NCGA Week in Review

June 21, 2019

Pardon Our Dust

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Time is of the essence these days at the North Carolina General Assembly. As the end of session draws closer and closer, legislators have been working diligently to put together some sort of compromise proposal on the state budget, while also pushing through any bills still waiting to have their day in committee. This was the second week of meetings for members of the budget conference committee. Earlier in the week, legislative leadership extended an olive branch to the office of Governor Roy Cooper through an invitation to come sit at the table with legislators through their budget negotiations. The invitation was prompted due to a general census among legislators, and leadership, that it is just a matter of time before the budget makes its way across the Governor’s desk, only to be vetoed and sent back if it does not include provisions and funding for Medicaid expansion. This would send members of the legislature right back to square one. 

While some legislators, mainly House and Senate leadership, have been focusing their efforts solely on the budget process, creating a proposal all parties are able to get behind, other members have been tackling some of the more controversial issues that have come up in bills this session. New regulations for solar recycling and disposal, local ICE cooperation, and the annual fish bill, taking up over 3 hours of House session discussion time this week alone.

Both the House and the Senate will reconvene for voting session on Monday, June 24. The House will reconvene at 7:00PM and the Senate at 2:00PM.

Solar Recycling

Following lengthy stakeholder discussions over the last few days, Sen. Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) had a change of heart on his original solar recycling proposal. Last week, Sen. Newton laid out a firm proposal for the solar industry to agree to four conditions in order to prevent him from moving forward with his original version of SB 568: Recycling and Restoration/Renewable Energy which included a $3,500 fee for manufacturers and strict disposal guidelines. During the Senate Regulatory Reform committee meeting Thursday afternoon, Sen. Newton stated that he had spent many hours working with the stakeholders impacted by the bill, including solar energy companies and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Sen. Newton announced the group had final reached a conclusion that all will be satisfied with. The new proposal, which was added to HB 329: Renewable Energy Amends. as an amendment Thursday, will give DEQ the time to study the issue and engage in a robust stakeholder discussion process. DEQ has until January of 2022 to come up with regulations and guidelines for solar disposal, recycling, and manufacturing. One of the regulations must include a registration fee of $1,000 for those manufacturing solar equipment throughout the state.

A representative from DEQ who spoke on the new language in the bill in committee ensured members that all stakeholders, from Duke Energy to landfill owners and operators, would be involved in the upcoming discussions. She also ensured that it would be a public process, taking into consideration what constituents have to say. The bill as amended will make its next stop in the Senate Rules committee next week. 

Fish Bill

During every long session, for as many years as some of the longest serving legislators are able to remember, there is always at least one “fish bill”. This year was no different. HB 483: Let Them Spawn moved quickly to the House floor this week, ultimately making its way past the House floor in a final 58-54 vote Thursday afternoon. The final vote came only after over 3 hours of floor debate over the course of both Wednesday and Thursday’s sessions combined. The bill prohibits the catch of six species of fish — spot, Atlantic croaker, kingfish, striped mullet, southern flounder, and bluefish — unless they meet a certain minimum size requirement. The goal of the bill is to ensure that these species of fish are able to reach full maturity and have the ability to spawn at least once.

Debate over the bill was far from partisan, bringing members from both sides of the aisle together, speaking passionately both in favor of and in opposition to the bill. Several Democrats, including Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford), argued that the bill was not based on any scientific evidence and that if this bill were an attempt to solve a real problem, they should first study what the problem truly is, if there is one at all.

Several Republicans spoke on the impact this bill would have on marine fishermen in their districts, like Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Craven), who argued that people quit being fishermen because they cannot catch fish due to overregulation, not because there are not enough fish out there. Rep. Kidwell believes the bill will kill the entire industry of crabbing for his constituents.

Those who spoke in support of the bill included bill sponsor Rep. Larry Yarborough (R-Granville), as well as Rep. Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus) who used his time to speak on the bill to read through a newspaper article addressing the real need for a bill like this. Let Them Spawn now heads over to the Senate for debate. 

Public Utilities

The House took its first stab at a bill that sparked a great deal of debate when making its way through the Senate, generating even some personal attacks over the genuine motives of some legislators. SB 559: Storm Securitization/Alt. Rates was heard by the House Finance committee Wednesday morning. The bill was presented by Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) who spoke about the continued discussion among bill sponsors and stakeholders since receiving the bill from the Senate. Some of the key changes included in the House’s version of the bill include:

  • A 120-day rule making process allowing all parties to provide comments and feedback to the NC Utilities Commission as it establishes the rules for the multi-year rate plan.
  • Extends the time allowed for the commission to issue an order to a rate based case.
  • Limits the public utility company to plus or minus 1.25%. All earnings above the 1.25% will automatically be returned to the consumer. If the utility comes in at 1.25% below, they must initiate a new rate case.
  • Adds in a provision that any changes may not result in sudden or substantial rate increases that cause shock to customers.

The bill will also provide a quick infusion of cash to the utility in order to help them recover the storm restoration costs in the wake of multiple unprecedented storms in 2018, Hurricanes Florence and Michael. Some members of the committee felt as though the storm restoration funds in part one of the bill were being held hostage by the more controversial part two of the bill, which establishes the new rate-making tools.

While several members of the committees expressed concerns that, even with the changes, the bill still does not do enough to ensure the protection of consumers, many agreed that this version of the bill was much improved and addresses several of the issues expressed to them by constituents. Following a lengthy debate and input from public stakeholders, including Duke Energy and a representative from the Carolina Utility Customers Association, a roll call vote was taken. The bill will continue on through the committee process after being voted out of committee in a final 16 – 12 vote.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Monday, June 24

2:00PM Senate: Session Convenes

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

7:00PM House: Session Convenes

Tuesday, June 25

8:30AM House: Agriculture

10:00AM House: Transportation

11:00AM House: Education – Universities

1:00PM Senate: Finance

2:00PM Senate: State and Local Government

Wednesday, June 26

10:00AM Senate: Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources

10:00AM House: State and Local Government

10:00AM House: Judiciary

11:00AM Senate: Education/Higher Education

12:00PM Senate: Transportation

Thursday, June 27

10:00AM Senate: Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources