Before the General Assembly convened May 18 for the start of the short session, legislative leaders pledged that this summer would be a true short session. This week, leadership indicated that they are still committed to that plan. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) told reporters Tuesday that he is still anticipating that the legislature will conclude session by July 1. Sen. Berger said he hopes the House and Senate can reach a budget agreement within the next 10 days. Sen. Berger also said that lawmakers see some common ground with Democratic Governor Roy Cooper's budget proposal, but that he still wants to get the legislature's position on issues like tax relief, Medicaid expansion, and state employee salary raises "locked down" before beginning negotiations with the Governor.
Still adapting to the changes forced by the coronavirus pandemic, this week the General Assembly moved forward with several bills that would provide more flexibility to educators and students.
Senate Bill 671: Virtual Educ./Remote Acad./Virtual Charters would allow for public school units to create virtual public, private, and charter schools in North Carolina going forward. The bill would set standard requirements for schools in North Carolina that are looking to establish remote academies and would require the State Board of Education to approve all remote academy applications. The State Board of Education would also be required to evaluate the success of these remote academies to ensure that the standards outlined in the bill are followed by each public school unit.
The bill takes into consideration schools that have already taken the step toward virtual education by allowing those schools' existing remote academy plans to be grandfathered with the new requirements not taking effect until schools have had time to revise those plans. SB 671 would also end North Carolina’s virtual charter school pilot program and would allow the two virtual charter schools participating in the pilot program to be approved as fully operational charter schools in the state. SB 671 passed the House on Thursday, and now goes to the Senate.
Additionally, the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations provided a favorable report to House Bill 159: Education Law Changes. The legislation would tighten restrictions on vending machine items in schools to align more closely with federal standards and provide healthier options to school children. The bill also includes a handful of other technical changes that were agreed upon on a bipartisan basis.
Lastly, two Senate committees, Higher Education and Rules and Operations, provided favorable reports to House Bill 79: Clarify HS Insurance. This bill would allow high schools purchasing catastrophic injury insurance for student athletes to purchase plans along with normal insurance in one plan, either privately or through the Commissioner of Insurance. This bill builds on Session Law 2021-184, that passed the legislature and was signed by the Governor in 2021, which allowed high schools to purchase catastrophic insurance coverage for student athletes through the Commissioner of Insurance instead of through the North Carolina High School Athletics Association.
For the past eight legislative sessions, according to Representative Mark Brody (R-Union), the legislature has considered omnibus-style bills that affect various parts of the homebuilding and construction industry. These bills address certain state and local regulatory issues that developers and builders encounter during the preceding year. This week, the House passed Senate Bill 372: Electrical Lic./Bldg. Code/Dev. Reform 2022, which affects electrical contracting licenses, wastewater treatment, building code rules, and local inspection departments. The bill would make several regulatory changes, including:
- Capping the total number of hours of experience required to get an electrical contracting license.
- Reducing the timeframe for when a treated wastewater system has to file a performance bond with the Department of Environmental Quality.
- Loosening the requirement for a local health department to conduct a grouting inspection for a private water well if the well contractor provides certification that the grouting complies with State law.
- Requiring local governments to designate an individual to oversee the enforcement of planning and development inspections. Additionally, local governments would be required to publish annual financial reports on how it used fees assessed from development and building maintenance permitting fees.
- Defining “home inspection” as an inspection that does not result in any damage to a home’s component or system.
- Amending the State building Fire Code to reduce the amount of roads required for fire trucks in residential developments where there are fewer than 100 dwelling units.
SB372 passed the House on Thursday, and will now return to the Senate for concurrence.
North Carolina moved one step closer to legalizing medical marijuana this week as the House took up Senate Bill 448: An Act to Amend Section VI of the Controlled Substance Act. The bill has now been approved by both the Senate and House and will be sent to Governor Roy Cooper (D) for his signature or veto.
The bill explicitly mandates prescription marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinols (marijuana byproduct) no longer be on the controlled substance list in North Carolina. Working in conjunction with Senate Bill 711: The North Carolina Compassionate Care Act, the two bills will allow for licensed care providers to write prescriptions to their patients for medical marijuana and allow pharmacies to fill prescriptions without legal disruption. The legislation also marks a shift in North Carolina law to more compliance with Federal controlled substance laws that are reviewed and disclosed by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Bill allows any substance tested and de-scheduled by the FDA to automatically become a de-scheduled substance in North Carolina, unless The Commission for Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services objects.
The Commission will ultimately get the final say in what becomes de-scheduled in North Carolina. The bill mandates that the Commission comply with two requirements before it can de-schedule a substance. First, it must find the substance to have a medical use accepted by current medical practice. Second, the substance must have a low potential of threatening public health or of a user developing a psychological dependence.
The bill was not supported unanimously. Representative Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus) expressed his concerns on how this might be a steppingstone for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in North Carolina and proposed an amendment that would explicitly state the bill will not legalize marijuana. The amendment was not adopted and the House passed SB 448 by a final 92 to 9 vote.