The General Assembly kicked things into full gear this week as they dive into this year’s long session. Redistricting and ABC reform, school construction funding, and Medicaid privatization were all topics of conversation for both the House and the Senate.
Meanwhile, Governor Roy Cooper appointed Cheri Beasley as Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, following former Chief Justice Mark Martin’s retirement announcement in January. Beasley will be the first black woman to hold the Chief Justice seat in North Carolina.
Both the House and the Senate will re-convene on Monday, February 18th to start off a packed week of committee meetings for legislators.
On Wednesday, House Democrats and Republicans filed HB69: Nonpartisan Redistricting Commission which would create an 11-member nonpartisan redistricting commission. Lawmakers have filed bills similar to this in the past, but with pending map litigation and change in power dynamics at the legislature, proponents of redistricting reform are hopeful a vote will be taken this session.
The House and Senate are currently responsible for revising and approving General Assembly and congressional districts based on census population data. Majority parties have been able to push through maps favoring their side for generations, fostering more polarized politics. This bill aims to change that.
The proposed commission would be made up of four registered Democrats, four registered Republicans, and three from neither party. Legislative leadership would submit nominees who would then be randomly selected to be on the commission. The commission would not have access to political data when drawing maps. The maps would ultimately be subject to approval by the General Assembly.
This is the fourth consecutive session Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), one of the bills primary sponsors, has proposed redistricting reform in hopes of removing the General Assembly’s control over drawing voting districts. Rep. Hardister, and other bill co-sponsors, are committed to reducing the amount of partisan politics in the redistricting process. This commitment may lead to several more similar bills being filed this session, one of which would add an independent commission to the North Carolina Constitution as a mandatory part of the redistricting process.
The Senate appropriations committee moved forward with their plan to fund school construction and repair Wednesday morning. SB5: Building North Carolina’s Future would use money from the current State Capital and Infrastructure Fund to raise additional funds. The State Capital and Infrastructure Fund is allocated 4 percent of state revenue to help with the state’s debt and to fund capital projects for state government and the UNC school system.
This pay-as-you-go style bill would increase the share of state revenue that goes to this fund to 4.5 percent. The funds would then be split evenly between K-12, UNC, and Community College systems, totaling about $2.03 billion each, over the course of 10 years. Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown (R-Onslow), one of the bill’s primary sponsors, views this bill as a superior alternative to similar bills discussed by House members because it does not tack on new debt and pays for school construction over time as the state generates more money in the State Capital and Infrastructure Fund.
Senate Democrats questioned the superiority of this proposal compared to a House plan that would put a school construction bond bill on the ballot. Sen. Don Davis (D-Pitt) offered a compromise to the committee during debate Wednesday morning. Rather than seeing a bond and the proposed pay-as-you-go plan as alternatives to one another, he suggested a combination of both may be something for the General Assembly to consider. The Senate Rules committee will discuss the bill next week.
A bill from last year is back up for discussion in the Senate. SB11 ABC Regulation and Reform passed through both the Senate Judiciary and Senate Rules committee favorably this week. The bill would increase fines for violating certain ABC laws and prohibit the ABC Commission from granting a permit to a manager of a business who is under 21. The commission would also be allowed to put conditions on operating hours of businesses that have violated ABC laws. Under this proposal, a “private club” would have to be a registered 501(c)3 business. A new “private bar” designation would hold the “private club” definition.
Sen. Andy Wells (R-Catawba), the bill’s primary sponsor, says he is bringing ABC reform back to the table after there were five murders outside of three bars in his district.
North Carolina is going forward with a plan to replace state government as a provider of health coverage for 2.1 million residents. Five health insurers are set to take over the state’s Medicaid health insurance program. However, implementation of what is also called Medicaid managed care, may take longer than expected.
One North Carolina organization not included by state authorities in the $6 billion Medicaid contract plans to appeal the state’s decision that prevents them from participating. Mandy Cohen, DHHS Secretary, said the agency is moving ahead with implementation of the new plan. The appeals process will be handled internally by DHHS, while some disputes have the potential to end up in court, causing months of delays.
The privatized Medicaid plan would pay insurers a flat monthly fee for every person they cover, regardless of the resident’s medical care costs. It will be the insurers’ responsibility to stay within their budget. This plan will replace the state’s current approach, which simply cuts checks to doctors and hospitals for every medical service provided.