NCGA Week in Review

May 5, 2017

Pardon Our Dust

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After a tiresome crossover week, the legislature enjoyed a light schedulethis week. Two committee meetings were held and there was very littleaction on legislation. The reprieve will likely be short lived as theSenate is expected to roll out their budget proposal early next week.

2016 Elections Revisited by House Committee

The House Committee on Elections and Ethics Law met on Thursday morning toreceive a presentation from the State Board of Elections. The presentationreviewed elections held in 2016 and the actions of the Board to meet theirgoal of increasing eligible voter registrations and participation.

In their presentation, the Board highlighted:

  • Voter registration activity that surpassed the 2012 and 2008 presidential election years.
  • Efforts the Board has taken to provide greater access to and participation in elections, particularly noting successes in counties impacted by Hurricane Matthew weeks before the November 9th election.
  • The Board’s three point plan to make voting an efficient experience and challenges they faced this year including Hurricane Matthew and voter ID requirement changes.
  • Issues faced in 2016 elections in Durham County and lessons learned.
  • A post-election audit released last month that found that examined fraudulent and ineligible voters in the November 2016 elections.

Budget Forecast

The Senate is expected to roll out their version of the state budget forthe 2017-19 biennium early next week. After receiving the Governor’srecommended budget​ in March, legislative appropriations chairs have been hard at work debatingtheir priorities for the upcoming years. In February the NC Department ofRevenueforecastedstate tax collections to increase by $552.2 million, a 2.5% increase fromthe previous year. That said, legislators are still awaiting the “Aprilsurprise,” the final tally of personal income tax collections. If taxcollections are similar to last year, the April surprisecould beatprojections by $700 million. A good April surprise may make legislatorsmore comfortable spending more and cutting taxes, and may help the Governorsee his priorities reflected. This year, the budget will go through theSenate first before heading to the House. This year’s budget will likelyinclude pay raises for teachers and state employees, support for businessand investments in the state’s rainy day fund.

Governor & Legislature Honor Tarheel’s, NCAA Champions

The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill men’sbasketballteam paid a trip to Raleigh on Wednesday to be congratulated by thelegislature and Gov. Cooper on their 2017 NCAAA National Championship win.The team, along with Coach Roy Williams visited the legislature, where ajoint session of the House and Senate passed aHRJ 921: Honor UNC Men’s Basketball 2017 Championship. The Governor, a UNC alumnus, proclaimed May 3rd as a day ofrecognition for the team. The day was not without playful protest from NCState University fans, including Sen. John Alexander (R-Wake), who donned awolfpack red blazer and matching tie, though the resolution passedunanimously.

Governor’s Veto

On Friday, Gov. Cooper vetoedHB 467: Agriculture and Forestry Nuisance Remedies. The bill, sponsored by Republican Reps. Jimmy Dixon (Duplin), Ted Davis(New Hanover), David Lewis (Harnett) and John Bell (Wayne), would limit theamount a court can award to a property owner who claims nuisance damages bya nearby agriculture or forestry operation. In hisveto message, Gov. Cooper stated that, “special protection for one industry opens thedoor to weakening our nuisance laws in other areas which can allow realharm to homeowners, the environment and everyday North Carolinians.” Thebill passed the House 68-47 and the Senate 30-19. Approval of two-thirds ofpresent members in both chambers is required to override the veto.

State Employee Retirement Debated in Senate Committee

The Senate Pensions and Retirement Committee had a lengthy debate on a billthat would phase out the state’s pensions and health care coverage forstate employee retirees on Wednesday. Currently, the state offers atraditional pension plan and discounted or free health care coverage toformer state employees, butSB 467: North Carolina Retirement Reformproposes shifting to a 401(k)-style retirement plan and ending retirementhealth care coverage for new hires.

The bill, which is sponsored by Republican Sens. Andy Wells (Catawba), BillRabon (Brunswick) and Ronald Rabin (Harnett), was held for discussion onlyat Wednesday’s meeting, where it received criticism from both sides of theaisle. Sen. Rick Horner (R-Wilson) noted that the state should not bemaking major changes to retirement benefits for partisan reasons and thatnothing should be done without the approval of Republican Treasurer DaleFolwell, who has not taken an opinion. Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) statedthat the change could hurt the state’s ability to attract and retain stateand local government employees.

The bill sponsors argued that the state must take action to keep unfundedfinancial obligations, currently around $60 billion, from getting worse.Additionally, Sen. Wells noted that the changes would not impact currentemployees or retirees, it would only impact future hires.