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Apr 16, 2019

NCGA Week in Review

While North Carolina lawmakers are busy gearing up for a full week of floor votes and committee meetings before heading into recess at the end of next week, 8 schools districts have already cancelled classes for May 1st. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are the latest to follow the lead of multiple other counties, including Wake County, to cancel all classes in preparation for the protest rally taking place in downtown Raleigh. For the second year, teachers will head to the state’s capital to lobby legislators for increased funding, among a list of other needs, including better pay for all school staff and employees, as well as greater access to Medicaid benefits. Similar to last year, the rally is anticipating around 2,000 attendees.

Before heading into the break, the Senate will reconvene on Monday, April 15th at 2:00PM, while the House will reconvene on Monday at 6:00PM, an hour earlier than usual, in hopes of getting through everything on their calendar. The House is planning on a full calendar for session on both Monday and Tuesday, but will begin their break Wednesday with no scheduled votes. The Senate plans to hold voting session Monday through Thursday prior to their week-long break beginning April 22nd.


Helmet Requirements

Members who have served on the House Transportation Committee in the past heard a familiar bill in committee on Tuesday this week. HB 267: Require Safety Helmets/Under 21 would allow motorcyclists to ride without helmets if they were at least 21 years old, have held their motorcycle license for at least a year, or have completed a safety training course.

Tuesday’s committee meeting was the fifth time Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) has brought forth this bill, never seeing it make it past the House. This year is no different as the committee ultimately killed the bill in committee after it failed in a division vote resulting in a final 10-10 split. A tie vote is not enough to move a bill favorably out of committee.

Opponents of the bill argue that the helmet requirement is a necessary safety protocol, and repealing this requirement would increase the number of crash related injuries. Supporters of the bill argue that the rider is always at risk, and mandating helmets has no real impact at all, citing the fact that other states do not have helmet requirements for motorcyclists.


Small Business Health Insurance

HB 464: Small Business Health Care Act moved through the House Insurance Committee Thursday morning after facing an amendment and several public comments on the bill. HB 464 would allow small businesses to form associations based on a shared interest among employer members of the same trade, industry, business, or profession, or on the basis of becoming a statewide association, as long as they do not cross state boundaries. The bill would also require the association to have been established for at least five years and includes five solvency requirements.

The committee passed an amendment proposed by Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley (D-Wake) that includes essential health benefits such as prescription drugs, hospitalization, mental health treatment and services, among other protections that addressed many of the questions members and the public had about ensuring all people would be able to benefit from membership in an association health plan.

While the Senate has already passed their own version of the bill, SB 86: Small Business Healthcare Act, 39 members of the House have signed on as co-sponsors for the House version. Rep. Kyle Hall (R-Rockingham), one of the bill’s primary sponsors, cited health insurance as one of the largest costs for small businesses as a reason to support the bill. Rep. Hall also spoke to the fact that associations would still have to comply with the same requirements that any other large group provider would.

Several members of the public took advantage of their opportunity to speak on the bill, including Ken Lewis, Executive Director of the North Carolina Association of Health Plans, who supports the idea behind the bill but does not support it in its current form. Mr. Lewis expressed concerns about the statewide provision of the bill prohibiting the participation of regional groups and would further the urban/rural divide. Representatives from NC Realtors, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the Regional Merchants Association, among others, spoke on behalf of the bill.

Following public comment, members of the committee agreed that any of the concerns or issues raised about the bill could be adequately addressed and resolved as the bill continues to move through the legislative process. Next, the bill will make a stop in the House Health Committee and then move on to House Rules. The bill ultimately received a unanimous favorable report from the Insurance committee.


Voter ID

North Carolina college students may have an easier time providing the required voter identification in future elections. HB 646: ID Approval/Flex Muni One-Stop passed the House in a 100 – 9 floor vote Thursday. The bill would lift the requirement of colleges to take the approved ID photos themselves and would remove the requirement that campus officials must sign off on a series of other ID requirements. The majority of the state’s universities failed to meet the legal requirements to get IDs approved and the deadline for the IDs to be valid for the 2020 election passed earlier this month.

Additionally, the bill would reduce early voting hours in municipal elections. Supporters of the change in voting hours argue the bill will help reduce the cost of elections that face low voter turnout. Local election boards would have to unanimously approve the new schedule and then send it on to the State Board of Elections who would have the final say. HB 646 now heads to the Senate.


Ride Sharing Safety

House Majority Leader Rep. John Bell (R-Wayne) held a press conference Thursday morning to discuss proposed legislation that would be titled the Passenger Protection Act. Rep. Bell, the primary sponsor of the bill, was joined by lawmakers from both parties, a student for North Carolina State University, a Chapel Hill business owner, and the North Carolina State University police chief.

The bill would require drivers working for ride sharing services to display constant and illuminated signs in their cars. When the driver is no longer employed by the ride sharing company, the driver is required to return the sign to the business within 10 days. If the driver fails to do so, it will be the responsibility of the company to provide the name and address of the driver to local law enforcement. The bill mirrors similar legislation passed in a 99-1 vote in South Carolina, following the kidnapping and murder of a USC student who got into what she thought was her requested ride.

When asked about the potential of furthering the provisions in the bill leading to overregulation, Rep. Bell acknowledged that this was a concern moving forward in the legislative process. Rep. Bell also pointed out that this bill does not fix everything and will not guarantee the safety of passengers or drivers, urging riders to be vigilant when using rideshare services and ensure the driver who is picking them up matches their requested ride.


Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Monday, April 15th

1:00PM House: Finance

(Immediately following House Finance) House: Finance, Subcommittee on Occupancy Tax

2:00PM Senate: Session Convenes

2:00PM House: Judiciary

3:00PM Senate: Select Committee on Prison Safety

3:30PM House: Rules, Calendar, and Operations

6:00PM House: Session Convenes

Tuesday, April 16th

8:30AM Senate: Appropriations/Base Budget

9:00AM Senate: Rules and Operations of the Senate

10:00AM Senate: Judiciary

10:00AM House: Transportation

10:00AM House: Health

11:00AM House: Education – Universities

1:00PM House: Environment

1:00PM Senate: Finance

1:00PM House: Education – K-12

2:00PM Senate: State and Local Government

2:00PM House: Wildlife Resources

2:00PM House: Pensions and Retirement

3:00PM House: Alcoholic Beverage Control

3:00PM House: Banking

Wednesday, April 17th

10:00AM Senate: Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources

10:00AM Senate: Health Care

1:00PM Senate: Finance

Thursday, April 18th

10:00AM Senate: Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources