Today @NCCapitol (7/3): Let the negotiations begin

Posted July 3, 2014

NC Flag, Legislative Building, Raleigh

— Good morning and welcome to Today @NCCapitol for Thursday, July 3. Here's what's going on at the General Assembly and around state government today.

LET'S MAKE A DEAL: Storm clouds may be coming to the Atlantic coast this weekend but the legislative forecast got a whole lot sunnier Wednesday after the House and Senate reached an agreement as to how much the state's Medicaid program will cost North Carolina taxpayers next year.

Hashed out during an open conference committee meeting, the agreement is not a budget deal per se, but allows lawmakers to move forward with crafting a $21.1 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that started this week. 

The state was not in danger of shutting down because lawmakers put a two-year budget in place last year. However, key priorities such as teacher raises have been stuck in legislative limbo during the impasse.

SCHEDULES: The Medicaid breakthrough combined with what is now Hurricane Arthur prompted lawmakers to change their schedules for this week and next. 

"Things are finally getting to a point where we may be able to shut down," Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, told his colleagues. Senators will not take up any bills today or Monday, he said, and a calendar issued for next week shows no committee meetings scheduled.

The state House will be in town to finish work on their coal ash cleanup bill this morning, but all signs point to them leaving town before noon today so eastern lawmakers can return home before Hurricane Arthur reaches North Carolina. 

"There will be no need for most of you to come into Raleigh next week," House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, told members of the House. The chamber, he said, will hold a series of no-vote "skeleton sessions" all next week, and there are no plans to run standing legislative committees. 

That plan, Tillis said, is to give House and Senate members working on compromises on legislation, particularly the budget, time to negotiate without floor sessions and committee work getting in the way. 

If all goes according to plan, the General Assembly could be in a position to end its summer session sometime in the next two weeks. 

TODAY'S CALENDAR: The General Assembly publishes a daily legislative calendar, but here's what @NCCapitol will be keeping an eye on today: 

Signing (9 a.m. | Executive Mansion): Gov. Pat McCrory signs a law allowing hemp extract to be used to treat intractable seizures in children.

House Session (9:30 a.m. | House Floor): After protracted on the same measure Wednesday, the House is scheduled to give final approval to its version of a bill regulating the cleanup of coal ash ponds throughout the state.

Senate Session (9:30 a.m. | Senate Floor): No votes.

Storm Presser (10 a.m. | National Guard Joint Command): Gov. Pat McCrory and emergency management officials give an update on North Carolina's response to Hurricane Arthur, which is making its way up the Atlantic coast.

MORE MEDICAID: Health providers and Democrats lined up behind a proposal by House Republican leaders to change how the state's Medicaid health insurance system pays doctors, hospitals and others who provide care to poor and disabled residents. The House Appropriations Committee passed the measure on a unanimous voice vote Wednesday morning. The full House approved the bill 113-0 later in the day. It now heads to the Senate.

COAL ASH: The House voted 85-27 Wednesday to give tentative approval to a plan for closing and cleaning up dozens of coal ash ponds across North Carolina. A final vote is expected Thursday morning before the bill is sent back to the Senate to see if senators concur with the House's changes. Under the proposal, four "high-risk" coal ash sites would have to be closed by Aug. 1, 2019, and the state would prioritize the other 10 North Carolina sites where ash is stored in giant lagoons. Any others rated as high risks would have a Dec. 31, 2019, deadline assigned for cleanup, while those rated as intermediate risks would have to be excavated and closed by the end of 2024. Sites deemed low risk could be covered and left in place but would have to be closed by the end of 2029.

COMMON CORE: House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement on a bill that they say will repeal North Carolina's use of Common Core standards for K-12 education. Although a formal conference report, which would be the final compromise version of Senate Bill 812, has not yet been filed, negotiators from both chambers said Wednesday that they have reached a deal and described the legislation in the same way. While the measure purports to repeal Common Core entirely, it does allow a new standards commission to use pieces of the controversial K-12 standards in building a new North Carolina-specific regime.

TRACKS: North Carolina health officials this week are celebrating the one-year anniversary of the roll out of the state's massive new Medicaid payment system. Most medical providers agree things have improved since the state Department of Health and Human Services launched NCTracks July 1, 2013. But recently released emails from the program's rocky start show DHHS officials took action to "calm" a provider community frustrated by technical problems. DHHS officials provided the emails in late April, almost nine months after WRAL News submitted a public records request for correspondence regarding the roll out of the NCTracks program. Eleven months later, that public record request remains only partially filled.

ABORTION: A year after senators used a late-day committee meeting to tack a sweeping set of abortion restrictions onto a bill prohibiting the recognition of Sharia law, the McCrory administration still has not put forward regulations to put the law into full effect.

FILM: With budget negotiations finally starting in earnest, backers of a film industry tax credit hope lawmakers will include an extension of an incentive program for television and movie productions in the final bill. Friends and foes of the film incentive tax credit don't break along the neat, partisan or House-vs.-Senate divides that so often characterize fiscal debates at the General Assembly. Meanwhile, McCrory on Wednesday defended his administration's push for long-term, sustainable solutions to the state's health, economic and transportation challenges. But that policy could represent troubling news for the film incentive program, which is stuck in a political quagmire in Raleigh even though the tax credit is set to expire at the end of the year, reports the Star News of Wilmington. 

FERRY TOLLS: In a latenight 106-2 vote, House lawmakers on Wednesday approved a bill to prohibit the state from charging tolls on its ferries. The measure, House Bill 1234, essentially mirrors a provision that was contained in the House's budget. With the budget now in negotiations, said co-sponsor Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, "we felt it necessary to have a stand-alone bill."

CRIME LAB: Major backlogs in the State Crime Lab keep growing because of a shortage of DNA analysts and scientists who test blood in drunken driving cases, state Attorney General Roy Cooper has said, and the delays have caused some criminal charges to be dismissed. The crime lab's DNA analysis division gets 3,300 cases a year, many with multiple pieces of evidence. According to the state Department of Justice, it would take 55 analysts to test that DNA in a timely manner, but the lab has only 24. The crime lab asked for 119 new positions since 2007, but lawmakers have funded only 40. This year's House budget reflects that trend, initially including 10 new positions but willing to cut it to two in negotiations.


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