This week at the General Assembly was full of the hints that the Honorables were ready to wrap things up without actually wrapping things up.
Critical to predicting 2014 legislative adjournment will be the ability of the House and Senate to compromise on the $21 Billion spending plan, and how to address the Common Core Curriculum in our schools. And there is no harmony there. Yet.
A few notable things happened at break neck speed.....
The House Elections Committee passed a bill to allow dead people to vote. Well, sort of. Earlier this year Republican U.S. Senate Primary Candidate Mark Harris' father cast an early vote by absentee ballot -- legally -- but then passed away before May 6th which was the Primary Election Day. The committee passed HB 1267 - Absentee Ballot/Everette Harris Act http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2013/Bills/House/PDF/H1267v1.pdf. The deceased Mr. Harris' vote was challenged and the House has responded with this bill. This bill would also be important for our absentee voters who are overseas military personnel. It is scheduled for full House consideration on Tuesday.
There is a lot of interest in this one. SB 574 - Statute of Repose http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2013/Bills/Senate/PDF/S574v5.pdf which we blogged on earlier in the week has been ratified and sent to the Governor. This act is a reaction to the Supreme Court decision in CTS Corp v. Waldburger. The bill clarifies that existing law regarding time periods for lawsuits over liability was intended to address products, and it sets a new standard for this environmental contamination. The bill language was amended into a Senate Bill (formerly dealing with bail bonds) in a House committee, passed unanimously on the House floor, sent to the Senate for concurrence, referred to a Senate committee to review the changes, then the full Senate concurred without dissent. The bill was ratified and sent to the Governor. We expect the Governor to sign the bill. [**Note: If the Governor were to veto the bill it would be sent back to the Senate, then House, for an override vote. It would need the votes of 3/5 of the members in each chamber -- which is an easy threshold for a bill with unanimous support so far. If the Senate and House voted to override the act would "become law over the objection of the Governor".] ***We do notexpect a veto but thought we'd slip that civics lesson in... We'll let you know when the Governor signs the bill.
The Senate response to the coal ash pond breach that impacted the Dan River has been swift and strong. SB 729 - Coal Ash Management Act of 2014:http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2013/Bills/Senate/PDF/S729v2.pdf, is aimed at the safe and quick closure of coal ash ponds at electric power generating plants - really at Duke Energy. The 44-page bill establishes a timeline for evaluating, ranking and closing the 33 coal ash ponds in NC and specifies 4 that are the highest risk. It requires that Duke pay a new fee that will generate $1.75 million a year to fund positions at DENR to oversee this process and prohibits Duke from recovering those costs through a rate case. This is all unusual in my years of legislature-watching. The bill will be on the Senate calendar Tuesday.
Common Core Curriculum Standards in Education. The House and Senate are both dissatisfied with Common Core and seek to replace it. The Senate bill creates a commission to evaluate standards and put together the best possible plan for our schools; it may include part of Common Core if that's what their research supports. The Senate bill passed the Senate and was debated in the House Education Committee yesterday. The Senate bill author, Sen. Jerry Tillman, was surprised to see that the contents of his SB 812 had been stripped out and replaced with the House language. The House version also forms a commission but prohibits any part of Common Core being included in new standards. This parliamentary trick was unwelcome by the bill sponsor and may impede ultimate compromise on a bill.
For your interest we've included SB 812 in the form it passed the Senate:http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2013/Bills/Senate/PDF/S812v3.pdf
And the new language for SB 812 which mirrors HB 1061. (We're just using HB 1061 for this comparison. The new senate bill will be available soon):http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2013/Bills/House/PDF/H1061v3.pdf. This is the language that passed the House Education Committee yesterday.
House Judiciary Chairman Leo Daughtry has referred SB 853 - Business Court Modernization http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2013/Bills/Senate/PDF/S853v4.pdf to a standing subcommittee and expects the bill to have a hearing next week.
Some tweaks to last session's unemployment insurance reform law has passed both chambers and awaits ratification. House Bill 1069 is here;http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2013/Bills/House/PDF/H1069v3.pdf. The bill was presently primarily as ensuring compliance with federal law and is the result of an interim study committee recommendation. There continues to be some partisan division in this area.
The Medicaid Plan Trifecta: We have now seen House and Senate Medicaid plans as well as the Governor's. There is no way I can explain this better than WRAL's Mark Binker. Have a look here for details: http://www.wral.com/medicaid-funding-reform-efforts-continue-to-divide-house-senate/13749033/.