North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

April 29, 2022

Pardon Our Dust

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This week marked the start of early voting in North Carolina’s primary elections. Registered voters can visit their early voting sites through May 14 to cast their ballot. Early voting sites and schedules are posted to the NC Board of Elections One-Stop Early Voting Site Search. Individuals can also register to vote or change their voting address by visiting an early voting site. There are contested races in both the Republican and Democratic primaries in North Carolina’s US Senate, US Congress, judicial, and local races.

Access to Healthcare Committee

The Joint Legislative Committee on Access to Healthcare and Medicaid Expansion convened Tuesday for their final meeting before the beginning of the legislative short session, which begins May 18. The committee members heard testimony from experts on telehealth and potential state legislative regulations on Medicaid.

Several speakers referenced legislation recently passed in other states that regulate the telehealth industry. Naomi Lopez, the Vice President of Healthcare Policy at the Goldwater Institute, spoke about a bill passed in Arizona in 2021 that, according to a statement by the Arizona Governor, “expands access to telemedicine for patients, ensures doctors receive equal compensation from insurance companies for telemedicine services, and allows out-of-state health care professionals to provide telemedicine in Arizona.”

In terms of passing a bill to regulate telemedicine in North Carolina, committee members heard a variety of opinions and options on the right policy. Dr. Scott Rissmiller, the Executive Vice President and Chief Physician Executive for Atrium Health spoke about the Charlotte-based hospital’s successful experience with telehealth during the pandemic. In his presentation, Dr. Rissmiller argued for legislation that would establish how insurance payers reimburse providers for telehealth services.

A healthcare policy expert, Josh Archambault, a Senior Fellow with the Cicero Institute, admonished against any state legislation to regulate telemedicine. In his presentation, Archambault cautioned against licenses for telemedicine providers, and against compacts to regulate how out-of-state telemedicine providers see patients in North Carolina. Chris Evans, the Vice President of Public Affairs for Blue Cross North Carolina, also cautioned against burdensome regulation for telemedicine providers in the state.

The committee also heard a pitch for a Medicaid voucher program from David Smith of the NC Association of Health Underwriters. It would take the place of expanding Medicaid and would be for people who do not currently qualify for premium support on the healthcare marketplace.

A date has not yet been set for the next meeting for the committee, but Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth), a chair of the committee, said they would likely reconvene sometime after the short session.

Oversight Committee on Public Safety

The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety also met Tuesday to hear about a variety of concerns and updates on programs affecting law enforcement and prisons. Col. Freddie Johnson, the Commander of the State Highway Patrol, gave an update on his department. Lawmakers were astounded to hear that traffic fatalities in North Carolina were at an all-time high since 1973. Col. Johnson credited excessive speeding on state highways to the unfortunate statistic.

Next, Mark Ezzell, the Director of the North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program, gave a presentation on North Carolina’s ignition interlock laws. Members of the committee voiced concerns about the equipment remaining updated, and preparation against both false readings and tampering. The committee also heard a presentation about the implementation of the Department of Adult Corrections from Douglas Holbrook, the Chief Financial Officer for the Departmentof Public Safety. Session Law 2021-180, passed last year by the General Assembly, established the Department of Adult Corrections as a new cabinet-level agency apart from the Department of Public Safety, to be completed by January 2023. Rep. Billy Richardson (D-Cumberland) voiced concerns over the structure being implemented by the creation of the new division, saying “I’m very concerned about this structure…I don’t see a cost savings, I don’t know how it will improve communications and I don’t think it will make anything more efficient.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, the committee unanimously approved draft legislation that will be recommended in the 2022 short session. Those draft bills include recommendations on retail theftsconcurrent juvenile jurisdiction sentencesa prison pilot, and changes to the sex offender registration process.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

No legislative meetings are currently scheduled for next week.