Raleigh, N.C. — Good morning, and welcome to Today @NCCapitol for Thursday, Feb. 14. This is WRAL's roundup of what you need to know about North Carolina state government this morning.
FIRST UP: Lawmakers continue their joint appropriation subcommittee meetings at 8:30 a.m. The one to watch is Health and Human Services, where State Auditor Beth Wood is scheduled to discuss a Medicaid audit, according to the Senate calendar. In late January, Wood took the wraps off a damning audit of the state's health insurance program for the poor that found North Carolina's administrative costs were 38 percent higher than in comparable states.
That audit has been frequently cited in the recent debates over expanding Medicaid in response to the Affordable Care Act and would be plenty for the committee to chew over. But there has been persistent rumblings around the legislative building that another Medicaid audit is on its way, and it's unclear whether the committee will be hearing about that January audit or a new one this morning. WRAL.com will carry this meeting live. Check the Video Central box on the home page.
FIRST BILLS: Gov. Pat McCrory will have a chance to sign the first two bills of his administration in the coming days.
The state Senate gave final legislative approval to a bill remaking North Carolina's unemployment insurance program. The much-discussed bill will temporarily raise taxes on employers and permanently lower the duration and weekly value of benefits for those who lose their jobs. McCrory has said that paying down $2.5 billion borrowed from the federal government to pay unemployment claims is a high priority and he has vocally backed the bill. The changes will go into effect July 1.
Also headed McCrory's way is a bill that creates technical and college track endorsements for North Carolina high school diplomas. This is an issue upon which McCrory campaigned and he has supported this legislation.
"The word on the street is that the governor wants to have a press conference on this," said Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, questioning why the state House took up the bill Wednesday afternoon after it was heard in committee earlier that morning. Other observers note that the legislation also gives McCrory a "first bill" to ballyhoo that doesn't involve ending unemployment benefits for some 100,000 people and lowering payments for thousands of others.
SENATE TODAY: The Senate floor session today is scheduled for 11 a.m., but as of right now there's only one bill on the schedule. It sets the timetable and procedure for electing members of the UNC Board of Governors.
The most interesting action on the Senate side of the building today will be a 10 a.m. Judiciary II committee meeting that will take up SB 28: Gun Permit Information / No Publication. The bill will make information about concealed handgun permit holders that is currently public exempt from the state's public records laws. WRAL.com will carry this meeting live. Check the Video Central box on the home page.
HOUSE TODAY: The bill that prohibits the expansion of North Carolina's Medicaid program received tentative House approval Wednesday. It is expected to pass third reading when the chamber meets at 1 p.m. today.
The bill, which also prohibits state agencies from helping to build health insurance exchanges envisioned by the federal Affordable Care Act, has been the subject of intense debate all week. If it clears third reading, the measure will have to go back to the Senate because the House made changes meant to keep federal funding for the NC FAST computer system in the Department of Health and Human Services. If the Senate accepts the changes, the bill could be in McCrory's hands early next week. Otherwise, House and Senate would need a conference committee to resolve their differences.
After nearly three hours of debate Wednesday, House Speaker Thom Tillis said the House would limit debate today to 30 minutes.
ALSO IN THE HOUSE: Lawmakers will vote to send the Red Route bill to the Senate. The measure allows for the study of a route for Highway 540 through Garner. Republican leaders pledged that it would never be built, but said the study had to go forward in order to draw down federal road construction funds. Opponents of the measure say the state and federal governments should not waste time and money on a project that will never come to be.
Also on the House floor today: a bill to make it clear that women who show their breasts in public are guilty of indecent exposure.
BANKING: The House Banking Committee will meet at noon. Acting North Carolina Bank Commissioner Ray Grace is scheduled to speak, according to an announcement on the House floor. Related: Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, introduced a bill to make payday lending legal.
THE WRAP: Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie and WRAL's Mark Binker sum up Wednesday's action and look ahead to today in The Wrap @NCCapitol.
ISSUE TRACKER: The 2013 N.C. General Assembly Issue Tracker has been updated to reflect Wednesday's votes and bill filings.
PANTHERS: Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson met with state lawmakers Wednesday to ask the General Assembly to put $62.5 million toward renovations for Charlotte's NFL stadium. The team is also asking the state to allow the city to raise its prepared food tax by a percentage point in support of the stadium project. Charlotte area lawmakers were skeptical of the request, saying they needed to hear more directly from the city. Richardson said he has been encouraged by conversations with top leaders, including House Speaker Thom Tillis. But Tillis told reporters last month, "I've been clear with the Panthers organization that it is not appropriate to have state taxpayer dollars go directly into the stadium." More from the Charlotte Observer.
MORE FROM WEDNESDAY: Also Wednesday, the possum drop bill scurried over to the Senate, the Senate Finance Committee gave its approval to opening the state to fracking, House lawmakers got a first look at a bill to eliminate administrative rules, and HHS Sec. Aldona Wos she walked into a department in disarray and is trying to clean up the mess as quickly as she can, adding that it will take time.