Raleigh, N.C. — Good morning, and welcome to Today @NCCapitol for Wednesday, Feb. 13. This is WRAL's roundup of what you need to know about North Carolina state government this morning.
FIRST THING: Health and Human Services Sec. Aldona Wos will give a presentation to the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on HHS. The meeting is at 8:30 a.m. and WRAL.com will carry it live. Check the Video Central box on the home page.
Wos' agency has been under scrutiny for the past week due to the hiring of Dianna Lightfoot to run the state's Pre-K program. Prior to being hired by the state, Lightfoot ran a nonprofit that opposed government-run early childhood programs. She has since turned down the job.
On Tuesday, Gov. Pat McCrory said he had no input into Lightfoot's selection, saying the choice was Wos'. "Mistakes were made," McCrory said. Wos has yet to offer a comment as to why she hired Lightfoot or how she was vetted.
HOUSE: The House will hold its floor session at 2 p.m. and is scheduled to debate the "Red Route" bill and a bill blocking Medicaid expansion. WRAL.com will carry it live. Check the Video Central box on the home page.
On Tuesday, the House Health Committee tweaked the Senate version of the bill blocking Medicaid expansion to make sure it would not disrupt funding for NC FAST, a computer system used to direct clients to benefit programs. The bill also prohibits the state from participating in the health care exchanges established under the federal Affordable Care Act. Democrats tried to amend the bill to allow state regulators to resolve conflicts between policy holders and insurance companies. Committee Republicans said they might address the issue later but did not agree with the amendment as drafted. "I am disappointed that state leaders now want to cede more control of our health insurance market to the federal government," said Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, a Democrat.
Also Tuesday, the House Transportation Committee gave to go ahead to a bill that will allow transportation officials to study the "Red Route" for Highway 540 through southern Wake County. Lawmakers blocked consideration of the potential path for the road in 2011 at the behest of local residents. The measure violated federal guidelines, and as therefore stalled funding for any version of the highway. The bill will allow for study of the route so the state can draw down federal highway funds, but lawmakers said they would never allow it to be built.
The full House will hear both those bills today, and is scheduled to give a final nod to the possum drop bill, which will next head to the Senate.
SENATE: The full Senate will meet at 2 p.m. and is scheduled to take a final vote on remaking the state's unemployment insurance system. The bill would reduce the value and duration of benefits for unemployed workers, starting July 1. Should the bill pass third readying today, it would then go to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature.
THE WRAP: Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie and reporter Mark Binker wrap up Tuesday's action and look ahead to Wednesday in Tuesday's version of The Wrap @NCCapitol.
MORE FROM TUESDAY: In other action around state government on Tuesday:
- The House passed a constitutional amendment restricting state and local governments' eminent domain powers. The bill, which is aimed at keeping governments from forcibly buying land for economic development projects, is now in the Senate's hands.
- Gov. Pat McCrory announced early in the day that he would support the bill blocking Medicaid expansion. Later, he told WRAL's Renee Chou that it would be foolish to expand the health insurance system for the poor before fixing its current problems.
- McCrory also said that he expected major modifications to the bill that would fire sitting members of several state boards and commissions.
- House Speaker Thom Tillis said he expected a "thoughtful, methodical process" on regulatory reform during a wide-ranging news conference.
- Americans for Prosperity's National President Tim Phillips told state lawmakers to "Go big. Go bold." Phillips praised the work of the GOP-lead legislature.
- The Associated Press Reports: "The head of North Carolina's Democratic Party says the Republican-controlled state legislature should give a bill to legalize medical marijuana an honest up or down vote."
EITC: Those tuned into the House Finance Committee Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. should expect to hear discussion of the earned income tax credit. That's because the credit, which is designed to help low income working families, is mentioned in the banal-sounding Internal Revenue Code Update.
Late Tuesday, Democrats began talking about the bill because they said it ends the credit after this year. Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, said the credit had already been set to sunset by prior General Assemblies. "That decision was made years ago," she said Tuesday afternoon.
This bill merely adjusts the percentage of the state credit to keep up with changes in federal law, she said.
That won't keep Democrats from pushing the issue. They say that the GOP has the power to extend the credit and by declining to do so they are taking roughly $100 a year away from poor families.
"Any tax relief for folks that are struggling is not a bad thing," said Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham, the Democratic minority leader. "We know what we'd be giving up. We want to know what we'd be getting if this expires." Hall and at least one other Democrat said they'd raise the issue during Wednesday's meeting.
Howard would not say whether Republicans plan to extend the sunset in another bill. "That's a what-if question," she said.
WEDNESDAY COMMITTEES: For a complete committee listing, see the WRAL @NCCapitol page. Highlights from other committees around the General Assembly will include:
- 10 a.m. - House Judiciary C takes up a bill to clarify women who go topless in public violate North Carolina's indecent exposure law.
- 10 a.m. - House Regulatory Reform Committee takes up a bill to force agency-passed administrative rules to expire unless they are renewed.
- Noon - House Education takes up a Senate bill that would create career and college endorsements for high school diplomas.
- 1 p.m. - Senate Fiance takes up a bill that would allow the state to start issuing permits to carry out fracking starting March 1, 2015. The bill, which is similar to one filed during the last legislative session, has raised the ire of environmental advocates. “This bill spells disaster for water quality,” said Elizabeth Ouzts, State Director of Environment North Carolina. “There’s just no chance fracking is worth the risks to Jordan Lake, the Deep River, and our drinking water.”