Jun 13, 2014

NCGA Week in Review - June 13, 2014

The General Assembly was full of anticipation at the outset of this week, awaiting the final branch’s budget proposal. After the Governor and Senate released their respective versions, the House Budget was the final piece left to offer insight on how much negotiation would be required to pass a single budget. Lawmakers appear optimistic. The Senate revealed it would like to be adjourned before July, and the House Speaker said he believed the budget compromise could be complete by the end of next week.

The House released their version of the budget this week, giving approval Friday to the $21.1 billion state budget. Embracing a plan to generate more state revenue from the state lottery, the House plans to use the increased proceeds to provide teachers with a pay increase. The 81-36 bi-partisan vote came after a seven-hour debate. 
The funds used for teacher pay is one of several ways in which the House budget diverges from the Senate and Governor’s proposed plans to fund the state’s priorities. During the hours-long debate, the House submitted a total of 37 amendments: adopting 21, turning down 11, tabling two and withdrawing three. 
Other highlights of the budget include adding money for two dozen new environmental regulators focused on the state’s coal ash ponds, scrapping the Senate’s proposed Medicaid cuts to aged, blind and disabled people, and transferring the State Bureau of Investigation to the Department of Public Safety.  
Despite the broad differences between the House and Senate budgets, Speaker Thom Tillis says he sees room for compromise, admittedly willing to negotiate the use of lottery funds for teacher pay, one of the more controversial provisions. 
Thanks to an amendment in the House budget that passed on the floor yesterday, 90-26, hope of saving some film industry perks has been restored. The news was much needed for those in the film industry after the House voted down an amendment that would extend the current film incentive program on Wednesday. 
The current program provides a 25 percent rebate on spending by TV and movie production companies in NC. Set to expire at the end of the year, Representative Ted Davis, R-New Hanover, sponsored an amendment that would have moved the sunset date for the incentive to January 1, 2017. It also would have reduced the credit by 2.5 percent and proposed an independent study by the General Assembly's Program Evaluation Division on the impacts of the film industry in the state. 
Rep. Davis pointed out the importance of including the provision in the House budget in order to have an opportunity for it to be a part of budget negotiations, as the Senate budget failed to include such a provision. Davis commented that the amendment was “critical to economic development in NC from a good, clean, non-polluting business.”
A different approach to the film incentives program was well received however, after the House approved an amendment Thursday that put a grant program for production companies in its budget. The grant program would allow the NC Department of Commerce to provide grants for movies, TV series and commercials, giving priority to those that maximize economic benefits to the state. Now the film incentives issue is headed to the budget conference committee.
House Bill 1031, NC Economic Development Partnership Modifications, creates a public-private partnership in state government to attract jobs and international trade. By an 81-36 vote, the bill received final, bipartisan approval.  A last minute amendment guaranteed that more money would go to rural counties. The Senate counterpart to the bill, S 743, was approved Monday and sent over to the House. The Senate version includes an overhaul of the film incentives program, with language similar to the amendment that passed in the House Budget.
Charter schools received a good bit of attention this week. During the Education Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, Representative Stam, R-Wake, proposed an amendment that provided funds to support a pilot virtual charter schools program. The amendment passed after a series of negotiations among members, and an appearance by Speaker Thom Tillis, who was prepared to vote on the amendment if necessary. It provided for two virtual schools, which would follow the same guidelines and regulations as brick-and-mortar charter schools.
The Senate Education committee on Wednesday attempted to clarify the Open Meeting and Public Records law governing charter schools. After charter schools refused to release salary information in March, claiming they were not subject to the Open Meeting and Public Records law, state officials responded with a bill. The bill, S 793, provides that the charter schools must comply with the law, just as public schools do. Bill sponsor, Senator Tillman, R-Randolph, said that charter schools receive public education money and have always been subject to the law. Some however, were just not following it. 
The bill will also allow a charter school to limit admission on the basis of gender, for those schools whose mission is single-gender education. Generally, charter schools are not allowed to discriminate among the applicants. The bill is expected to be heard before the entire Senate next week.
Senator Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, filed the adjournment resolution, SJR 881, in the Senate on Wednesday that would have the General Assembly members going home on  Friday, June 27. While some believe this date is a little optimistic, Sen. Apodaca said “that’s the date we want to be out of Raleigh.” He stated he thought the date to be a reasonable timeline to complete all necessary business. Speaker Tillis said he believed the budget process could be complete by as early as the end of next week.