NCGA Week in Review

March 15, 2019

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The General Assembly reconvened on Monday, March 11 for a week of full of Appropriations meetings and floor votes. Governor Cooper released his budget recommendations last week prompting a week of presentations from various departments on their budget needs for the year. Without a supermajority, members of the General Assembly will look to find a middle ground during their budget debates. In this young session, the new look General Assembly has been working in a bi-partisan fashion with numerous bills receiving support across the aisle.

School Bond

On Thursday, the NC House of Representatives progressed on a statewide referendum for school construction bonds. House Bill 241: Education Bond Act of 2019 passed its third reading in the House 99-6. The bond proposal, backed by the Speaker of the House would introduce a $1.9 billion school construction bond.

The bill would provide $1.5 billion to public schools and $200 million to the UNC system colleges and community colleges. Legislators who back the bill hope that it will modernize school facilities across the state. During debate, legislators from rural counties stressed that the facilities in schools across their districts were in distress due to age.

In order to meet these needs, the bill was designed to help counties with the greatest needs. Poorer districts were guaranteed at least $10 million in funding. Legislators also factored in growing districts across the state, anticipating growing student populations over the next few years. Backers of the bill tout the state’s current AAA credit rating, low interest rates and low construction cost as reasons to push forward with the bond now.

The bill will now move to the Senate where it faces opposition from Democrats. Senate Democrats have advocated for an alternative bill that would provide $2 billion for school construction over a nine year period without a bond issue. Senate Republicans have debated against the measure with concerns over “maxing out” the state credit card.

Hands Free Phone Use

Across the world, the use of technology, especially smartphones, has become essential to the way we communicate. Legislators understand this but do not want people distracted by their phone while driving. House Bill 144: Hands Free NC seeks to reduce accidents and could result in lower insurance rates. 

On Tuesday, the House Transportation Committee voted to move forward on banning NC drivers from holding wireless devices in their hands or against their bodies. Drivers would also not be allowed to text or watch videos. First-time violators would face $100 fines, growing to $200 with additional penalties on insurance records for repeat offenses.

The bill provides exceptions for emergencies. Drivers over 18 could use hand-held phones sitting on stands or in drink holders for a call if pressing only one button to start or end it. Drivers under 18 would be barred from using a device except to follow a preset navigation system route.

The bill received bi-partisan support as legislators agreed that safety while driving was a number one priority. According to the NC Department of Transportation, distracted driving contributed to 54,302 crashes in 2016 across the state. The bill will continue to be vetted by House committees and the Senate.

Voter ID

North Carolina will not see voter ID implemented in 2019. The General Assembly decided to delay the implementation of voter ID laws until 2020, citing that voter IDs would add an extra hurdle to the upcoming special elections for vacant congressional seats in the 3rd and 9th districts. Mail-in absentee voting for the 3rd congressional district started today.

The bill was fast-tracked through committees and signed into law by Governor Cooper on Thursday. Colleges and government agencies were still expected to submit updated IDs that would meet the new standards to use at precincts. During debate on the House floor yesterday it was reported that about a quarter have submitted.

Small Business Health Insurance  

The Senate passed Senate Bill 86: Small Business Healthcare Act on its third reading 38-8. The bill would allow small business employers to offer an association health plan insurance plan (AHPs). The plans would allow small businesses to offer health insurance with lower premium costs. Those with up to 50 employees could qualify.

The bill permits the grouping of employers in the same trade or industry, such as car dealers. It also allows those within the same metro area, region, or near state lines to have access to an AHP. Other features of the bill include allowing sole proprietors and the self-employed to enroll. The AHP has to be offered by a nonprofit with at least 500 members that has been in business for at least two years, and does not displace any insurance plans that are already offered.

It does not force anyone to join an AHP but presents small businesses owners another insurance option. Those against the bill fear that the bill would not provide adequate coverage and that it will lead to the opting out of providing benefits that were required under the Affordable Care Act. The House will continue to debate the bill and is expected to offer amendments.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Monday, March 18th

2:00 PM Senate: Session Convenes

2:00 PM Senate: Select Committee on Prison Safety

3:00 PM House: Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House

7:00 PM House: Session Convenes

Tuesday, March 19th

8:30 AM House: Appropriations, Transportation (Joint)

8:30 AM House: Appropriations, Justice and Public Safety

8:30 AM House: Appropriations, Education (Joint)

8:30 AM House: Appropriations, General Government (Joint)

8:30 AM Senate: Joint Appropriations on General Government and Information Technology

8:30 AM House: Appropriations, Health and Human Services (Joint)

9:00 AM House: Appropriations, Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources (Joint)

10:00 AM House: Transportation.

10:00 AM House: Health

House: Education – K-12

3:00 PM House: Alcoholic Beverage Control — UPDATED

3:00 PM House: Banking — UPDATED

Wednesday, March 20th

8:30 AM House: Appropriations, Transportation (Joint)

8:30 AM House: Appropriations, Education (Joint)

8:30 AM Senate: Joint Appropriations on Education/Higher Education

8:30 AM Senate: Appropriations on General Government and Information Technology (Joint) — UPDATED

8:30 AM House: Finance

8:30 AM House: Appropriations, Health and Human Services (Joint)

9:00 AM House: Appropriations, Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources (Joint)

11:00 Am Senate: Education/Higher Education

Thursday, March 21st  

8:30 AM House: Appropriations, Transportation (Joint)

8:30 AM House: Appropriations, Education (Joint)

8:30 AM House: Appropriations, Health and Human Services (Joint)

9:00 AM House: Appropriations, Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources (Joint)