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Jun 3, 2022

North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

Though it was only a four-day work week, the General Assembly worked diligently to debate or pass more than a dozen bills in various committees. Most notably, the Senate passed a bill, HB 149: Expanding Access to Healthcare, to expand Medicaid and make various other reforms to the state's healthcare laws. Additionally, the Senate Committee on Health Care voted to move forward with the confirmation of Acting Secretary Kody Kinsley, Democratic Governor Roy Cooper's nominee to head up the Department of Health and Human Services. Secretary Kinsley’s nomination now heads to the Senate Select Committee on Nominations. 

Medical Cannabis

North Carolina is on its way to legalizing medical cannabis. Senate Bill 711: The North Carolina Compassionate Care Act passed the Senate this week, setting it up for the House to weigh in on the future of medicinal marijuana in the state. The bill has been championed by Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), an influential member of the chamber. SB 711 passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee, Finance Committee, and Health Care Committee last year before being brought before the Rules Committee and the full Senate this week. During its journey, many amendments were adopted, including one this week which will double the amount of vendor locations for each of the eventual manufacturer licensees from four to eight.

The measure would create a Medical Advisory Board that oversees medical marijuana potency and access in the state and increase the availability of supply resources and information. The Medical Advisory Board would also have the authority to choose to add new conditions to the list of fifteen already included that will qualify for medical marijuana prescriptions. Currently, the 15 debilitating medical conditions that are listed to qualify for medicinal cannabis include cancer, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s and AIDS. The Board will include qualified appointed personnel, consisting of licensed doctors, pharmacists, and patients who understand the needs of those in situations requiring medical marijuana. 

Along with the Advisory Board, a Medical Cannabis Production Commission would also be created to regulate and monitor growth, production, and distribution of medical marijuana products in the state. The Commission would issue licenses to growers and distributors to ensure that medical marijuana is properly handled from manufacturer to patient.

The bill also specifies how physicians and patients would interact when prescribing medical marijuana. To write a prescription, physicians will need to attend a ten-hour continuing education course to be advised on the best ways to prescribe and recognize the need for medical marijuana. Patients requesting medical marijuana will apply to their local health department and be issued an identification card that allows receipt of medical marijuana if the requisite conditions are met under the statute. 

SB 711 also provides for law enforcement oversight. Cardholders possessing medical marijuana would be required to produce their medical marijuana permits along with valid identification when stopped by law enforcement. Further, the bill establishes a confidential database that would allow law enforcement to ensure the cardholder is in possession of a valid medical marijuana license.

The Senate passed the bill Thursday by a bipartisan 35-10 vote, with both Democrats and Republicans voting for and against it. The Senate will hold a final vote on the bill next week before it heads to the House of Representatives which has not yet indicated their willingness to adopt the measure.

Justice and Public Safety Bills

Earlier this year, the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety (JPS) met twice to hear testimony from experts on prevalent issues in the criminal justice system. The committee issued recommendations to leaders of the General Assembly, which were adopted this week by multiple committees in both chambers.

The suggested measures are largely uncontroversial, although some public speakers did oppose provisions of a few of the bills. House Bill 1006: Amend Prison Pilot Deadlines was the result of a contentious joint committee in March, during which Senators scolded officials within the Department of Public Safety (DPS) for not getting a prison pilot program to track inmates up and running quickly enough. In last year’s state budget, legislators passed funding for a pilot program to transform the State Prison Management Information Systems to deploy a mobile inmate tracking system built on the cloud, replacing their current outdated system. HB 1006, which passed the House by a 104-8 vote this week, would delay the implementation deadline until October 2022. During committee, several legislators and members of the public spoke in opposition to the bill, saying it would only delay an important program needed to protect correctional officers and inmates.

Another JPS recommendation passed the full House and began its journey in the Senate this week. House Bill 1005: Organized Retail Theft seeks to crack down on professional shoplifting. During the joint committee meetings, legislators heard testimony from retailers and members of law enforcement about an uptick in organized retail theft from professional criminals who shoplift to then sell the products online illegally. HB 1005 would increase the penalties for all individuals involved with organized retail theft, including any individuals who sell the property. The bill also increases the penalties for the assault of any retail worker during the theft of retail property. Some members of the public spoke in opposition to the bill, saying incarceration would not deter criminals. A spokesman for the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association disagreed, saying one of the main reasons for the strict penalties in the bill is to ensure that everyday customers feel safe going into a store.

Finally, House Bill 1008: Clarify Sex Offender Registration began its path in the House by passing one committee. A somewhat technical bill, it seeks to streamline the process of verifying the registered address of a sex offender by requiring the offender to file their termination paperwork in the county where they last resided, instead of with DPS. 

DOT and DEQ Agency Requests

During every session, state agencies send requests to legislators for various policy and funding needs within their respective departments. Legislators combine the requests they also feel are important into an agency omnibus bill, which gets amended and altered along its journey before ultimately being passed by both chambers. This week, two agencies, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), saw many of their priorities pass multiple committees.

Senate Bill 774: DOT Legislative Changes makes various changes to transportation laws, as recommended by the department. It passed two Senate committees this week. The bill has eight sections, none of which were contested during committee this week. SB 744 would:

  • Require a used vehicle to be inspected by a dealer before it is sold at retail. A $50 penalty would be imposed on the dealer for failing to conduct an inspection.
  • Authorize the Division of Motor Vehicles to charge a $1.00 fee to individuals to verify license numbers, ownership or liability insurance. The Division has already been doing this, so this provision gives them the statutory authority to continue doing so.
  • Expand the application of criteria used by DOT for transportation project planning to include funding from the Federal National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Program and the Federal Carbon Reduction Program.
  • Encourage and promote participation by minority-owned and women-owned businesses in contracts let by DOT.
  • Increase contracting and awards with Small Professional Services Firms for Highway Fund and Highway Trust Fund projects.

DEQ also saw their requests pass a Senate committee this week. A shorter bill than DOT’s, House Bill 219: Amend Environmental Laws would have a significant impact on local governments seeking to fund certain infrastructure projects. Among other technical changes in the bill, like allowing the Division of Marine Fisheries to maintain its two aircraft vessels in Morehead City instead of Sanford, or directing DEQ to study the fast-track stormwater permitting program, is a provision that sets a deadline to complete funding requests for directed water and sewer infrastructure grants. In last year’s state budget, lawmakers allocated over $1.6 billion to a grant program within DEQ to fund certain water and sewer projects requested by local governments. This bill would set a deadline for requesting funding for one of these projects to June 30, 2023. In their original guidance on requesting the funds, DEQ anticipated having enough funds to last until 2026, but they had a substantial amount of applications this year, with requests nearly doubling the initial amount allocated to the program.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Monday, June 6:

2:00PM: Senate Session
4:00PM: House Session

Tuesday, June 7:

8:30AM: House Finance, Subcommittee on Occupancy Tax
9:00AM: House Finance
10:00AM: House Health
1:00PM: House Local Government
2:00PM: House Homeland Security, Military, and Veterans Affairs
2:00PM: House Banking