North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

February 24, 2023

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The General Assembly was in full swing this week, with committee meetings every day and significant pieces of legislation passing out of each chamber. This week the Senate tackled medical billing transparency and medical marijuana, while the House passed bills associated with hotel safety, school calendar flexibility, and gun laws. This week, the House also passed a resolution inviting Democratic Governor Roy Cooper to the chamber to deliver the annual State of the State address to the legislature. The Governor will visit a joint session of the legislature on March 6, and will be joined by his cabinet, the Council of State, the Justices of the Supreme Court, and the judges of the Court of Appeals. 

Medical Billing

This week, the Senate passed a bill that would provide healthcare patients with information about the services they receive. Senate Bill 46: Medical Billing Transparency would require healthcare facilities to notify patients if some services might be provided by out-of-network providers and the approximate cost for that care. The notification would have to be given at least 72 hours prior to the patient’s appointment, or as soon as reasonably possible in cases of emergencies. When presenting the legislation, bill sponsor and Senate Health Care Committee Chair Senator Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth) iterated that this is an issue every lawmaker has heard from constituents about. “You’ve all heard from constituents about this. You show up at an in-network facility, then a few months later you receive bills from other providers that are not in-network,” Sen. Krawiec said when explaining the bill before committee members this week. The bill does not include any mandates for healthcare facilities or providers and does not provide patients with an option to opt-out of paying for services not disclosed.

A similar bill passed the Senate during the 2021 legislative session but stalled in the House Rules Committee. SB 49 passed the full Senate on Tuesday and was referred to the House Rules Committee later in the week.

School Calendar Flexibility

Legislators will often joke that the other party is their opponent, but the other chamber is the true enemy. Perhaps no other issue has illuminated the ideological split between the two chambers more, for nearly a decade, than the issue of school calendar flexibility. Already this session, lawmakers in the House, on both sides of the aisle, have moved forward with bills or amendments to give their school districts calendar flexibility to start the school year earlier in August. This week, the House passed several bills, including House Bill 115: School Calendar Flexibility and House Bill 106: School Calendar Flexibility/Various LEAs, that would allow school boards in 23 school districts to shift the start date for students back by a few weeks. The rationale for this is to allow many students to take their first semester exams before the winter break instead of after. Many House lawmakers have also argued that the state should provide calendar flexibility so schools that partner with community colleges for certain electives or honors courses can align their schedules.

However, the bills are all but certain to die in the Senate. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) told reporters again this week that he “doesn’t see where there’s a need to change the calendar law, except maybe to beef up the enforcement mechanisms for local systems that ignore the law.” The tourism industry has long been opposed to changing the calendar law, because they say it would weaken their workforce during peak times for tourists.

Medical Cannabis

A bill to legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina will head to the Senate floor next week. The Senate Rules Committee, which is the last stop for bills before reaching the floor, voted Thursday to approve Senate Bill 3: NC Compassionate Care Act. A similar bill passed the Senate last year, but did not receive a hearing in the House. However, Senator Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), who chairs the Senate Rules Committee and is sponsoring the legislation, has said he feels confident the House will take up the bill this year. In an interview with WRAL, Senator Rabon said the House’s interest “seems to be growing, and I’m very happy about it.”

The bill would tightly regulate the sale and consumption of marijuana for medicinal use in the state. It would define over a dozen medical conditions for which a patient could be prescribed medical marijuana, including Chron’s disease, PTSD, and HIV/AIDS. Similar to last year’s bill, the proposed Medical Cannabis Production Commission would award licenses to ten entities that would grow, possess, and sell cannabis. Each licensee could then open eight medical cannabis centers. A separate medical commission would decide on future medical conditions to qualify for sales. An amendment introduced by Senator Julie Mayfield (D-Buncombe) passed the Senate, which would require the Medical Cannabis Production Commission to give priority to licensee applicants who commit to establishing a medical cannabis distribution center in Tier 1 counties, which are rural or economically disadvantaged counties, ensuring equal access across the state.

Hotel Safety

This week, the House approved legislation that would set a 90-day window before guests at hotels and inns would obtain legal protections typically reserved for home and apartment renters. House Bill 41: Hotel Safety Issues is nearly identical to a bill vetoed by Governor Cooper in 2021. In his veto statement, the Governor said it “is not the right way to ensure safety in hotels” because it “removes legal protections and allows unnecessary harm to vulnerable people who have turned to hotels and motels for housing in a time of need.” Last week, the Senate passed a similar bill with the same objectives. One of the versions would have to be approved by both chambers for the legislation to head to Governor Cooper’s desk.

Supporters of the bill say that current law does not clearly define “transient occupancies” that are not subject to typical landlord-tenant rules, like eviction processes.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Monday, February 27

1:00 PM Senate: Session
4:00 PM House: Session

Tuesday, February 28

8:00 AM Joint House & Senate: Appropriations, Education
8:30 AM Joint House & Senate: Appropriations, Transportation
8:30 AM Joint House & Senate: Appropriations, General Government
8:30 AM Joint House & Senate: Appropriations, Justice & Public Safety
9:00 AM Joint House & Senate: Appropriations, Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources
9:00 AM House: Finance, Subcommittee on Occupancy Tax
10:00 AM House: Local Government
11:00 AM House: Finance
1:00 PM Senate: Commerce and Insurance
2:00 PM House: Energy and Public Utilities

Wednesday, March 1

8:00 AM Joint House & Senate: Appropriations, Education
8:30 AM Joint House & Senate: Appropriations, General Government
12:00 PM House: Wildlife Resources

Thursday, March 2

8:30 AM Joint House & Senate: Appropriations, General Government
11:00 AM House: Education – Universities