May 5, 2017

NCGA Week in Review

After a tiresome crossover week, the legislature enjoyed a light schedule this week. Two committee meetings were held and there was very little action on legislation. The reprieve will likely be short lived as the Senate is expected to roll out their budget proposal early next week.

2016 Elections Revisited by House Committee

The House Committee on Elections and Ethics Law met on Thursday morning to receive a presentation from the State Board of Elections. The presentation reviewed elections held in 2016 and the actions of the Board to meet their goal of increasing eligible voter registrations and participation.

In their presentation, the Board highlighted:

  • Voter registration activity that surpassed the 2012 and 2008 presidential election years.
  • Efforts the Board has taken to provide greater access to and participation in elections, particularly noting successes in counties impacted by Hurricane Matthew weeks before the November 9th election.
  • The Board’s three point plan to make voting an efficient experience and challenges they faced this year including Hurricane Matthew and voter ID requirement changes.
  • Issues faced in 2016 elections in Durham County and lessons learned.
  • A post-election audit released last month that found that examined fraudulent and ineligible voters in the November 2016 elections.

Budget Forecast

The Senate is expected to roll out their version of the state budget for the 2017-19 biennium early next week. After receiving the Governor's recommended budget​ in March, legislative appropriations chairs have been hard at work debating their priorities for the upcoming years. In February the NC Department of Revenue forecasted state tax collections to increase by $552.2 million, a 2.5% increase from the previous year. That said, legislators are still awaiting the "April surprise," the final tally of personal income tax collections. If tax collections are similar to last year, the April surprise could beat projections by $700 million. A good April surprise may make legislators more comfortable spending more and cutting taxes, and may help the Governor see his priorities reflected. This year, the budget will go through the Senate first before heading to the House. This year’s budget will likely include pay raises for teachers and state employees, support for business and investments in the state's rainy day fund.

Governor & Legislature Honor Tarheel’s, NCAA Champions

The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill men’s basketball team paid a trip to Raleigh on Wednesday to be congratulated by the legislature and Gov. Cooper on their 2017 NCAAA National Championship win. The team, along with Coach Roy Williams visited the legislature, where a joint session of the House and Senate passed a HRJ 921: Honor UNC Men’s Basketball 2017 Championship. The Governor, a UNC alumnus, proclaimed May 3rd as a day of recognition for the team. The day was not without playful protest from NC State University fans, including Sen. John Alexander (R-Wake), who donned a wolfpack red blazer and matching tie, though the resolution passed unanimously.

Governor’s Veto

On Friday, Gov. Cooper vetoed HB 467: Agriculture and Forestry Nuisance Remedies. The bill, sponsored by Republican Reps. Jimmy Dixon (Duplin), Ted Davis (New Hanover), David Lewis (Harnett) and John Bell (Wayne), would limit the amount a court can award to a property owner who claims nuisance damages by a nearby agriculture or forestry operation. In his veto message, Gov. Cooper stated that, “special protection for one industry opens the door to weakening our nuisance laws in other areas which can allow real harm to homeowners, the environment and everyday North Carolinians.” The bill passed the House 68-47 and the Senate 30-19. Approval of two-thirds of present members in both chambers is required to override the veto.

State Employee Retirement Debated in Senate Committee

The Senate Pensions and Retirement Committee had a lengthy debate on a bill that would phase out the state’s pensions and health care coverage for state employee retirees on Wednesday. Currently, the state offers a traditional pension plan and discounted or free health care coverage to former state employees, but SB 467: North Carolina Retirement Reform proposes shifting to a 401(k)-style retirement plan and ending retirement health care coverage for new hires.

The bill, which is sponsored by Republican Sens. Andy Wells (Catawba), Bill Rabon (Brunswick) and Ronald Rabin (Harnett), was held for discussion only at Wednesday’s meeting, where it received criticism from both sides of the aisle. Sen. Rick Horner (R-Wilson) noted that the state should not be making major changes to retirement benefits for partisan reasons and that nothing should be done without the approval of Republican Treasurer Dale Folwell, who has not taken an opinion. Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) stated that the change could hurt the state’s ability to attract and retain state and local government employees.

The bill sponsors argued that the state must take action to keep unfunded financial obligations, currently around $60 billion, from getting worse. Additionally, Sen. Wells noted that the changes would not impact current employees or retirees, it would only impact future hires.