House plan includes plenty of policy

Posted June 10, 2014

NC Flag, Legislative Building, Raleigh

— The House budget plan released Tuesday includes plenty of so-called "special provisions" – policy items that may or may not relate to spending.

In the past, Republican and Democratic leaders alike have railed against writing policy changes into the state budget, arguing that such changes should be debated on their own merits rather than rolled into a gigantic spending plan. 

Still, Republicans and Democrats alike have found the budget bill to be a convenient vehicle for contentious issues, potentially controversial changes to standing programs and policy initiatives that one chamber wants but the other doesn't. The House plan contains plenty of all three.

Tanning beds: A House bill that would ban teens under 18 from using tanning beds, even with a parent's permission, is tucked into the Health and Human Services section. The proposal passed the House with bipartisan support, and even the indoor tanning industry has withdrawn its opposition to it, but Senate leaders objected to the imposition on parental rights. 

Epi-Pens: In 2013, the House, again with strong bipartisan support, passed legislation requiring schools to have two emergency epinephrine injectors on hand for students who go into anaphylactic shock. Like the tanning bed bill, the Epi-Pen bill has strong support from the medical community, but Senate leaders haven't taken it up.

Jennette's Pier: The House Environment budget proposes selling Jennette's Pier in Nags Head for fair market value, using the proceeds to fund the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. The renovation of the pier, currently under the Aquariums Division, was a pet project of former Democratic Senate leader Marc Basnight. The $25 million project was used against Democrats in campaign attack ads in 2010. 

Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake, said House budget writers don't actually know what the pier's fair market value would be and added it's possible the state could end up losing money if it were to sell the facility. But he said it's an idea "worth exploring." 

Western School of Science and Math: The House plan includes money for site selection for a new western campus for the North Carolina School of Science and Math. The budget provision says the new campus should be sited at or near the existing state School for the Deaf in Morganton. 

Taxicab gas tax: Tucked away in the bill is a line that would repeal a law allowing taxi operators to claim refunds for gas taxes they pay as part of doing business. Nonprofits would still be able to claim the exemption.

Ferry toll repeal: The House proposal gets rid of tolls on North Carolina ferries - all of them, apparently - and says ferries can make up the money by selling naming rights, sponsorships, advertising and concessions.  

"Shared savings": Last year, legislators imposed a "shared savings" plan on Medicaid providers, cutting reimbursement rates by 3 percent and promising to use the proceeds to reward "efficient and effective care" at the end of the year. This year, House budget writers decided to simply make the 3 percent cut permanent and keep the change.

Medicaid oversight: The House plan would require that any appointee to lead the state's Medicaid program would need to be confirmed by the legislature. In addition, the proposal places strict limits on the agency's ability to contract out for "program integrity" consulting services. Lawmakers on the Health and Human Services Oversight Committee have repeatedly complained that Secretary Aldona Wos should be relying more on experts already on staff and less on expensive outside contracts.

"First in Freedom": The proposal would create a new license plate, "First in Freedom," to commemorate the Mecklenberg Declaration of 1775.


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