NCGA Week in Review, 6/6-6/10

June 13, 2011

Pardon Our Dust

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Governor Vetoes Budget Setting the Stage for Override Votes

After a week of speculation Governor Perdue vetoed the compromised budget plan from the General Assembly on Sunday (6/12) afternoon. Legislators have been waiting for the Governor to review the $19.7 billion budget that was presented to her by the House and Senate over a week ago on Saturday morning (6/4). Perdue has repeatedly criticized the plan for its cuts made to education and upon signing the veto said, “I will not put my name on a plan that so blatantly ignores the values of North Carolina’s people. I cannot support a budget that sends the message that North Carolina is moving backwards, when we have always been a state that led the nation. The General Assembly may be satisfied with a state in reverse, but I am not. Therefore, I veto this bill.”

It is anticipated that the House and Senate will schedule veto override votes on Tuesday (6/14). The Senate has a veto-proof majority and if the House is able to maintain the support of four out of the five Democrats who approved the budget they will also have the three-fifths majority needed to override the veto. House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) said late last week that the bipartisan coalition that approved the state budget would remain intact and was completely confident that five House Democrats and all 68 Republicans would stick together.

Legislators Finish Marathon Crossover Week

Over 350 bills received legislative action this past week as the House and Senate held marathon sessions of nearly 16-hour days. North Carolina legislators, staff and lobbyists scrambled around the General Assembly preparing for the Thursday June 9th “crossover” deadline. The deadline means that bills to remain eligible for the remainder of the 2011-2012 biennium session they must have passed either the House or Senate by the deadline unless they are bills that require tax changes or spending, which are excluded from the deadline. Bills that did not pass are now deemed essentially “dead” until 2013.

The General Assembly appears to be wrapping up its work for 2011, as legislative leaders have set a goal for adjournment by Friday, June 17, that they appear intent on sticking to. However, that does not mean that the work is slowing down. Undoubtedly work will continue furiously this week to get legislation passed before the session adjourns, in addition to holding votes to override the Governor’s veto of the budget plan.

Lawmakers Reach Compromise on Medical Liability Reform

After finishing negotiations in conference committee the House and Senate gave final legislative approval to a medical malpractice reform bill that makes changes to the state’s medical liability system including limits on non-economic damages and periodic payments of future economic damages. Under Senate Bill 33: Medical Liability Reform, plaintiffs harmed by emergency room doctors are able to collect economic damages, such as lost wages, in full. However, it limits the physician’s malpractice responsibility to $500,000.  The measure now goes to the Governor, who has to decide whether to veto or approve the bill.

Charter Schools Bill Sent to the Governor

After nearly two months of negotiation in conference committee a negotiated version of the charter schools bill passed both the House and Senate late last week by overwhelming majorities. The final version lifts the state’s 100-school limit on charter schools; allows the schools to charge fees for band participation or other activities if traditional schools charge them; keeps oversight of the schools under the state’s public school leadership giving the schools up to five years to show their students meet adequate performance guidelines; removes requirements under previous versions that the schools provide free or reduce-priced lunches and limited transportation. The measure now goes to the Governor for her consideration where approval of the compromised version is expected.

Senate Follows House in Passing Workers’ Compensation Reform

The Senate unanimously voted, 46-0, to pass workers’ compensation reform, House Bill 709: Protect and Put NC Back to Work. The bill received significant bipartisan support after months of negotiation and compromise. One of the primary objectives of this legislation is to bring North Carolina’s indemnity costs in line with surrounding states by limiting the duration of Temporary Total Disability (TTD) benefits. The legislation places a 500 week cap on TTD benefits, increases the cap on temporary partial disability benefits from 300 weeks to 500 weeks, improves the structure, operation and accountability of the Industrial Commission, improves communication between the employer and the doctor to better facilitate an employee’s return to work and ensures that both parties have equal access to medical information. The bill now goes to the Governor.

Changes to Election Laws Being Debated

The House and Senate spent a significant amount of time this past week debating various measures that would change voting procedures in North Carolina:

•    Voter ID: The House passed a bill that would require voters to show a one of 8 different forms of a photo ID before voting, including a NC driver’s license, a non-driver’s license identification card issued by DMV, a military ID, and other government-issues cards.

•    Judicial Races: The Senate passed a bill that would end nonpartisan judicial races. Currently justices on state Supreme Court, NC Court of Appeals judges, superior court judges and district court judges are elected on a non-partisan basis.

•    Straight Party-Ticket Voting: The Senate passed a bill that would eliminate straight party-ticket voting.

•    Party Affiliation Listing: The Senate approved a bill allowing candidates for nonpartisan offices to list the names of recognized political parties besides their names on the ballot if he or she desires.

Comprehensive Regulatory Reform Moves Ahead

The Senate passed Senate Bill 781: The Regulatory Reform Act of 2011 with a unanimous vote. The bill was crafted after a series of six public hearings around the state by the Joint Regulatory Reform Committee. Provisions within the bill include:

•    Restrictive Standard: Environmental regulatory rules cannot impose a more restrictive standard, limitation, or requirement than Federal counterparts.

•    State Agency Evaluation: Requires state agencies to submit an evaluation of the economic impact of a proposed rule and the costs it would create for local governments and other entities affected by the rules. Also creates more transparency in the fiscal review process.

•    Permit Applications: Eliminates duplicative or unnecessary requirements in permit applications and extensions.