Raleigh, N.C. — Good morning and welcome to Today @NCCapitol for Wednesday, June 18. Here's what's going on at the legislature and around state government.
WHERE'S THE LOVE: Senators spent much of Sunday ripping the state budget put forward by the House, saying that it would leave North Carolina hundreds of millions of dollars in the red next year.
"That is a guarantee for this state that we approach a $200 (million) to $300 million shortfall coming into next long session," Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, said of the House's Medicaid spending plans.
Meanwhile, Gov. Pat McCrory took a swipe at the Senate's teacher pay plan because it bumped teacher salaries by cutting funding for teaching assistants.
"We need to help the teachers, but I'm not going to help the teachers also at the sacrifice of other education," McCrory said at the North Carolina Association of Realtors meeting in Raleigh.
Caught in the middle are school districts and local governments who are supposed to put a budget in place by the end of this month but don't know yet what the final state budget, which provides funding to classrooms and sets policy for any number of local actions, will look like.
“I am so saddened to be sitting here, at this point this year, faced with the same potential hard decisions, knowing that our state is no longer in a recession,” Wake County school board member Susan Evans said during Tuesday’s board meeting. “Questioning why we are in this place, I say the answer to that question has to be that those who control funding at the state level do not have public education as a priority, and we must make our voices known.”
Senators are scheduled to hold a budget committee meeting Wednesday morning, where they will continue their review of the House budget.
A MAGICAL PLACE: If you needed evidence that the legislative building is a magical place, look no further than Wednesday's calendar. It is loaded with bills that will enter a committee meeting pertaining to one subject and leave with an entirely new set of material on board.
Senate Bill 38, for example, came to the House from the Senate as a bill dealing with emergency management. It is expected to leave the House Environment Committee Wednesday as a measure dealing with a number of environmental laws, including isolated wetlands.
Meanwhile, in the House's Finance and Regulatory Reform committees, a bill currently titled "Prohibit Aftermarket HID Headlights" is destined to become the chamber's version of a regulatory reform bill.
If anyone thinks that expert witness testimony bill in the Senate Education Committee will still have to do with courtroom drama by the end of the day, we have a bridge over East Lane Street to sell you.
THE GOVERNOR: McCrory will be hosting minority business owners at the executive mansion. He is expected to make remarks mid-morning.
THE HOUSE FLOOR: Although the House is scheduled to convene at 10 a.m., it won't take up any business until 2 p.m. The early start will allow leaders to shuffle bills, such as the regulatory reform measure, between committees. The House calendar is sparse at the moment, with the most interesting bill being one that ends a decade-old requirement that residents of Durham register firearms at the courthouse. WRAL.com plans to carry the House session live. Check the Video Central box on the homepage.
THE SENATE FLOOR: The state Senate is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. with what is, for the moment, a very light agenda.
CALENDAR: The General Assembly posts a full legislative calendar every day. Here are the committees and other events @NCCapitol will be keeping an eye on.
- House Finance (8:30 a.m. | 544 LOB): Lawmakers are expected to take their first look at the House version of a regulatory reform bill.
- Senate Appropriations (8:30 a.m. | 643 LOB): Both the coal ash and Commerce Department reorganization bills will take a dip in the Senate budget committee, although neither is expected to get extensive review since they've already been checked by other committees. Senators are expected to spend the bulk of their 90-minute meeting poking holes in the House version of the $21.1 billion state budget.
- House Regulatory Reform (10 a.m. | 643 LOB): The committee is expected to take up the House's version of regulatory reform. WRAL.com plans to carry this meeting live. Check the Video Central box on the homepage.
- House Judiciary C (10 a.m .| 415 LOB): The most intriguing bill on the calender is one that would require drug testing for welfare benefits, but committee leaders say it will turn into a bill dealing with other bits of health policy.
- Senate Education (10 a.m. | 544 LOB): A bill dealing with expert witnesses will turn into something dealing with education policy.
- House Environment (Noon | 643 LOB): Lawmakers are expected to take up an omnibus environmental laws bill.
- Senate Judiciary 1 (Noon | 1027 LB): This bill dealing with groundwater contamination is meant to clear the way for legal action surrounding families hurt by tainted well water in the western part of the state and at Camp Lejeune. It has already returned from the House, so lawmakers will be deciding whether to accept the House changes or send it to a conference committee.
- House Government (Noon | 1228 LB): The committee takes up a bill that would clear the way for Fayetteville to reinstate its red light camera program. A companion measure in the state Senate already cleared that chamber's local government committee.
VOUCHERS: Supporters of state-funded private school vouchers gathered in front of the Legislative Building on Tuesday to urge lawmakers to add funding to the high-demand program, which they say gives low-income families a say in their children’s education. The “Opportunity Scholarship” program, passed by the General Assembly last year, gives annual grants of up to $4,200 to families that want to send their children to private schools, including religious institutions. Advocates say the vouchers allow low-income children to attend schools that meet their individual needs when public schools fail to do so.
MOPEDS: House lawmakers are weighing a proposal to require moped operators to have license plates and insurance. The measure, House Bill 1145, won its first vote Tuesday in the House Transportation Committee, but some lawmakers assailed the measure as unfairly targeting people who have no other option. Mopeds, which include motor scooters and electric bicycles, are two- or three-wheeled vehicles that cannot exceed 30 mph. They are not currently subject to any of the testing, licensing, registration, inspection or insurance requirements that apply to other vehicles. They're often used by people who cannot afford a car or who have lost their driver's licenses, sometimes due to driving while impaired convictions.
COAL ASH: A Senate proposal to force Duke Energy to close its coal ash ponds in North Carolina passed its first hurdle Tuesday with a unanimous vote in the Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee. The latest version of Senate Bill 729 remains essentially as it was unveiled Monday, with only a pair of minor amendments. One specifies that the legislation applies only to public utilities generating coal ash, or "coal combustion residuals." The other clarifies that Duke must not only request proposals for "beneficial" uses for coal ash, but must also act on them. After not speaking at Monday's meeting, Duke took the opportunity Tuesday to express concern about the "very aggressive" timetable laid out in the proposal.
STUDENT GROUPS: Student organizations at public universities and community colleges would be able to oust leaders who don’t share the groups’ core beliefs under a bill approved Tuesday by the House Education Committee. The Senate bill clarifies the rights of political and religious student groups, which sponsors say can face pressure from university administrators. Sponsor Sen. Dan Soucek, R-Watauga, said the legislation protects the First Amendment rights of students.
AIRPORT: The House has given final legislative approval to a measure clarifying the City of Charlotte still owns its airport, not withstanding legislation passed last year creating an independent board to operate the airport. Because the measure is a local bill – one that affects only a handful of counties – the governor does not need to sign it for it to become law.