North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

August 27, 2021

Pardon Our Dust

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Despite a halt in budget negotiations in Raleigh this week, legislators cleared some significant pieces of legislation and sent them to Governor Cooper’s desk – a sign that despite the budget impasse, progress is still being made at the General Assembly.

The COVID-19 case count continues to worsen in North Carolina. As of this morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 8,620 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 3,552 individuals hospitalized, and sadly, 14,272 confirmed deaths. There have been 10,362,186 doses of the vaccine distributed in NC, which is about 65% of the total adult population.

As we all continue to feel the effects of the global pandemic and adjust to a new normal, we want to highlight a few ways our clients across North Carolina have worked to support residents and make this time a little easier for those throughout the state. Read more about what our clients are doing to help by clicking here.

For more information on COVID-19 in North Carolina, click here to visit the Department of Health and Human Services website, and be sure to stay up to date on the latest federal guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by clicking here.

Health Bills

The General Assembly made a few changes this week to the bureaucratic laws regulating hospitals and healthcare. Some legislators have advocated for over a decade to reform or even repeal the state’s Certificate of Need (CON) laws, which require hospital and healthcare facilities to get approval from the Department of Health and Human Services to expand treatment or purchase equipment. The CON laws could receive some of the long-awaited reforms after this week when Republican legislative health committee leaders struck compromise with industry to implement some reforms. Senate Bill 462, which passed the House this week 100-3, would give hospitals more leeway with expansion decisions and align policy with inflation. Notably, the bill would increase the threshold above which certificates of need would be required for diagnostic equipment from $500,000 to $1.5 million and would increase the threshold for major medical equipment from $750,000 to $2 million. Additionally, the threshold for capital expenditures for new institutional health services would rise from $2 million to $4 million. The bill places a timeline cap on the certificates for certain projects. The bill has now been sent to the Governor for his signature.

Another bill that reduces regulation over healthcare also inched closer this week to becoming law. Senate Bill 228 would, according to bill sponsor Sen. Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson), will lower healthcare plans by 15-20% for North Carolina workers. The bill would allow employers to offer exclusive provider organization (EPO) health insurance plans, which act like a PPO except they do not include out-of-network options. The health insurance plan known as “exclusive provider organization” offers a local network of doctors and hospitals for employers to choose from. It usually comes with lower monthly premiums and a higher deductible and does not cover care outside the network except in an emergency. S228 passed both chambers in the legislature this week and will soon be sent to the Governor.

Medical Marijuana

A bill to legalize and regulate cannabis for medical use advanced once more through the NC General Assembly this week after receiving approval from the Senate Health Committee. As written, Senate Bill 711 would legalize use of marijuana for specific diagnosed ailments. Two advisory boards would be established to define and regulate who can receive a medical cannabis license, and the system for licensing dispensaries. The Health Committee this week approved amendments to specify that one of the advisory boards should be made of health and research professionals. Three additional amendments were adopted in the committee, which would implement performance requirements for dispensary licensees, narrow the scope of advertising that a licensee can pursue, and provide a process for the UNC System to research the effects of medical cannabis. The committee approved the bill, sending it on to its last stop before a floor vote, the Senate Rules Committee, which is chaired by the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick). If it passed the Senate, it would still need to be voted on by the House.

Education Standards

Republican Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson and an ensemble of his supporters attended the Senate Education Committee this week to support House Bill 324, a bill championed by Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham). The bill would limit how educators in NC schools are permitted to teach about racism and controversial theories and prohibit “indoctrination” in schools. In front of a gallery of vocal proponents of the bill who grew unruly at times during the committee, Berger explained that the bill provides avenues for parents to hold educators accountable for the materials being taught to their children. Democrats took issue with the intent of the legislation, questioning the necessity of the bill. At one point, Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) called the bill a “Fox News driven issue,” which led to an angry retort by Lieutenant Governor Robinson, calling the comparison an “insult” before walking out of the committee room. The bill was ultimately approved by the Senate committee, and Thursday was voted out of the Senate on a party line vote. The bill now goes to the House.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Tuesday, August 31

3:00PM House: Environment