It was a busy week for members of the North Carolina General Assembly, packed full of 8:30AM committee meetings and 3-hour long floor sessions. It was also an important week for legislators as they finally unveiled the House and Senate’s compromise of the state’s budget proposal, moved forward with a wide range of bills that have long awaited their day in committee, and received a ruling from the Supreme Court on the state’s gerrymandering case.
Thursday morning, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision, that political, partisan gerrymandering goes beyond the reach of the federal court. State republican legislators drew the 13 seats for the U.S. House of Representative’s election in such a way that would help elect, or reelect, other Republican candidates. While the Supreme Court may have ruled on one of North Carolina’s most high-profile cases, there are still several cases moving through lower courts on issues of gerrymandering throughout the state that have yet to receive decisions.
House members will take the full week off next week to reconvene again on Monday, July 8. The Senate will meet on Monday and Tuesday of next week before breaking for the rest of the week.
After weeks of negotiations and late-night discussions, the conference report for HB 966: 2019 Appropriations Act, was finally unveiled by House and Senate leadership earlier this week. The final budget report release was delayed due to last minute efforts of Republican legislative leadership to negotiate with Governor Roy Cooper in hopes of avoiding a looming, and likely, veto. Gov. Cooper made it clear to members of the General Assembly since the beginning of this year’s long session that his top priority would be Medicaid expansion. Without Medicaid expansion being included in either the House or Senate’s proposed budgets, or the final conference budget report, many believe it signals an automatic veto. Medicaid expansion and access to healthcare took up a great deal of time during both the Senate and the House’s floor debates on Wednesday and Thursday. Largely, Republicans in both chambers, argued that this is a good budget and resembles compromise on all fronts, providing the funding needed for innovation and improvement throughout North Carolina. On the other side of the aisle, members argued that this budget does not do enough for all North Carolinians, including providing them with adequate, affordable healthcare, which some say could be accomplished through Medicaid expansion. Many Democrats also spoke to the process of creating the budget proposal, feeling as though they were left out of the negotiations and never able to offer their own input.
Some of the highlights from the $24 billion state budget conference report include:
- 2.5% salary increase for most state employees, resulting in a 5% increase over the course of the 2-year biennium.
- $70 million will go towards the implementation of Raise the Age programs.
- Provides $4.4 billion for K-12 school construction projects over the course of the next 10 years.
- $15 million will go towards the GREAT Act grants that will help bring broadband access to more rural parts of the state.
- Restores the funding for Vident Medical Center and fully refunds the money needed for the ECU Brody School of Medicine.
- Funds to be used to move the Department of Health and Human Services from Raleigh to Granville County.
- A provision that encourages the Governor to call a special session in the fall to discuss issues surrounding healthcare, including the possibility of Medicaid expansion.
The House passed the final version of the budget proposal during their session Thursday afternoon in a party line vote of 64-48. Similarly, the Senate also passed the conference report through Thursday afternoon in a 33-15 vote, gaining the votes of four Democratic members. Sen. Ben Clark (D- Hoke), Sen. Don Davis (D- Pitt), Sen. Toby Fitch (D-Edgecombe), and Sen. Floyd McKissick (D- Durham) all voted in favor of the budget. The conference report for the budget proposal is now sitting on Gov. Cooper’s desk.
Members of the House committee on Finance weighed in on a wide range of alcohol regulation provisions on Thursday. HB 536: ABC Omnibus Regulatory Reform was presented to the committee with several changes since the original bill was introduced. Rep. McGrady (R- Henderson), one of the bill’s primary sponsors, reassured the committee that this version of the bill was a true compromise, taking into account many of the concerns expressed by other members previously. The new version of the bill removed provisions that would allow for local-option Sunday sales for ABC stores and the sale of alcohol at college stadiums, which was signed into law earlier in the week by Governor Cooper. Provisions that would allow for alcohol sales on ferries and trains and another that would allow distilleries to ship to consumers out of state were also removed from the bill.
Several members of the committee expressed concerns that the bill would allow for too much too fast, and that supporting the bill would take the state down a path with alcohol in more places than the general public would like to see. Ultimately, the bill passed through committee in a 12-9 vote. The bill will now make its way to the House Rules committee.
Ride Sharing Regulations
A bill that would put in place new safety measures on ride-sharing services in North Carolina is now before the Senate after a unanimous vote through the House on Thursday. HB 391: Passenger Protection Act would require Transportation Network Company (TNC) drivers, such as Uber and Lyft, to have a sign in the front window of the vehicle that displays the driver’s license plate number whenever they are using the platform so passengers are able to see it and match it with the plate number provided to them within the company’s app.
The bill establishes a commission that will study passenger safety when it comes to TNC services. The commission will be made up of 11 members – both the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House will appoint five members to the commission, each having to include one member from the industry and one member of law enforcement. The final member of the commission will be the Secretary of Transportation or someone of their designation.
There is also an education piece of the bill that will help fund educational programs on university and community college campuses in order to raise awareness and inform students on how to safely use the popular ride sharing services.