It has been 19 days since the start of the new fiscal year and 21 days since Governor Roy Cooper vetoed state lawmakers' compromise budget proposal, but HB 966: 2019 Appropriations Act has yet to see any further action. The long session has lived up to its name as there is still no end in sight for the budget stalemate. Meanwhile, the Senate is trying to wrap things up in hopes of heading home next week until the end of August. House leadership plans to stick it out, moving forward with bills that tackle both Democrats' and Republicans' priority policy issues, including education and hemp production.
The House and the Senate will reconvene on Monday, July 22 at 7:00PM, both for voting sessions.
A bill that will make a variety of changes to North Carolina's alcohol regulations made it through the legislature early this week and is currently sitting on Governor Roy Cooper's desk awaiting his signature. SB 290: ABC Regulatory Reform Bill passed through the Senate in a 31-10 vote after receiving a multitude of changes as it made its way through the House. SB 290 will allow for ABC stores to hold liquor tastings, but with some restrictions that were not part of the original proposal. Liquor tastings will be allowed but cannot last longer than three hours and must be held between 1:00 and 7:00PM, with a limit of three tastings per week per store. The bill restricts the creation of new ABC boards and puts in place a limit on the number of alcoholic drinks an individual can buy at one time. A person can purchase up to two drinks, if they are beer or wine, and only one drink at a time when purchasing mixed and liquor beverages. What did not make it into the final version of the bill? A local-option Sunday sales provision for ABC stores. The provision would have created a local option to allow ABC stores to be open for business on Sundays, but was taken out as the bill traveled through the House, becoming one of the most highly debated components of the bill, aside from which House member is able to carry the most drinks at one time.
Unwavering debate over North Carolina's annual farm bill continued this week as SB 315: North Carolina Farm Act of 2019 was heard for the second time in the House Finance committee after running out of time last week. Passionate pleas from the public and members on both sides of the issue culminated in a 16-11 vote, sending the bill on its way to the House Judiciary committee. Bill sponsor Sen. Brent Jackson (R-Sampson) has openly been opposed to several of the changes the House is trying to make.
The original version of the bill included a ban on smokable hemp beginning December 1, 2020. Now, the House has moved up the effective date to December 1, 2019. The latest version of the bill also includes smokable hemp in the state's definition of marijuana, even though it is not included in the federal definition. Several members raised concerns Wednesday that this will subject the state to a series of timely and costly lawsuits.
Supporters of the House effective date, such as Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R-Duplin), who is running the bill, argue that allowing smokable hemp would be the de facto legalization of marijuana, something he made very clear to the Finance committee he would not be able to support. Rep. Dixon has relentlessly opposed changing any of the language back to the Senate version.
Law enforcement groups agree with Rep. Dixon, that allowing smokable hemp to be legal will prevent them from being able to enforce the state's marijuana laws because hemp looks and smells just like marijuana. Currently, there is no field test that officers can use to detect THC levels, which is what separates the substances from one another. Officers are worried they will lose their ability to search an individual or their property for illegal drug use. Law enforcement argued that if an individual claims that what they are smoking is hemp, the officers will not have probable cause for a search.
Hemp farmers fear that the smokable hemp ban would cause them to lose the thousands of dollars they have already invested in growing the plant. Farmers across the state have expressed their concerns that moving forward with the bill will cause them to miss out on what is becoming an extremely popular and profitable industry throughout the country.
While hemp has dominated the coverage and the discussion of the Farm Act, the bill would also add hunting, fishing, shooting sports, and equestrian activities to the definition of agritourism. The bill directs the Environmental Review Commission (ERC) to study solar panel disposal and recycling, and would give the Soil and Water Conservation Commission the ability to keep additional records confidential.
Certificate of Need
An effort to amend North Carolina's Certificate of Need laws (CON) appeared before the Senate committee on Health Care once again Monday afternoon. HB 126: Amend Certificate of Need Laws has prompted a great deal of debate among both House and Senate members. The bill raises the dollar thresholds for diagnostic centers, major medical equipment, and capital expenditures that require a Certificate of Need beginning January 1 of 2020. Home health agencies, chemical dependency treatment facilities, psychiatric facilities, and ambulatory surgical facilities moving from single specialty to multispecialty would be removed from the CON review process 18 months after the bill becomes law. The bill gives counties with at least 300,000 people three years to remove kidney dialysis treatment centers from CON review.
Several members in committee this week, both Health Care and Rules, argued that amending the state's CON laws is a good idea, but the current version of the bill is too watered down at this point, including Rep. Rick Horner (R-Johnston). Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) stressed that simply amending CON laws does not go far enough, advocating for a full repeal. Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Davie), who has been handling the bill in the Senate, has consistently stood by the changes that have been made throughout the committee process as a compromise and step in the right direction. The bill now awaits the chamber's next floor vote session, scheduled for Monday evening.