Lawmakers continued to move legislation this week, however the House has yet to attempt to override Governor Cooper’s veto of the budget. House Speaker Tim Moore said that they are waiting until the time is right, and wants everyone to have time to consider their position before voting on the override. House Republicans are trying to convince a handful of Democrats to break ranks and vote with them on the override, and cite increased funding in specific legislators’ districts as reasons for them to support the override. Various locations for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) have even been shopped around. The House has not given a date for when the override vote will take place.
The Senate stayed in town until Tuesday, while they waited for the House to attempt to override the budget veto. Senate leadership announced that they will return to Raleigh next week for session on Monday and Tuesday, and then will return the following Monday and Tuesday, with plans to leave town after. The Senate has also indicated that they could go home for the year with only passing a few spending provisions and leaving last year’s budget in place.
Temporary Spending Bill
The House passed a stopgap funding bill this week to fill in a few areas in the state budget while the legislature figures out its next step in light of the budget veto. Since a new budget has not been enacted by the July first deadline, last year’s budget remains in place with recurring dollars continuing, however, no non-recurring money can be spent. House Bill 111 appropriates money for school enrolment, higher education tuition, NC FAST, behavioral health, and disaster relief. Legislators are pushing the bill to make sure that federal matching dollars are not jeopardized, and projects that are underway are not halted. The bill passed the House unanimously and Senate leadership has indicated their support for a stopgap bill.
House Medicaid Expansion Proposal
Healthcare leaders in the House advanced their version of Medicaid expansion this week with the NC Health Care for Working Families Act. The bill seeks to provide healthcare insurance to nearly 300,000 of the 1,083,000 uninsured citizens in the State. To be eligible for coverage under the bill, individuals must be between 19 and 64 years old, have an income that does not exceed 133% of the federal poverty level, and be ineligible for Medicare or Medicaid. Program enrollees will be required to pay 2% of their income in the form of a monthly premium, as well as participate in wellness and preventative care activities. The program is funded with federal dollars, gross premiums tax revenue, and additional hospital assessments. The bill is meant to be a compromise on the traditional Medicaid expansion plan that Governor Cooper and legislative Democrats have been pushing. The bill passed through the committee process quickly, but was then pulled from the floor calendar. Speaker Moore indicated that the bill will only receive a floor vote once they receive a commitment from Democrats to vote to override Governor Cooper’s budget veto. This drew criticism as some saw this as holding the bill hostage. Governor Cooper was quick to point out that the bill only passing the House does not mean that Medicaid expansion happens. Senate leadership has already indicated that they will not pass the bill if it makes it out of the House.
The House Finance Committee heard the 2019 NC Farm Act this week, but, due to the bill’s controversial hemp section, the committee adjourned without taking a vote. Federal law changes last year have opened the door for states to legalize hemp production and hemp derived products. Senator Brent Jackson, the bill sponsor, is advocating for allowing smokable hemp products. However, Representative Jimmy Dixon, the House agriculture leader, firmly opposes allowing smokable hemp, while supporting its other uses. Advocates for smokable hemp say that it is a vital revenue stream for hemp growers and that farmers will struggle to make the industry profitable without it. Opponents of smokable hemp call it a backdoor path to marijuana legalization and say that it will make the law hard to enforce. Prosecutors and law enforcement groups worry that since hemp looks and smells similar to marijuana, it will prevent them from having probable cause when enforcing other laws. They claim that the smell of marijuana is a common way to obtain probable cause, and this bill will take that away.
The House Finance Committee had been expected to take a vote on the bill, but after a heated exchange of words between members, Chairman Szoka chose to adjourn the meeting. While the Farm Act largely deals with hemp regulations, it also includes provisions relating to a wide variety of issues, ranging from utility easements, animal waste odor rules, sweet potato promotion, present use tax valuation, swine permits, and public records disclosure.