May 7, 2021
North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review
As the crossover deadline next Thursday nears, the lights in the legislative building have been on a little later than usual as legislators attempt to get their bills passed through floor votes of their respective chambers. Nearly every standing committee has hosted at least one meeting this week, with some running as long as two or three hours. It is the hustle and bustle of the General Assembly that makes it so unique. Expect even busier days next week, as the House kicks it off Monday with a rare day of committee and session votes.
As of Thursday morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 1,468 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 1,031 individuals hospitalized, and sadly, 12,738 confirmed deaths. There have been 7,456,842 doses of the vaccine distributed in NC, which is about 50.1% of the total adult population.
As we all continue to feel the effects of the global pandemic and adjust to a new normal, we want to highlight a few ways our clients across North Carolina have worked to support residents and make this time a little easier for those throughout the state. Read more about what our clients are doing to help by clicking here.
For more information on COVID-19 in North Carolina, click here to visit the Department of Health and Human Services website, and be sure to stay up to date on the latest federal guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by clicking here.
After President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) into law in March, North Carolina was allocated more than $16 billion to assist with the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. According to the US Treasury, states can use the dollars to address revenue loss, cover costs incurred, and provide support for recovery. Senate Bill 172: Additional COVID-19 Response & Relief was introduced as the first allocation of the ARP dollars, and would spend $9.7 billion, providing more than $6.3 billion in pass-through federal grants for education, housing and utility assistance, child care, public health, emergency management, vaccine outreach, long-term care, the arts, and food benefits. Another $3.4 billion is earmarked for specific counties or local government regions to administer Emergency Rental Assistance Funds.
The need for housing assistance is in high demand across the state. According to the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency, the agency tasked with distributing the first round of community block grants for rental assistance, 43,000 individuals applied for the grants, and most of the funds were distributed within three weeks.
The bill has passed the full Senate, and Thursday it passed its first reading in the House.
Rural Economic Development
Two weeks ago, Governor Cooper and legislative leaders announced that Apple would be creating a billion-dollar campus in the Triangle. Part of the incentive package to bring the company to North Carolina was grant money from the Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG). The JDIG was created originally to reward companies for moving to rural, economically disadvantaged counties. In North Carolina, the 40 most challenged counties are Tier One, the next 40 are Tier 2, and the most stable, which are mostly urban and suburban counties, are Tier Three. The program assists with tax breaks and job creation.
This session, legislators want to build on the JDIG program and strengthen its impact on rural and economically disadvantaged counties. Sen Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) is the sponsor of S493: JDIG Multilocation Projects Modifications, a bill that would increase the award by 10% to any qualifying business who is establishing an operation in a Tier 1 or Tier 2 county. In the Senate Rules Committee, Sen Dave Craven (R-Randolph) complimented the bill, saying it “gives economic developers another tool for business development.” If this bill is ultimately successful, economic developers across the state are eager to utilize its benefits. In the same committee, Sen Newton said economic developers have requested more tools to offer incentives for corporations wanting to move to Tier 1 or Tier 2 areas.
The bill has passed the full Senate ahead of the crossover deadline, and is now in the House.
Health Care Bills
The Senate took up three major healthcare bills this week which, according to sponsors, are pro-consumer bills aimed at increasing access, transparency, and affordability of healthcare in the state. Senators Krawiec (R-Forsyth), Burgin (R-Harnett), and Edwards (R-Henderson) held a press conference Wednesday to discuss the bills prior to the floor vote.
S505 Medical Billing Transparency is aimed at making the billing process for healthcare services more transparent and timely. Krawiec explained that oftentimes consumers will make an appointment at an in-network healthcare provider, but weeks later receive a pricey bill for out-of-network services rendered. This is due to in-network providers working with out-of-network contractors. Those contractors services wind up being charged back to the patient and often are far too expensive for the consumer to be able to pay off, according to Krawiec. The bill, if signed into law, would require providers to notify patients up front if any of their visit will be charged as out-of-network to allow consumers the opportunity to choose a less costly option.
S462 CON/Threshold Amds. & Certificate Expirations takes aim at the state’s outdated and restrictive Certificate of Need (CON) laws. Under CON laws, which were first implemented in the mid-1960s but have since been repealed by many states, medical establishments must go through a lengthy and costly application process to get approval from the government before doing any number of things, such as building a new hospital or surgical center, renovating an existing structure, or even upgrading medical equipment. Once a provider receives a CON, for example, for a proposed new hospital, they can sit on that certificate indefinitely, meaning no one else can build another hospital in that area, even if the original recipient of the CON has not even started the construction process. This bill, if signed into law, will end the practice of “hoarding” a CON. Additionally, it raises the price threshold for certain CON requirements, meaning it will allow providers to upgrade some equipment and go through other costly changes without having to go through the process at all. This will allow the healthcare community to provide better care to their patients and bring down healthcare costs for consumers, according to Burgin.
S228 Allow Employers to Offer EPO Benefit Plans, also known as Exclusive Provider Organization plans, is aimed at helping small businesses and consumers by allowing small businesses to offer another type of health insurance plan to their employees. EPOs are health plans that offer a local network of providers with lower monthly premiums than PPOs (preferred provider organizations), but are more restrictive in which providers their members are allowed to see. EPO members cannot receive covered care outside of their network, except for in cases of emergency. Bill sponsors say this legislation, if signed into law, will enable more North Carolinians to have an affordable healthcare plan. Edwards said one study indicated switching to an EPO could save the average family of four about $4,200 per year. Current state law does not allow small businesses to offer EPO plans, making North Carolina one of only eleven states with such a restriction.
Continuing this year’s theme of bipartisan cooperation, all three bills passed out of the Senate with overwhelming support. S462 had only one no vote, while S228 and S505 passed out of the chamber unanimously.
In addition, the Senate also took up a bill this week aimed at modernizing the physician assistant practice in North Carolina. S345: PA – Team-Based Practice allows physician assistants working in a team-based setting who have at least 4,000 hours of general practice experience, or at least 1,000 hours of supervised experience in a chosen specialty, to practice without entering into a supervisory agreement with a licensed physician. The bill allows PAs to prescribe drugs, initiate non-pharmacological therapies, certify medical documents, perform health assessments for childcare facilities, be attending providers for purposes of postpartum insurance coverage, as well as be qualified technicians under the Women’s Right to Know Act. Sen. Jim Perry (R-Lenoir), one of the bill’s primary sponsors, explained to committee members as the bill moved through the chamber this week, that the bill was a result of compromise language among provider groups, the North Carolina Academy of Physician Assistants, and the North Carolina Medical Society. S345 passed through the Senate unanimously Wednesday afternoon and now heads over to the House for consideration.
Upcoming Legislative Meetings
Monday, May 10
12:00PM House: Local Government
12:00PM House: Alcoholic Beverage Control
1:30PM House: Judiciary 3
4:00PM House: Session Convenes
5:00PM Senate: Pensions and Retirement
Tuesday, May 11
10:00AM Senate: Agriculture, Energy and Environment
1:00PM House: Education K-12
2:00PM House: Judiciary 2
2:00PM House: Commerce
3:00PM House: Judiciary 1
3:00PM House: Families, Children, and Aging Policy
3:00PM House: Judiciary 4
3:00PM House: Energy and Public Utilities
Wednesday, May 12
11:00AM House: Judiciary 2
11:00AM House: State Government