver could face a $100 fine if convicted of talking on the phone while driving. If convicted a second time, within a 36 month time span, the driver would face a $150 fine and assessed one insurance point by the state’s Rate Bureau. The bill includes some exceptions, such as drivers in emergency situations and those who experience unsafe road conditions or mechanical problems.

Drivers would be allowed to talk on the phone while parked. However, using a hand-held phone to talk, watch videos, or access the internet while driving, including while stopped at a traffic light, would be prohibited. Those who are 18 or older could use a cell phone if it is mounted or installed in the vehicle such that the driver is able to initiate, answer, or end a call by touching a single button. The law would not apply to emergency responders.

The bill must still be approved by the House, Senate, and governor before becoming law. If passed, the law would go into effect in 2020, joining 16 other states that have already banned hand-held cellphone use while driving.

Scooter Regulation

North Carolina Representatives took their first steps toward electric scooter regulation this week. HB77: Electric Standup Scooters moved through the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday. The bill defines “electric stand up scooters” in state law and clarifies that electric scooters are exempt from the same registration requirements mopeds and other vehicles must follow. Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston), one of the bill’s sponsors, says the bill will not affect general scooter operations if it becomes law.

State Health Plan Study Committee

House legislators introduced a bipartisan bill that hopes to achieve a compromise between supporters and opponents of the State Health Plan. HB184: Study State Health Plan Design would form a study committee to analyze the sustainability of the State Health Plan. The State Health Plan is currently the largest buyer of medical and pharmaceutical services in the state at $3.2 billion in 2017. The study committee would specifically be responsible for looking at the needs of public-school teachers, state employees, and retirees.

State Treasurer Dale Folwell proposed changes to how providers are reimbursed under the State Health Plan, saving members an overall total of $300 million. Treasurer Folwell’s plan faced complaints about a lack of pricing transparency during a two hour state joint health care committee meeting in February.

The study committee would be made up of made up of four members of both the House and the Senate, the State Health Plan executive administrator, and one member each from the North Carolina Healthcare Association, North Carolina Medical Society, NC Nurses Association, State Employees Association of NC, Retired Government Employees Association of NC, NC Association of Educators, and North Carolina Psychiatry Association.

The committee would review 11 components of the proposed plan, including pricing that is referenced to other payment models and payment models that have shown to reduce costs without compromising care. The final report would require submission by April 1, 2020.

Small Business Healthcare Act

The Senate Commerce and Insurance committee advanced a bill Thursday that would allow small businesses to offer an association health insurance plan to employees. SB86: Small Business Healthcare Act would loosen the requirements for association health plans, or AHPs, throughout North Carolina. This bill comes following a federal Labor Department change made back in June. One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth), believes the bill will provide lower premium costs for employers and benefit up to 110,000 employees.

Similar legislation has previously been introduced, but what makes this bill different is how employers could be grouped together. Under this bill, non-affiliated employers within the same geographic location or employers in the same industry or line of business would be allowed to group together. Currently, employers must meet both criteria.

The AHP would be offered by a nonprofit with at least 500 members. The nonprofit also has to be an established business for at least two years. Right now the law states the nonprofit must be in business for at least five years. This bill would allow sole proprietors and the self-employed to enroll as well.