Apr 11, 2011

NCGA Week in Review, 4/4-4/8

Budget Proposals Delayed….Expected This Week

Legislative budget writers continued their discussions this past week but delayed their anticipated rollout of budget proposals. Rep. Harold Brubaker (R-Randolph), House Appropriations Chair, said Republican leaders needed more time to work out details. House and Senate Appropriation Subcommittees have been meeting jointly for several months and are reportedly close to reaching final agreement for consideration of the full Appropriations Committees, now scheduled for Tuesday of this week.  Leaders have indicated that while the House’s budget will come out first according to custom, the Republican caucuses in the two chambers have reached consensus on just about everything

Meanwhile, Governor Perdue this week outlined her own new round of budget savings totaling $83.1 million, in order to reach the savings required in S109: Spending Cuts for the Current Fiscal Year. In particular, her proposal includes:

  •  $30 million from Motor Fleet Management (money that would have been spent for the purchase of new state vehicles.)
  •  $7.5 million from the IT Internal Service Fund.
  •  $5 million from the Tobacco Trust Fund.
  •  $11 million from two Department of Public Instruction funds.
  • $2.4 million from the State Fair.

Tort Reform Debate Continues as Negotiations Emerge

The House held another heated two hour debate this week in the Select Committee on Tort Reform where members discussed numerous amendments to tort reform legislation that has already passed the Senate (S33/H542). As previously noted, the legislation would among other things set limits on attorneys’ fees, create standards for expert witnesses, cap non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases and provide malpractice suit protection for certain manufacturers.

This week the committee presented an amended version of the bill, including:

  • Capping non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases to $500,000 (originally set at $250,000).
  • Setting $150,000 in damages as the threshold for which separate civil trials can be held to determine if someone is liable and how much they should pay in damages.
  • Narrowing the medical malpractice protection for manufacturers to only FDA-approved drugs.

The House is scheduled to meet again this week wherein they will consider the remaining amendments and potentially vote on the final version of the bill.

Proposals Emerge on Workers’ Compensation Reform

North Carolina has not experienced workers’ compensation reform since 1995 but bills filed in both the House and Senate this week (H709/S544) would for the first time in over a decade provide comprehensive reform to the state’s system. The proposed legislation would:

  • Place a 500 week cap on temporary totally disability benefits.
  • Increase the cap on temporary partial disability benefits from 300 weeks to 500 weeks.
  • Amend the structure of the Industrial Commission by reducing it from seven to five members, requiring legislative confirmation of appointments and brings the Commission under the Administrative Produces Act.
  • Increase the death benefit from 400 to 500 weeks and increases the burial expense allowance.
  • Ensure that both employers and employees have equal access to medical information.

The House Insurance Committee is expected to begin discussions on the bill this week.

House Advances Charter Schools Proposal

The charter schools bill has passed the first round of floor votes in the House along a party-line vote of 69-48. The bill, which is aimed at eliminating the current cap of 100 charter schools in North Carolina, has undergone significant debate and negotiations after passing the Senate. Following opposition from the Democratic caucus, the House developed a new version of the proposal which requires charter schools to provide some transportation and meal assistance for poor students.

Proponents of the measure strongly insist that charter schools operate successfully with less taxpayer funding than their district counterparts, with the majority of charter schools already providing transportation and food and have student bodies that largely reflect the racial backgrounds of their traditional counterparts.

The measure is scheduled to receive its final floor vote Monday night (4/11) and upon passage will return to the Senate to approve the changes before heading to the Governor for her signature. While House Minority Leader Joe Hackney insists the Governor will veto the legislation, the Governor’s office has not given any statements on the expected outcome.

One Step Closer Towards Term Limits for Leadership Posts

Following extensive debate the House passed a measure amending the NC Constitution to initiate term limits for the Speaker of the House and Senate President Pro Tem. The idea behind term limits is to prohibit ascendancy by a particular member. Under the bill, a person could only serve two terms in either position. Also, it would prohibit the top chamber leaders from serving two terms, skipping a term, and later returning to the same position.
The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration and upon final approval the proposed amendment would be placed on the ballot for ratification in November 2012 for the general election.

Senate Aimed at Repealing Red-Light Cameras

The Senate is one floor vote away from repealing red-light cameras in North Carolina. The Senate tentatively approved (36-14) the bill that would end the use of the cameras, which are currently being used in the Wilmington, Knightdale, Cary and Raleigh.  While proponents say that ticketed drivers should have the right to cross-examine their accuser, opponents argue that the cameras held reduce collisions and local municipalities should have the authority to determine the usage.

A final floor vote on the measure is scheduled in the Senate tonight (4/11) and upon passage will go to the House for consideration.