Sep 29, 2017

NCGA Week in Review

As legislators prepare to return to Raleigh next week, three House select committees met this week to discuss issues that may come up when the General Assembly returns to Raleigh next Wednesday, October 4 for another “special session.”

Administrative Procedure Oversight Discusses Vetoed Bill

On Thursday, the House Select Committee on Administrative Procedure Laws met to discuss a conference report to HB 162: Amend Administrative Procedure Laws, which was introduced when legislators met in August. The conference report was adopted by the Senate, but has not been adopted by the House. If passed, HB 162 would disallow any new regulations that would cost at least $100 million over five years, and would require any rules with a projected $10 million aggregate financial impact during any five-year period to be reviewed by the General Assembly.

During yesterday’s committee meeting, members heard an overview of the legislation, and received a presentation on agency implementation of HB 162, should it become law, from the Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM). Assistant State Budget Director Anca Grozav presented OSBM’s concerns with the legislation, which includes health and safety risks if agencies lose certain rules and conflicting directives between HB 162, statutory mandates and federal requirements.

HB 162 was referred to the Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House on August 3. The committee did not indicate whether or not HB 162 will be taken up during next week’s special session.

Judicial Redistricting Moves Forward

The House Select Committee on Judicial Redistricting met on Wednesday to consider a proposed committee substitute to HB 717: Revise Judicial Districts, to consider amendments, and to hear public comment.

Twelve amendments were considered by the committee, four were adopted and eight failed. The adopted changes modify judicial district lines and reelection schedules. Several of the failed amendments proposed alternate methods of reforming the state’s court system, while others would have made changes in districts that favor Democratic candidates.

Organizations such as the League of Women Voters of NC and Together We Will NC, as well several individuals spoke against the legislation. Their remarks included opposition to partisan redistricting, concerns that changes to districts and an increase in rotational divisions will cut resources to the courts, and urged the committee to take their time with the legislation. Chairman Justin Burr (R-Stanly) and other members of the committee argue that revisions to the maps are necessary to give more power to rural voters and to reform the state’s judicial branch, which has not seen major revisions since the 1960s.

The bill passed along party lines and is expected to be taken up by the House during next week’s session. The NC Courts Commission, which is composed of judges and members of the legislature, is discussing the legislation today, and hearing from parties such as the Administrative Office of the Courts, Rep. Burr, and judges from across the state.

River Quality Committee Discusses GenX

Yesterday, the House Select Committee on NC River Quality held their inaugural meeting to discuss the discharge of GenX, an unregulated chemical compound, into the Cape Fear River. GenX is a byproduct of the chemicals manufactured at the Chemours Fayetteville Works site, which is about 100 miles upstream from Wilmington. During the all-day meeting, legislators heard informational presentations on the compound and other issues pertaining to water contamination.

Representatives from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), two state agencies that have been involved in understanding the chemical compound’s presence in the river, groundwater and drinking water provided informational presentations to the committee. Sheila Holman, DEQ Assistant Secretary for Environment presented an overview of state and federal water regulations, data from recent tests of the river, and an update on testing of 14 wells on Chemours’ property. In lab tests, GenX was found in levels exceeding health guidelines recently adopted by the state. Because of these results, the state has begun testing private wells and examining how variations, such as well depth, may impact GenX levels. DEQ and DHHS have adopted a health guideline of 140 parts per trillion (ppt), an unofficial and unenforceable standard, however, a European study reported a Derived No Effect Level equivalent to 70,909,000 ppt, differences in these standards raised questions from some committee members.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore followed with a presentation about the known health impacts of GenX and related compounds, Per-Polyfluorinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS). Some studies have demonstrated that there is a possibility that PFAS may have negative health impacts to humans, including effect on growth, learning, behavior, interference with the body’s natural hormones, and increased risk of cancer. Lab studies have been conducted on the health effects on animals, resulting in possible cancers and other effects to the liver and blood, however, there are no known human health impacts.

The committee also heard action plans on the implementation of HB 56: Amend Environmental Laws, should Gov. Cooper’s veto be overridden, from the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and UNC-Wilmington; both entities were appropriated funds in HB 56 to respond to the discharge. The Authority expects more than $1 million in short term costs, including for ongoing GenX monitoring and water treatment evaluations, according to a presentation from Chief Operation Officer Frank Styers. Assistant to the Chancellor of UNC-Wilmington Mark Lanier presented the school’s research plans, which include conducting studies on bioaccumulation and biodegradation of GenX. Legislators are likely to take up HB 56 next week.

All committee documents considered at Thursday’s meeting can be found by following this link. The committee plans to hold their next meeting on October 6.

What to Expect Next Week

Legislators return to Raleigh next Wednesday, the third time they have reconvened since adjourning in June. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) sent emails to their respective chambers outlining what to expect during next week’s session, which they expect to last three days. Speaker Moore noted possible topics on the House’s agenda: