LEGISLATIVE REPORT - May 14, 2019
Last Thursday was the General Assembly’s crossover deadline, the date by which bills without a financial element must move from one chamber to another in order to stay alive for the session. Usually, this is a week filled with late nights and craziness, but this session they actually planned ahead and moved bills quickly the week before so it was surprisingly calm. The House wrapped up its work on Tuesday and the Senate on Wednesday, meaning most lawmakers weren’t even in town for the actual deadline.
A total of 1,687 total bills have been introduced this session, including more than 1,000 House bills and nearly 700 in the Senate. Most bills that had been heard in committee made it to the floor for a vote, and many remaining bills have a budget or finance component, exempting them from crossover. And some bills that may not have made the deadline, may be revived later in session with the addition of a fiscal element or by being added to another measure.
Now that crossover has passed, the budget will take center stage again. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, indicated that the goal is for the Senate to complete the budget by the end of the month, which would likely mean floor votes on the week after Memorial Day. According to Brown, budget subcommittees are already working on the pieces of the budget.
Another issue that has been front and center this session has surfaced again. State Treasurer Dale Folwell has moved forward with his plan to change how the State Health Plan reimburses doctors and other providers. The State Health Plan announced that the state Insurance Department has given final approval to moving the plan to a government pricing model tied to Medicare rates. House Bill 184, which was approved by the House in April, would stop the plan while a study is conducted; however, the bill has not been heard in the Senate.
Also, last week, Governor Cooper announced nearly $10 million in broadband grants through the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program, which provides matching grants to internet service providers and electric membership cooperatives to expand high speed internet in Tier 1 counties. The grants were distributed to 14 companies in 19 counties from Gates County in the state's northeast to Macon County in the state's far west. There appears to be bipartisan agreement that funding for GREAT should continue. The House budget included $15 million a year for the program, as well as tweaks to eligibility rules that would allow for projects in less impoverished Tier Two counties. Cooper's budget included $30 million for the 2019-2020 fiscal year but no money for the following year.
The General Assembly also continues to explore options to address teacher and school needs. Senate Bill 219 was passed by the Senate last week. It would give teachers extra time to pass licensing exams by allowing school districts to issue three-year, non-renewable limited licenses to teachers who are in danger of losing their jobs because of failing licensing exams. The bill also gives a one-year extension -- to June 30, 2020 -- for elementary school teachers and special education teachers whose initial licenses were set to expire in June.
The Senate also passed legislation to allow families with household income of more than $70,000 per year to utilize the Opportunity Scholarship program, which provides private school vouchers. Senate Bill 609 would also eliminate a cap that has been used to limit the number of kindergarteners and first graders eligible for the program. The program has not been spending all the funds it is appropriated, accumulating more than $12 million on hand, and it is scheduled to get an extra $10 million a year from state taxpayers every year through 2026.
Finally, the week ended on a partisan note, as news broke that the State Board of Elections will remove longtime Executive Director Kim Strach, a Republican appointee. The change in leadership, and especially the timing, is questionable with the Republican primary in the 9th Congressional District race being held today, the 3rd Congressional District race going to a run-off and the 2020 U.S. Senate race already heating up. In Raleigh it seems that everything is partisan these days.
This Legislative Report is a publication of Kochanek Law Group and is a member benefit of AANC. Any use or reproduction of this report is limited to AANC and its members.