New legislation continued to be filed this week with the Senate’s bill filing deadline approaching on Tuesday, April 2nd. The House has a few weeks longer, with their bill filing deadline on Tuesday, April 23rd. Once both deadlines have passed, legislators will push to have their bills meet the May 9th crossover deadline, in which bills must move to the opposite chamber to be eligible for consideration.
The Senate announced their health care proposals for the session with a four pronged bill aimed at expanding access to care. They also took up a bill to eliminate university tuition surcharges and passed a bill to ban the practice of female genital mutilation. The House took up measures to readdress how schools are graded, as well as a bill to reduce the number of state-mandated tests.
A controversial ban on wind energy construction re-emerged this week with Senator Harry Brown indicating that he intends to extend the ban after a report showed that wind energy installations could potentially threaten some military installations. The original ban was controversial among renewable energy advocates and many House members.
The House announced their budget schedule for the session, and plan to have their proposal released by the end of April. Once the House passes their version of the budget, the Senate will officially start their budget process. The two chambers will work out the differences between the budgets in conference, however, unlike the last few budgets, they will have to contend with the governor now that neither chamber has veto proof majorities.
The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) has announced that they plan to hold another teacher rally in Raleigh this year on May 1st. The NCAE held a rally last year that brought over 19,000 people to Raleigh. The rally drew criticism as it resulted in school closures and over 1 million children missing school. State Superintendent Mark Johnson is opposing this year’s rally, citing concerns over school closure.
2019 Session Laws
The following 8 bills have become law this session:
Bill To Require Sheriffs to Cooperate with ICE
The House is advancing legislation to require sheriffs to participate in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) 287(g) program. Under the program, local law enforcement offices hold suspected illegal immigrants and report their legal status to ICE. Several sheriffs recently withdrew from the program, including Buncombe, Durham, Mecklenburg, and Wake Counties. Bill sponsor Destin Hall claims that sheriffs have a duty to enforce federal immigration laws, and that his bill ensures they do. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Latino groups oppose the bill, calling it a “show-me-your-papers” law. ICE has stepped up its efforts in North Carolina in response to the withdrawals from the program.
Bill to Delay State Employee Health Plan Changes
The House Health committee took up a bill to delay the State Treasurer’s planned changes to the State Health Plan (SHP). Treasurer Folwell is pursuing a reference-based plan to fix the SHP’s reimbursement rate to a percentage of the Medicare fee schedule, as well as reduce the overall rate. Health care providers have warned that the plan will threaten access to care and will prevent them from expanding services. The State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC) backs the Treasurer’s plan, believing that it will prevent future premium increases. However, bill sponsors believe that the plan will have unintended consequences and their bill forms a study committee to examine alternatives to reduce cost and ensure quality of care. After an amendment to change the study committee’s report deadline from December 31, 2021 to December 31, 2020, the committee approved the bill.
Senate Unveils the Health Care Expansion Act of 2019
Senate health care leaders Senators Krawiec, Bishop, and Hise filed the Health Care Expansion Act of 2019 this week. They claim the bill is aimed at expanding access to care for North Carolinians, and their bill has four parts that do the following:
• PART I: Increases the Innovation Waiver slots by 2000 over 2 years - this is for the Intellectual/Developmental Disability Medicaid Program
• PART II: Repeals Certificate of Need (CON) laws effective January 2020
• PART III: Sets up an interstate psychology compact to allow psychologists from out of state see patients through telemedicine
• PART IV: Allows Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists to conduct first evaluations for involuntary commitments
PART III, which repeals the CON laws, has been pushed by the Senate for the last several years, but has been rejected by the House each time. Some have claimed that the bill pits the disabled against Medicaid expansion. Bill sponsors said that they believe in assisting the disabled and those who cannot help themselves before assisting able-bodied individuals through Medicaid expansion.
The United States Supreme Court heard arguments this week over North Carolina’s congressional maps. Plaintiffs want the Court to establish a standard for partisan gerrymandering, similarly to what has been done for racial gerrymandering. The plaintiffs claim that citizens’ First Amendment right to free political expression is violated by what they call illegally-drawn congressional maps. They argued that the voters are unable to correct the injustice themselves, and that the Court should step in. This issue stems back to 2016, when the State’s congressional maps were invalidated on the basis of racial gerrymandering. Legislators were ordered to redraw the maps, and did so without using racial data, but instead relying on political data. This resulted in a partisan advantage of 10 Republican districts and 3 Democrat districts. State redistricting leaders, Representative David Lewis and Senator Ralph Hise, argue that the Supreme Court has upheld partisan gerrymandering in the past and that the current maps are legal. The Court is not expected to reach a decision for several months.
Representatives Elmore, K. Hall, Bell, and Conrad have sponsored a bill to reduce the number of tests that students take. House Bill 377 would eliminate state-mandated End of Grade (EOG) testing, and replace them with 3 shorter tests throughout the year or semester, along with doing away with other tests all together. The bill is aimed at allowing more instructional time, and alleviating high-anxiety tests that solely determine students’ outcome. These test were formerly mandated by the federal government with the now expired Race to the Top grant. The bill also prohibits mandatory graduation projects and prevents local school systems from instituting tests that are not required by federal or state law.