Raleigh, N.C. — Good morning, and welcome to Today @NCCapitol, WRAL's morning roundup of what you need to know about North Carolina state government today.
NOT WAITING: Gov. Pat McCrory says he's still studying whether expanding the state's Medicaid system or participating in a health insurance exchange is a good idea, but lawmakers aren't waiting for him. Senate Bill 4, and a companion bill in the House, would block the state from expanding Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled, or participating in creation of health exchanges as allowed by the federal Affordable Care Act.
“The Governor is continuing to work with HHS Secretary Wos to analyze all options and long term implications to decide what's in the best interest of North Carolina," Press Secretary Crystal Feldman said Wednesday. She didn't have any reaction to legislature's bill filing.
And for their part, legislators didn't seem to be taking much notice of the governor. Asked about former Gov. Bev Perdue's determination that North Carolina should run a joint state-federal exchange, Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca said, "We feel like the legislature has the option to decide whether or not we're going to participate in this, regardless of who the governor is. We feel like this is a legislative decision."
Senators will begin on that decision making process today. The Senate Insurance Committee is scheduled to take up this bill at 10 a.m. today.
UNEMPLOYMENT: The bill remaking the state's unemployment insurance system will be in the House Finance Committee Thursday morning. The committee meeting is scheduled for "10 minutes after recess," so we expect it will start sometime around 9:15 a.m., if not a little before. For those following the issue, click here for some documents that help explain what's in the 70-page bill. WRAL.com will carry this committee live. Check "Video Central" on our home page.
GROUP HOMES: Also scheduled for "10 minutes after recess," the House Appropriations Committee will take up a fix for the mental health group homes and Alzheimer's special care units. The bill is expected to move quickly through the House, as lawmakers there say they are worried vulnerable citizens could be forced to move. We're told that it should see a vote on the House floor today. WRAL.com will carry the full House session live at 12:30 p.m. Check "Video Central" on our home page.
The bill's prospects are less speedy in the Senate. Senate President Pro Tempore told WRAL's Bruce Mildwurf that despite the fast action by the House, he doesn't see the matter as urgent. "I just don't know that what you're dealing with at this point is the kind of problem and scope of problem that seems to be described by some folks," Berger said.
TRACKER UPDATED: WRAL's 2013 N.C. General Assembly Issue Tracker has been updated with Wednesday's bill filings and legislative action.
BOARD OF EDUCATION: For those who have been waiting in suspense since yesterday's The Wrap @NCCapitol segment, yes, we know who McCrory wants to appoint to the state Board of Education. Among the three nominees slated to be approved Monday or Tuesday next week is Bill Cobey, a former state Republican Party chairman.
GOVERNOR'S SCHEDULE: McCrory, State Auditor Beth Wood, state DHHS Sec. Aldon Wos, and Medical Assistance Director Carol Steckel will hold a news conference at 10 a.m. on the Dorothea Dix Campus.
Lawmakers asked for an audit of the state's Medicaid program in last year's budget. Specifically, they asked the auditor to compare North Carolina's Medicaid program to other Medicaid programs in similarly situated states. That review is due back to the legislature Friday and we're reliably informed it will be the subject of today's presser.
SWEEPSTAKES: A spokeswoman for VS2 sent a news release to reporters that the company is circulating a bill to lawmakers that would allow for the full legalization and taxation of video sweepstakes games. The company did not know who the bill sponsor might be.
Asked about a potential sweepstakes bill, House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, said he didn't know of any pending legislation or how the House leadership might deal with it. In the Senate, Apodaca said there was "no appetite" among Republican members to deal with the sweepstakes issue.
DIFFERENT SESSION: During a news conference with the Urban League, Reps. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, and Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham, said that it would be important for Democrats to work with Republicans to shape policies. During the past legislative session, Democrats who worked with Republicans were sometimes pilloried by members of their own party. Brandon, for example, drew grumbles when he worked with the GOP on a charter school bill. And Rep. Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, raised eyebrows when she helped Republican override Gov. Bev Perdue's veto of a fracking bill.
Will Democrats who work with Republicans this year face similar blow-back, or will Democrats be more forgiving?
"Certainly we know there is a different makeup of the General Assembly this session than there was last session," Hall said. "We know there's no veto threat, there's no potential to negotiate and defeat bills and have them reconsidered to have more of what our caucus overall would want in them. So this is a different environment. But second of all, on issues – You're talking about differences on issues. Those weren't just differences on party, those were differences on issues." Hall went on to say that more than three quarters of the bills that pass the General Assembly do so unanimously or nearly so. "We do work together on a lot of issues," he said.
FRESHMAN: Wake County Rep. Duane Hall has been chosen as the chairman of the House Democrat's freshman caucus.
AMENDMENTS: Three potential constitutional amendments long sought by some Republicans were among the first bills filed by lawmakers this year. They include bills to limit the terms of top legislative leaders, curb the use of government's ability to take land from private citizens, and enshrine North Carolina's right-to-work law in the constitution.
Also, Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, has filed a bill to make the Superintendent of Public Instruction an appointed, rather than elected position.
Constitutional amendments must pass the legislature with a super majority of both chambers and then go to a vote of the people.
IF YOU MISSED IT: Other stories from a very busy first day of session included a bill to study the "Red Route" through Garner and all those with concealed handgun permits to carry firearms in restaurants that serve alcohol.
FROM THE WIRE: WRAL reported last week that House Speaker Pro Tempore Paul "Skip" Stam said he would file a bill to keep those on public assistance from playing the lottery. However, the Associated Press reports today:
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A key House leader says a bill he's drawing up about the North Carolina state lottery won't include a provision prohibiting ticket sales to people receiving public assistance or who are in bankruptcy.
Speaker Pro Tempore Paul Stam of Apex said Wednesday the provision was the least important part of his proposal. He said got questions from all sides on the lottery issue about the provision. Some critics questioned singling out the poor or how retailers would enforce the law.
Stam said the bill will still seek to remove the word "education" from the North Carolina Education Lottery because proceeds account for a small percentage of state education funding. He also wants the lottery to reveal more fully the long odds of a winning a big prize.
BILLS: Other bills of note filed Wednesday include:
- S 23: Tobacco Free Community Colleges. Sen. Stan Bingham's measure would require Community Colleges to adopt policies prohibiting smoking in campus buildings, grounds and vehicles by Aug. 1, 2014.
- S 14: Increase Access To Career/Technical Ed The bill, sponsored by several senior senators, would create new designations that would be added to High School diplomas. Students would be given "career," "college," or "career and college" ratings based on courses taken and grades achieved.
- S 16: Revoke License for Passing Stopped School Bus. This is the latest bill to ratchet up penalties for ignoring school bus stop arms.
- H 7: Eugenics Compensation Program. The bill would provide $50,000 to each verified victim of North Carolina's forced sterilization program.
- H 19: Respect Our Fallen Heroes The bill would increase penalties for disturbing a military funeral and increase the buffer zone around such a funeral.
Other bills filed Wednesday would increase the retirement ages for judges and head off the implementation of a program to collect property taxes at the same time vehicle owners register their private automobiles.