2009 North Carolina Legislative Accomplishments

September 17, 2009

Pardon Our Dust

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Our summers saved again
MWC’s Amy Hobbs and Johnny Tillett worked with a grassroots group of parents, teachers and concerned citizens, and were instrumental in defeating thirteen bills aimed at overturning the uniform school date in North Carolina established in 2004.  Despite backing from some of the state’s most powerful lobbies like NCAE and the NC School Boards Association as well as the new House leadership team, by organizing grassroots and grasstops communication and working with rank-and-file legislators on both sides of the aisle, we were able to maintain the 2004 school calendar law with no changes and preserve traditional summers for North Carolina’s families and teachers.
Where a kid can be a kid….
During the 2009 session, several powerful legislators introduced legislation that would put an end to video sweepstakes in North Carolina because of similarities to video poker.  Whether intended or not, this legislation would have all but shut down family fun establishments such as Chucky E Cheese or Dave and Busters in our state.   A group of these family-friendly companies looked to MWC to stop this legislation.  Gardner Payne took the lead in organizing a coalition of companies like Pepsi, Coke, McDonald’s, Food Lion, Lowe’s and others to work together to fight this legislation. Together the coalition was able to prevent any of the bills from passing the “crossover” deadline.  MWC was successful in delivering the message that this legislation would do serious damage to long-established and respected businesses in North Carolina.
Reforming NC’s self-storage lien laws
North Carolina’s self-storage laws were originally enacted in the early 1980s and over time had become outdated, costly and cumbersome to both self storage owners as well as tenants of the units. Without previous legislative experience or established relationships with lawmakers, the state association decided a legislative effort was necessary to amend or remove outdated provisions from the North Carolina statutes.  The association turned to Gardner Payne for assistance in getting a bill passed to make seven identified changes to the NC Self Storage Lien Law Statutes and the effort was a success.  Unexpectantly during the 2009 Legislative session, the North Carolina Senate proposed instituting a sales tax on self-storage facilities.  Gardner and MWC helped the NC Self Storage Association develop a clear message and strategy and were successful in removing the proposed self storage sales tax from the final Legislative Finance plan.
Preserving tourism taxes for tourism development
Representing clients in the travel and tourism industry, MWC successfully ensured that sixteen local occupancy tax bills passed in the 2009 legislative session conformed to guidelines that set a cap of 6% and require two-thirds of the funds to be used for tourism promotion and one-third for tourism development.  These guidelines have been challenged by local governments each session since their inception over a decade ago, but on behalf of our clients, we have worked to establish close working relationships with legislative staff and key committee members, as well as work with bill sponsors and local government representatives from across the spectrum to maintain uniformity in local tax policy across the state.
Changing the image of video gaming 
The North Carolina Entertainment Group started the 2009 Legislative Session with a dream of re-legalizing video gaming in North Carolina. With the “Jim Black saga” fresh on the minds of legislators and the media, the prospects of a successful session seemed bleak.   Gardner Payne helped draft legislation to develop a revenue sharing program between the state and the video gaming industry and was able to help the NCEG find a House member to sponsor the legislation.  At the beginning of session there was no support for video gaming in the North Carolina General Assembly – in fact, the concept was met with ridicule.  However, with the appropriate messaging and education, by the end of the session MWC had helped secure the endorsement of HB 1537 by the Legislative Black Caucus, the North Carolina State Employees Association, the powerful House Rules Chair and a significant number of both Republican and Democratic House members, resulting in what at the beginning of the session would have been unthinkable:  a hearing in Judiciary II Committee.  MWC was also very successful in educating the Governor’s Office on the issue and is scheduled to meet with her office in the interim to help educate the Governor and her staff on the real and positive impact legalizing video gaming could have on North Carolina’s economy.  All in all, MWC raised the idea of video gaming from a “joke” in the legislative halls to an idea that is seriously under consideration.
Watching out for NC’s home buyers 
The North Carolina Real Estate Investors Association contacted MWC three hours before legislation being pushed by the North Carolina Banking Commissioner was scheduled to be “concurred” upon in the House. The bill had received a unanimous vote in the House and the Senate and was now back before the full House for a concurrence vote after a small change was made in the Senate.  However NCREIA had been contacted by its national association with news that two lines in this 50-page bill severely impacted “owner financing” of homes.  MWC received the help of a House member who assisted MWC and NCREIA in getting the bill sponsor, the North Carolina Association of Realtors, the North Carolina Home Builders and the North Carolina Banking Commission to come together to discuss the problematic language.  Working together, the informal coalition was able to convince the House of Representatives to vote to “not concur” and eventually assisted in drafting new language that was added to the final legislation.
Improving environmental quality
In 2008, MWC represented private mitigation companies, organized as the North Carolina Environmental Restoration Association (NC ERA), in lobbying successfully to enact legislation that, for the first time, allowed private companies to provide mitigation services to commercial developers and builders. [Mitigation is the process required under federal and state laws whereby unavoidable impacts to the environment, mainly aquatic resources (wetlands, streams, riparian buffers, as well as nitrogen and phosphorus loading), are required to be offset or mitigated through the restoration, enhancement, or preservation of an equal or greater amount of the same resource within a prescribed area, usually within the same watershed. Mitigation can be accomplished using a Mitigation Bank in which the developer of the project purchases approved mitigation credits from a mitigation bank.] Previously, the State had a monopoly on the provision of these services. Developers and environmental groups agreed with NC ERA that the private sector could do this work more cost effectively and with better results for the environment. In 2009, MWC led the way to improve the legislation passed in 2008. The new law clarifies that private companies may provide all forms of mitigation, including nutrient and riparian buffer mitigation banks (not just mitigation for wetlands and streams) and gives the NC Department of Transportation and municipalities and counties the option to contract with the private sector.
Banning texting and emailing while driving
MWC’s Harry Kaplan led the lobbying effort, on behalf of AAA Carolinas, to pass legislation that bans texting and emailing while driving. The new law, which takes effect December 1, 2009, was cited in many news stories summarizing the 2009 Session as one of the major bills to get adopted this year.
Cutting Medicaid costs while providing better health care services
MWC Senior Vice President Harry Kaplan introduced MedSolutions to North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) officials and, after months of negotiations facilitated by Kaplan, MedSolutions landed a $95 million contract to provide radiology benefits management (RBM) services to the State’s Medicaid Program. Kaplan also lobbied legislators to prevent legislation, promoted by hospital and doctor groups that would have blocked the implementation of RBM for Medicaid. MedSolutions uses its patented RBM process, which includes the use of evidence-based clinical guidelines, as well as the clinical expertise of doctors and nurses, to determine the medical necessity and appropriateness of high-tech imaging studies, e.g., MRI, PET, CT and ultrasound, and deliver necessary medical care effectively and efficiently to those in need. MedSolution’s RBM is projected to save North Carolina over $16 million (the state share; almost $50 million total) over the next two fiscal years by reducing unnecessary overutilization of imaging studies and ensuring that radiology services are provided at the right time to the right people.
Preserving community health center funding
Representing the North Carolina Community Health Center Association, MWC Vice President Johnny Tillett and Senior Vice President Harry Kaplan worked successfully to preserve state grants for safety net health care providers, including community health centers. As a result of their lobbying, $5 million in recurring funds were appropriated for grants for safety net providers (was, a smaller amount of non-recurring funding only) and a proposed provision that would have excluded federally qualified community health centers from being eligible for state grants (which can be used to leverage more federal funding for North Carolina safety net health care providers) was stricken from the 2009-10 Appropriations Act.
Expanding North Carolina’s film industry
MWC Senior Vice President John Merritt, representing the Wilmington Film Commission, led a coalition of supporters in lobbying legislators to expand the tax credit for producing films and episodic television series in North Carolina from 15% to 25%. The expanded tax credit is expected to bring new movie and television projects to North Carolina, creating thousands of new jobs.