This week, the General Assembly was abuzz as legislators held a number of legislative oversight meetings. Issues discussed included education finance reform, judicial redistricting and addressing a nursing shortage in state prisons.

Publication of the NCGA Week in Review will pause until after the new year. The team at McGuireWoods Consulting wishes you and your family a very happy holiday season!

Legislative Oversight Committees Meet

Agriculture, Natural & Economic Resources Oversight

On Tuesday, the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources held their first meeting of the interim.

The committee first heard a review of the federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to implement conservation practices on their land, from US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Assistant State Conservationist Greg Walker. Walker reviewed the eligibility criteria considered by the USDA when awarding EQIP funds. In 2017, $20.4 million of EQIP funds were distributed in NC. Walker was followed by Deputy Director of Soil and Water Conservation with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) David Williams who presented to the committee on state coordination with the EQIP program.

The committee then heard an update from Assistant Secretary for the Environment with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Sheila Holman on DEQ’s efforts to implement budget reductions directed by the 2017 Appropriations Act. Holman reported that DEQ needs to identify an additional $65,140 in savings to meet the required $828,114 reduction in the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Finally, Executive Director of the NC Arts Council Wayne Martin presented to the committee on a grant program included in the 2017 Appropriations Act that provides funds to support art projects serving NC military service four projects that were selected in the first round of funding as well as the grant guidelines.

To view all documents from Tuesday’s meeting, follow this link.

Building Code Reform

The House Select Committee on Implementation of Building Code Regulatory Reform held their first meeting on Wednesday. Committee Chair Rep. Mark Brody opened the committee by noting “gross inconsistencies in building code across the state.” The committee will study three existing state laws:

Capital Improvements Oversight

While meeting on Wednesday, the Joint Legislative Oversight Commitee on Capital Improvements received updates on the implementation of the Connect NC Bond from the NC Community College System and NC State Parks. Director of the Division of Parks and Recreation Mike Murphy reported that the $75 million the Division received from the Bond will fund 45 projects across the state. Then Community College System Vice President Elizabeth Grovenstein presented an overview of the 200 projects that have been approved by the State Board of Community Colleges.

Education Finance Reform

The Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform met on Thursday to hear two presentations from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

DPI Chief Financial Officer Adam Levinson presented an overview of public education finance in NC and responded to findings from a 2016 Program Evaluation Division study of NC’s education funding model. Levinson then suggested that the committee perform further review of the Exceptional Children’s allotment and funding for charter schools and identify what the General Assembly’s principles are for an updated finance system.

The committee then heard from DPI Director of School Business Alexis Schauss who reviewed DPI’s school business processes, including the cycle of state funds, data and controls and state budget and allotments.

Elections Oversight

The Joint Legislative Elections Oversight Committee held their first meeting of the interim today where they heard a presentation on the 2017 municipal elections from Executive Director of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement Kim Strach. According to Stratch, because the turnover in municipal is lower, they highlight the importance of post-election audits. 109 contests in NC’s 2017 municipal elections were decided by ten votes or fewer. She recommended adjusting the election schedule for 2019 to elongate the time period for counties to ensure an accurate election, and provide a mechanism for mandatory recounts of municipal elections decided by one vote.

The committee also heard from Legislative Analysis Division staff, Kara McCraw and Jessica Sammons, who overviewed the implementation of SB 656: Electoral Freedom Act of 2017 and possible legal issues with the law. SB 656 changed the definition of a political party to reduce the number of signatures needed for the formation of a new political party.

Emergency Management Oversight

Yesterday, the Joint Legislative Emergency Management Committee held their third meeting of the interim.

DPS State Capitol Police Division Chief Glen Allen presented to the committee on security at the General Assembly and other state capitol facilities. NCGA Police Chief Martin Brock followed Chief Allen with an overview of security at the legislature, including an overview of emergency notification procedures.

Additionally, Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram reviewed Brunswick County’s Citizens Academy, which educates citizens on law procedures, and volunteer programs.

Environmental Review Commission

On Wednesday, the Environmental Review Commission held their second meeting of the interim to discuss the solid waste disposal tax.

The committee received a presentation from DEQ Division of Waste Management Director Michael Scott. Proceeds from the $2/ ton tax are allocated to the Inactive Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund (50% of proceeds), to cities and counties that provide solid waste management programs and services on a per-capita basis (37.5%) and to the General Fund (12.5%). Scott then overviewed the Inactive Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund, which provides remediation dollars to cleanup out of use landfills.

Scott was followed by Harnett County Engineer and Solid Waste Director Amanda Bader who emphasized how Harnett County has benefitted from the tax. Harnett County receives a disbursement of $75,000-80,000 annually, which has allowed the county to purchase new equipment and make facility upgrades.

Health & Human Services Oversight

The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services met on Tuesday to hear updates from DHHS.

First, NC Families Accessing Services Through Technology (NCFAST) Director Angela Taylor provided the committee with an update on NCFAST implementation, which began to rollout in 2013. According to her presentation, there are 6,500 NCFAST users daily in all 100 counties. DHHS Deputy Secretary for Technology & Operations then updated the committee on other IT projects within DHHS.

The committee also a discussion with DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen and Deputy Secretary for Medical Assistance Dave Richard regarding the LME/ MCO Cardinal Innovations, which DHHS took over last month. In their presentation, Secretary Cohen and Richard noted that a new board will be appointed today and DHHS will work with Cardinal to develop a “detailed corrective action plan” while Cardinal stabilizes.

To view all documents from the committee, follow this link.

Information Technology Oversight

The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Information Technology met yesterday to hear presentations on fraud detection and prevention from the Department of Revenue and the State Treasurer.

First, Department of Revenue Examinations Division Director Alan Woodard spoke to the committee on the Department’s efforts to reduce fraud, including a data analysis partnership with SAS that analyzes state refunds.

Then, Chief Information Officer with the Information Technology Division of the Department of State Treasurer Bill Golden presented to the committee, highlighting data protection efforts.

Judicial Redistricting & Reform

The Senate Select Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting held their third meeting on Wednesday.

The committee first heard from Elon University School of Law Professor Scott Gaylord who presented on judicial selection methods. According to Gaylord, elections legitimize the courts and make judges directly accountable to the voters.

The next item on the committee’s agenda caused some partisan controversy when Gov. Roy Cooper sent recently retired Wake County Superior Court Judge Don Stephens to testify on behalf of the Office of the Governor. Committee Chair Sen. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg) did not allow Stephens to speak on the basis that he is not a paid staff member of the Governor. This move led Democratic committee members Sens. Joel Ford (Mecklenburg), Jay Chaudhuri (Wake) and Floyd McKissick (Durham) to walk out of the committee in protest.

Finally, the committee chairs introduced their District, Prosecutorial and Superior Court redistricting proposals.

Justice & Public Safety

The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety met yesterday.

First, the committee heard from Deputy Secretary of Administration with the Division of Adult and Juvenile Correction Joe Prater, who updated the committee on the Division’s nurse recruitment efforts. Currently, there are 266 vacant registered nurse and licensed practical nurse positions within the Division, 144 of which have been vacant for more than 6 months.

Then, the Executive Director of the Private Protective Services Board and the Alarm Systems Licensing Board, Brian Jones, presented to the committee on private protective services and alarm systems licensing.

Finally, City of Wilmington Fire Chief Buddy Martinette updated the committee on the NC search and rescue program. Martinette compared search and rescue efforts following the Hurricane Floyd in 1999 to efforts in 2016 after Hurricane Matthew. He noted that a partnership between local and state government improved response and saved lives.