The legislature, which has been in a quiet special session since January, took action on several items in the latter portion of this week. The Senate has wrapped up their work for the special session, adopting an adjournment resolution this afternoon. Work will continue in the House next week, with votes expected on Tuesday. Earlier this week, the US Supreme Court weighed in on the state legislative districts drawn by a Special Master, and approved by a lower court, and filing for 2018 elections begins Monday.

Special Session At-A-Glance

After several quiet weeks at the General Assembly, legislators had a busy week with votes on Wednesday, Thursday and today. Here’s a quick look at what they considered:

  • The Senate released their substitute to HB 189: Water Safety Act , initially titled “Short-Term Response to Emerging Contaminants” on Wednesday. The bill was approved by the Senate and now heads back to the House for concurrence.
  • Yesterday, a conference report to HB 90: Changes to Education and Election Laws was released, the report was approved by the Senate today and now heads to the House.
  • Senators approved SJR 684: Confirm Retirement System BOT , which confirmed four of Governor Cooper’s nominations to the Board of Trustees of the NC Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement System. One nominee was removed from the bill when he could not appear before the Senate committee, but was later confirmed by a separate bill .
  • The legislature planned to hold a joint session today to consider the Governor’s nominees to the State Board of Education, but could not, as at least one of the nominees has not yet filed their economic interest statement, and the joint session was cancelled.
  • Both chambers honored the NC A&T State University football team on Thursday. The team was undefeated in the 2017 season and won the Historically Black Colleges and Universities championship for the fourth time.

Education & Elections Conference Report Released

On Thursday, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees met jointly to review the conference report to HB 90. The conferees presented the main elements of the bill, which was formerly titled “NC Truth in Education.” The Senate voted 37-5 today to approve the report.

What’s in the Conference Report?

  • Require funds from the January 2018 Memorandum of Understanding between Governor Roy Cooper and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) be directed to the school districts located in counties impacted by the ACP.
  • Delay class-size requirements for kindergarten through third grade classrooms by an additional school year, and phase in requirements over a four-year period.
  • Provide $61 million per year to help school districts pay for art, music and physical education teachers.
  • Allow special needs students who are enrolled part time in a public school and part time in a nonpublic school that provides services for students with disabilities to participate in the state’s Personal Education Saving Account program, which was enacted by the legislature in 2017.
  • Add nearly 3,000 slots to NC PreK.
  • Amend a state law that combined the State Board of Elections and State Board of Ethics, which was overturned by the NC Supreme Court last week. The bill seeks to remedy the objections of the Court by revising the nomination process and adding an ninth, unaffiliated member to the Board.

What’s Next?

HB 90 must be approved by the House before heading to the Governor, who will have 30 days, if the legislature remains in session, or 10 if they adjourn, to sign or veto the bill, otherwise the bill will go into effect without his signature.

Senate Releases GenX Proposal

Shortly after the House passed their version of HB 189, which aims to be a first step legislative response to GenX, the Senate announced that they did not support the bill. Then, this week, the bill resurfaced as a “proposed committee substitute” (PCS) in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources.

How Do the House and Senate Version’s Compare?

The House version of HB 189 would:

  • Require the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to study the state’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting program in order to ensure that the requirements of the program sufficiently protect public health, safety and welfare.
  • Direct the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to consult with the Secretaries’ Science Advisory Board in the development of health goals for contaminants.
  • Require DEQ to study certain reporting and notice requirements for wastewater discharge.
  • Require the School of Government at the University of NC at Chapel Hill to study the extent to which public and private water utilities may be held civilly liable for distribution of drinking water contaminated by a pollutant.
  • Provide $1.3 million to DEQ to address permitting backlogs and, purchase a mass spectrometer, and hire scientists to support air and water sampling.

The Senate version of the bill would:

  • Direct DHHS to consult with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the NC Policy Collabratory at the University of Chapel Hill on the Department’s process for the establishment of health goals.
  • Direct DEQ to review its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting program, including examining the existing process for developing standards or limitations for emerging contaminants.
  • Directs the state to use the mass spectrometers available at the University of North Carolina system for air and water sample analysis should the EPA stop providing these services to the state for free.
  • Provides $2.4 million to DEQ for the implementation of the bill, including allowing up to $813,000 to be used to fund time-limited positions and operational support for the collection of water and air quality samples and to address permitting backlogs.

Both versions of the bill would direct DEQ to coordinate with and share water quality data with the appropriate environmental regulatory agencies in Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

What Does That Mean?

In short, the House version of the bill gave authority primarily to DEQ and the Secretaries Science Advisory Board; the Senate version shifts power instead to the University System and the federal government. The Senate proposal also removes a key provision of the House version, which would have given DEQ money to purchase equipment to evaluate water quality samples in-house.

What’s the Status of HB 189?

The bill passed the Senate today with a vote of 27-13 and now heads back to the House for a vote of concurrence. If the House votes not to concur on the changes, a conference committee will be created, but if they approve of the changes, it will head to the Governor.

Interim Committee Tackle a Number of Issues

Before the special session ramped up, a number of legislative oversight and interim committees held meetings.

Education Oversight Committee Hears Presentations on Advancing Student Achievement

The Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee met on Tuesday to hear presentations from programs that aim to increase student achievement. First, President and CEO of Schools that Lead Diesel Wallace spoke to the committee about the organizations principal and teacher development initiatives. The committee also received a presentation from ENC STEM Co-Director Dale Hammer. ENC STEM provides STEM learning opportunities to students in give counties in eastern NC. Hammer emphasized the long term successes of its program, which receives state funds, including greater success in college programs.

Energy Policy Committee Discusses Alternative Energy Sources

On Tuesday, the Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy met to receive a number of presentations, including presentation on alternative energy sources. Executive Director of the National Hydropower Association Linda Church Ciocci overviewed the potential for hydropower in NC, as well as some challenges the industry faces and recommendations to support hydro-electric growth. The committee also received a presentation from Utilization Forester for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services NC Forest Service Clay Altizer on the potential market for timber and wood pellets as energy sources.

House Committee Discusses Alternate Funding Models for Transportation Infrastructure

The House Select Committee on Strategic Transportation Planning and Long Term Funding Solutions met on Tuesday to discuss potential funding models for alternative transportation infrastructure. The committee received a number of presentations, including an overview of future transportation revenue options from Reason Foundation Vice President of Policy Adrian Moore. Moore focused on the implementation of mileage based user fees as a potential replacement for the gas tax. As transportation becomes more autonomous, electrified and shared, gas tax revenue will decline, which the current US system relies heavily on the fund transportation infrastructure.

General Government Oversight Committee

The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on General Government met on Tuesday to receive a number of presentations on state government operations. First, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Secretary Larry Hall presented the committee his Department’s recommendations to the General Assembly based on a report that directed DMVA to study potential methods for documenting, collecting, and analyzing the outcomes for individual military veterans and their families in NC. Sec. Hall was followed by NC Military Affairs Commission member Colonel Frank Bottoroff, who presented the Commission’s annual report for 2017.

Joint Committee Receives Overview of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in NC

The Legislative Research Commission on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) held their first meeting on Tuesday, where they received several presentations overviewing the IDD population in NC. The committee is charged to study and recommend changing in policy regarding the quality and availability of evidence-based services to support individuals with ISS in retaining employment.

Supreme Court Weighs in on Redistricting

On Tuesday, the US Supreme Court issued a partial stay to block a portion of the legislative redistricting plans drawn by a lower federal court and Special Master, while the justices consider whether to hear an appeal of the case.

What Does That Mean?

While most of the House map and the entirety of the Senate map stand, and will be used in the 2018 elections, the justices blocked the redrawn districts in the House plans for Wake and Mecklenburg counties. This means that the districts drawn by the legislature for those counties will stand in 2018. Filing for the 2018 elections begins on Monday.

A Look Ahead to Next Week

Monday, February 12, 2018

10:00 AM Legislative Research Committee to Study Rates and Transfers/ Public Enterprises

1:00 PM Joint Legislative Committee on Health and Human Services, Subcommittee on Aging

1:00 PM Joint Legislative Committee on Health and Human Services, Subcommittee on Graduate Medical Education

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

9:00 AM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services

10:00 AM Child Fatality Task Force, Unintentional Death Prevention Committee

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

1:00 PM Environmental Review Commission

Thursday, February 15, 2018

9:00 AM Joint Legislative Emergency Management Oversight Committee

10:00 AM Legislative Research Committee on Private Process Servers

10:00 AM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on the North Carolina State Lottery

1:00 PM House Select Committee on Implementation of Building Code Regulatory Reform

1:00 PM Legislative Research Committee on Access to Healthcare in Rural North Carolina

1:00 PM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety