NCGA Week in Review – April 8 – April 12

April 12, 2013

Pardon Our Dust

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Auto Insurance Reform Bill Heard in House Insurance Committee

The House Insurance Committee had its first hearing on House Bill 265 on Wednesday. HB 265, titled “Automobile Insurance Regulatory Modernization Act,” would allow auto insurance companies to opt-out of the North Carolina Rate Bureau and set their own rates within a flex band. Under current law, all rates are set by the NC Rate Bureau. The new legislation would eliminate surcharges imposed on drivers to subsidize the cost of insuring high risk drivers. Wednesday’s hearing featured an overview of the bill given by its sponsors, Rep. Jeff Collins and Rep. Tom Murry. The committee did not take action on the bill, deciding to move slowly so the bill could be fully vetted. HB 265 will be before the committee again next week, where members of the public will have a chance to voice their opinion on the bill. Supporters of the legislation argue that it would bring down costs for low risk drivers and allow for more competition in the marketplace. Under the current system, certain insurance products designed to lower costs are not available in North Carolina. Those against the legislation have argued that removing the rate bureau would lead to insurers charging higher rates.
Governor McCrory Announces Commerce Reforms
Governor McCrory announced his plan to reform North Carolina’s economic development and tourism plan on Monday. McCrory and Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker unveiled the North Carolina Economic Development Corporation (NCEDC), which would receive state funds and take over many current Commerce Department responsibilities. The NCEDC would become the state’s main tool for drawing new business to the state, and it would be able to react to opportunities more quickly than what is currently possible. The Governor would be the chairman of the board for the NCEDC. Elected officials would make appointments to the board, adding transparency and accountability. The concept follows states such as Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, where private, nonprofit corporations are performing historically public-sector work. Secretary Decker said she pictures incentives functions being handed over to a grant committee within the corporation. The new corporation would also handle the state’s travel and tourism marketing, small business development, international investment and importing and exporting goods.
Education Reform Plans Move Through Both Chambers
House leaders unveiled their education reform plan Wednesday. HB 719, the Education Improvement Act of 2013, is markedly different than the plan introduced in the Senate last week. The Senate’s reform plan, SB 361, was approved by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. Senator Phil Berger’s proposal would eliminate teacher tenure by 2018. After 2018, administrators would be able to offer four year contracts to the top 25 percent of teachers at their school. The remainder of teachers would be on annual contracts, without the ability to legally challenge their dismissal. The House bill takes a more moderate approach on tenure, using a probationary/non-probationary system. Teachers with tenure or career status would start out as non-probationary. If a teacher passed their yearly evaluation, they would retain their non-probationary status. Teachers with two consecutive years of bad evaluations would be placed on probation. Probationary status teachers could be fired or hired without recourse. The House plan would also create a stakeholders’ commission, appointed by legislative leaders, which would include teachers, parents, administrators and policy makers. The commission would handle issues such as merit pay and other teacher pay issues before reporting back to the General Assembly with a proposal.
Last Public Hearing on Voter ID Held Wednesday
The House Elections Committee held its final public hearing Wednesday before the committee puts the bill to a vote. More than 100 people signed up to give their opinions on the Voter Identification Verification Act. The public hearing also included expert testimony and committee debate. Opponents of the bill claim that voter fraud is not a real issue and that it could disenfranchise some minority, poor, or elderly voters. Supporters of the legislation claim that it would provide much needed confidence in the electoral system. The House Elections Committee is expected to vote on the bill next week, and it would go directly to the floor if passed.
Lottery Advertising Changes Passes House
The House approved legislation that would impose restrictions on lottery advertisements with a 99-12 vote. The changes came as a result of legislators claiming the lottery needed more transparency for players. Rep. Skip Stam, one of the bill’s sponsors, claims that current advertising is deceptive in the way that it mixes overall odds of winning with promotions of its largest prizes. Opponents of the legislation claimed that the state either needs to end the lottery or leave it be. The legislation would require ads show the odds of winning the largest prize and show winnings for lump sum payments, not just those paid over time. It would also forbid lottery ads from being displayed at high school and college athletic events. Both Governor McCrory and legislative budget writers have also proposed cutting the lottery’s advertising budget. Lottery executive director Alice Garland claims that the bill would mean added expense for billboard advertising and could lead to a $60 million drop in revenue going to education.
Second Casino Could Come to NC
Principal Chief Michell Hicks confirmed that the Tribal Council has approved plans for a new gaming facility near Murphy, NC. Construction could begin as quickly as possible. The Cherokee’s gaming compact with the state allows them to operate multiple casinos. The new casino would secure more revenues for the tribe to provide needed services for members on the Qualla Boundary and other sections of Western NC. Harrah’s would have first rights on operating the new casino.
McCrory Campaign Recognized for Outstanding Advertising
The American Association of Political Consultants gave the McCrory campaign a bronze award for best Republican TV campaign. Strategic Perceptions, Inc. produced the television ads for the McCrory campaign. Strategic Perceptions previously produced advertisements for George Bush, John McCain, and Elizabeth Dole.
House Education Committee Passes Public School Security Bill
The House Education Committee approved a bill that would boost security in North Carolina’s public schools. The bill is estimated to cost $70 million over the next two years. The new legislation came as a response to the Newtown, Connecticut slaying last December. The bill would require schools to implement training and equipment to respond to threats, coordination with law enforcement, installation of panic alarms in every classroom, and installation of anonymous tip lines for students and parents to report potential trouble. The legislation also encourages schools to place more police officers and counselors on their campuses and offer grants to help finance them. It also includes a new program that would allow volunteers to serve as in-school law enforcement officers working under the direction of local law enforcement.
Several Interesting Bills Filed This Week
A bill allowing the Department of Transportation to increase the speed limit to 75 miles per hour on some highways cleared the Senate on Thursday. Senate Bill 709 would only apply to interstates and controlled-access highways deemed appropriate by engineering and safety investigations.
House Bill 792 would allow raw, unpasteurized milk to be sold. It would allow residents to buy shares in a lactating animal in order to obtain its unpasteurized milk. Unpasteurized milk can carry bacteria and diseases such as salmonella.
 House Bill 782 would require malt beverages containing more than nine percent alcohol to be sold at Alcohol Beverage Control stores. These beverages have a higher alcohol content than most beers and wine, but lower content than almost all liquors and liqueurs.
 House Resolution 617 was filed on Tuesday, which would proclaim that the federal government is violating the 10th Amendment by issuing federal government mandates. The 10th Amendment says powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved for the states and the people. Bills in many state legislatures sought to fight the Affordable Care Act under this argument.
Rep. George Cleveland filed a bill this week which would allow the state to confiscate vehicles of drivers pulled over and found to be driving without auto insurance. House Bill 602 would only allow vehicles to be seized after someone is convicted of driving without insurance and includes exceptions for technical errors that could lead to a lapse in coverage.
House Bill 683, filed Tuesday, would prohibit cities and counties from limiting the size of soft drinks. The bill is a response to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s effort to limit giant size drinks for health reasons. The bill would also protect food manufacturers from potential lawsuits over weight gain.

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