Mar 3, 2017
NCGA Week in Review
As the first full month of the long session closes, the Democratic Governor released his proposed budget, while the Republican led legislature continues their appropriations preparations and filing legislation, as bill filing deadlines approach. So far, 253 bills have been filed in the House and 178 in the Senate.
African-American Legislators Come Together for Education
On Tuesday, eight Democratic African-American legislators came together with Parents for Educational Freedom in NC to announce their firm support for traditional and non-traditional education options. The support of these members is quite notable since the advancement of non-traditional education has long been a Republican agenda and has received sharp criticism from Democratic members. Sen. Erica Smith Ingram (D-Northampton) noted that “the challenge for us is to get away from either-or and set our hands and tasks to both-and” while Rep. Rodney Moore (D-Mecklenburg) stressed the importance of supporting education for all and bridging partisan and racial gaps.
Brunch Goers Celebrate Possible Sunday Sales
Much to the celebration of the state’s brunch goers, SB 155: Economic & Job Growth for NC Distilleries, would allow restaurants to sell alcohol beginning at 10:00 am on Sundays, subject to local government approval. Currently, alcohol sales begin at noon on Sundays across the state. The bill, which is sponsored by Sens. Rick Gunn (R-Alamance), Dan Blue (D-Wake) and Kathy Harrington (R-Gaston), would also amend Alcohol Beverage Control permits to provide regulatory relief to distilleries, including creating event permits to allow free liquor tastings at special events and ABC stores. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate.
Governor Cooper Releases Budget Proposal
Governor Roy Cooper unveiled his proposed budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year, entitled “Common Ground Solutions for North Carolina”, on Wednesday. Inciting criticism from the GOP, the Governor proposed increasing government spending by $1.1 billion in the upcoming fiscal year, a 5% spending increase, though he also proposed adding more than $300 million to the state’s “rainy day” fund.
The House and Senate are currently in the early phases of forming the biennial budget as appropriations subcommittees receive informational presentations and outline their priorities. This year, the budget bill will originate in the Senate. With a Republican controlled legislature, the Governor faces an uphill battle in achieving most of his legislative agenda, including his proposed budget. On Thursday, the Governor’s State Budget Director, Charles Perusse highlighted the Governor’s top priorities to the legislature. Here is a peek at the Governor’s budget priorities:
- Emphasis on Fiscal Responsibility: Emphasizes the need for bipartisanship in the state budget, including a focus on fiscal responsibility by not raising taxes, restoring the state’s Child and Dependent Care tax credit, making a $300 million transfer to the Savings Reserve Account, and ensuring that nonrecurring funds are not spent on recurring needs.
- State Employee Pay Raises: Makes the largest increase in state employee pay since the recession through a recurring compensation increase of 2% and $500 one-time bonuses for all state employees.
- Local Solutions to Economic Growth: Proposes investing $30 million to develop state-owned sites to attract economic development projects in Tier 1 and 2 counties, providing $2 million to increase broadband access, developing safe and affordable low income housing across the state and investing an additional $5 million to match local government efforts to revitalize downtown communities.
- Business Recruitment Efforts: Proposes a number of efforts to recruit business to the state including restoring the film tax credit, investing $30 million to support efforts to attract major manufacturing employers and investing $3 million to advertise the state’s tourism and agriculture attractions.
- Investments in Technology, Infrastructure and Transportation to Modernize NC: Makes several proposals to modernize the state’s infrastructure and keep up with economic demands by increasing Strategic Transportation Improvement funding by $150 million, proposing a $351 million bond package to renovate state government and university system buildings, and replacing the state’s accounting and business systems through a $40 million investment.
- Increasing Teacher Pay: Increases teacher salaries by over 5% in both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 fiscal years, and provides classroom teachers with an annual stipend to assist with out-of-pocket expenses. Making these investments in education would help bring NC to the national average for teacher pay in five years. The Governor also proposes a 6.5% salary increase for principals and assistant principals.
- Investing in Early Childhood Education: Proposes funding 4,700 additional pre-k slots for at-risk four year olds and increasing Smart Start funding by $15 million.
- Ensuring a Workforce Pipeline: Through over $18 million in investments in community college programs and a proposed scholarship program, the Governor hopes to bridge the skills gap between the state’s workforce and industry needs.
- Maintaining Premier Public Higher Education: Recommends making investments in data systems, scholarships and faculty, and the state’s public historically black colleges to continue the state’s legacy as a top state for public higher education.
- Cost-Neutral Medicaid Expansion: Proposes covering an additional 624,000 individuals with federal Medicaid dollars.
- Combatting the Opioid Epidemic: Proposes combatting the epidemic by investing $12 million in mental health funds for community-based services and enhancing local law enforcement efforts against opioid abuse.
- Support for At Risk North Carolinians: Proposes enhancing support for mentally ill, elderly, and disabled people in the Tarheel State through a number of investments.
Justice & Public Safety
- Reducing Crime & Protecting Juveniles in Prison: Invests $2 million to local, evidence based intervention programs to reduce juvenile crimes. Additionally, in support of “Raise the Age” legislation, which would require 16 and 17 years olds to be housed with minors, the Governor recommends spending $13.2 million to construct and operate a youth development center.
- Recidivism Reduction: The most recent report on recidivism in NC reports an overall recidivist rate at 40%. Therefore, in an effort to reduce repeat offenses, the proposal invests $13 million to address behavioral needs, support pre-release programs and invest in local re-entry councils that coordinate community-based services.
- Recruiting, Retaining and Training Law Enforcement Professionals: Proposes a number of investments to support law enforcement and criminal justice professionals including pay raises, tuition assistance for the NC National Guard and investments in training for criminal justice professionals.
Natural & Economic Resources
- Protecting Natural Resources: Recommends $13 million in investments towards the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and $6 million for the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.
- Infrastructure Investments: Increases funding to the Highway Trust Fund’s Strategic Investment Program by $153.4 million to build new roads, $158 million in additional state support for road maintenance, $7.5 million to upgrade the Ferry Division and $3.7 million to maintain rail service.
Governor’s Office Updates
After weeks of back and forth between the GOP led legislature and the Democratic Governor, the Governor’s nominee to lead the Division of Military and Veterans Affairs, Larry Hall, is a Senate vote away from confirmation. After subpoenaing the former state representative, Larry Hall arrived at his third scheduled confirmation hearing yesterday and received the approval of two committees. Hall will be the first of Cooper’s cabinet nominees to receive the Senate’s confirmation.
Gov. Cooper’s first State of State address has been tentatively scheduled for March 13. House leadership filed a resolution on Tuesday inviting the Governor to address the House and Senate – the resolution has passed the House and must be approved by the Senate before the invitation is officially extended. In NC, governors give the address in odd-numbered years to lay out their priorities at the start of each legislative biennium.
Proposed STOP Act Aims to Aid Opioid Epidemic
Republican Reps. Greg Murphy, MD (Pitt), Ted Davis (New Hanover), Craig Horn (Union), Chris Malone (Wake) and Sens. Jim Davis (Macon), Tom McInnis (Richmond), Bill Rabon (Brunswick) have joined forces with Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, to put together a proposal intended to combat the state’s growing deadly opioid addiction crisis. HB 243/ SB 175:Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act, was announced on Thursday during a press conference attended by the bill sponsors, Stein, and members of the medical and law enforcement communities.
During the press conference, bill sponsors stated that this bill was just a first step in combatting the state’s opioid addiction crisis, and that the state must invest both money and policies in both prevention and also solutions to getting people out of addiction. According to a report released by Castlight Health in 2016, Wilmington was the worst city in the United States for opioid abuse. The North Carolina cities of Hickory, Jacksonville, and Fayetteville also ranked in the top 25 cities.
In an effort to reduce “doctor shopping”, the STOP Act requires all controlled substance prescribers, including veterinarians, to check the Controlled Substance Reporting System prior to writing a prescription. The check is not required for cancer treatment, palliative care, hospice or residential facility care, or prescriptions for five or less days. Additionally, when first treating acute pain, providers may only prescribe five days’ worth of medication.
To read more about the STOP Act, click here.
Transportation Funding Initiatives
Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) is spearheading an effort in the House to improve the state’s current transportation infrastructure. This week, two bills sponsored by Rep. Torbett passed the House and he filed two more.
The following bills have been sent to the Senate for consideration:
HB 81: STI/ Regional & Division Weighting gives Regional and Metropolitan Planning Organizations a greater amount of influence when scoring projects under the state’s Transportation Investment Strategy Formula. The bill aims to give local communities a voice when planning transportation projects to ensure that the projects match the community’s needs and desires.
Rep. Scott Stone (R-Mecklenburg) joined Rep. Torbett to sponsor HB 92: Blue Ribbon Committee/ Transportation Funding which would establish a new Blue Ribbon Committee, comprised of members of the House and Senate and public stakeholders, to examine the state’s transportation needs and identify potential funding sources.
The following bills were filed this week:
HB 219: Transportation Megaproject Funding would establish a fund within the Highway Trust Fund to fund transportation projects with a cost exceeding $200 million in total costs. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Transportation.
HB 220: State Infrastructure Bank Revisions would expand the list of federal laws under which the Bank may receive funds and create a State Infrastructure Oversight Board charged with reviewing and approving loans and other financial assistance. HB 220 has been sent to the House Committee on Transportation.