The General Assembly continued to pick up pace this week, while daily budget meetings have continued. Budget subcommittees have heard from agency heads on Governor Cooper’s recommended budget and their specific funding needs.
So far, nearly 350 bills have been filed in the Senate and 440 bills have been filed in the House. The Senate bill filing deadline is a little over a week away, so next week is expected to see even more legislation introduced.
The following 7 bills have become law this session:
Senate UNC Board of Governors Selection
The Senate made its selection for the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors this week. The board is the governing body for the State’s 17 public universities. The selection process was met with controversy as Democrats felt left out, since the election was done with a slate process that limited input on individual candidates. The following candidates were selected: Darrell Allison, Martin Holton, Anna Spangler Nelson, and Temple Sloan.
House UNC Board of Governors Selection
The House also appointed members to the University System Board of Governors this week, and faced similar opposition to the process. Democrats objected to having to vote on candidates as a group and not individually. The General Assembly has taken steps to shrink the size of the board, which many have seen as an effort to shift the board makeup in a more conservative direction.
Ag Day and 2019 Farm Act
The legislature celebrated the State’s largest industry with Agriculture Day this Wednesday. Farmers from across the state gathered in Raleigh to hear from Governor Cooper, Ag Commissioner Troxler, and numerous other elected officials on the importance of agriculture and agribusiness. The day also coincided with the filing of the State’s annual Farm Act. The largest section of this year’s farm act deals with growing hemp, and establishes a new regulatory framework for the crop in response to relaxed federal law changes. In a press conference, bill sponsor Sen. Brent Jackson said "Hemp production can be a new boom industry for North Carolina farmers.” The bill also deals with sweet potato marketing, agritourism, and utility easements.
Competing House School Construction Bills
House budget writers Dean Arp and Jason Saine filed a bill this week to set up a pay-as-you-go funding mechanism for school construction. This approach is in competition with a plan proposed by Speaker Moore to pass a bond to fund school buildings. The bill would dedicate a stream of existing state revenue to the school construction fund. The Senate has taken up a similar proposal, while the Governor included a bond in his recommended budget.
NC DOT Raises
Lawmakers included a provision in last year’s budget to address salaries that are below market rate at the Department of Transportation by allowing the Department to use a higher percentage of their budget on pay raises. The provision allowed them to use 2% of funding for raises, however, legislators claim they only intended for that to be 2% of state appropriations, and not include highway dollars. The Department interpreted the law to include highway dollars, which allowed them to access 2% of roughly $3.75 billion. The Department has scheduled raises that are in some cases as high as 65%. Legislators have indicated that since most raises have not gone into effect yet, they could readdress this in the budget this year.
House Bill 287 – Repeal Joint and Several Liability
House Bill 287, filed by Rep. Lee Zachary, would repeal the State’s joint and several liability statutes. Rep. Zachary claims that the statutes are not needed and have not been used since the 1960’s. He argues that the Rules of Civil Procedure govern settlements, however, others have claimed that the law will be ambiguous on the matter if the statutes are repealed.
East Carolina University Chancellor Resignation
ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton announced his resignation this week. Staton has led the university for nearly 3 years, and will stay on until June 30th as an advisor to the interim chancellor. Staton said that he was proud of his successful efforts to recruit a new athletic director, football coach, and basketball coach, and to increase financial aid to students. Staton had previously served in the Georgia State Senate.