Raleigh, N.C. — Good morning, and welcome to Today @NCCapitol for Friday, Feb. 15. This is WRAL's roundup of what you need to know about North Carolina state government this morning.
NOTHING SCHEDULED: After a busy week of committee meetings and heated floor debates, the General Assembly does not have any meetings scheduled for today. The next floor sessions are scheduled for Monday night, when the the legislature will meet in joint session for Gov. Pat McCrory's State of the State speech. McCrory has no public events on his calendar today.
WRAPPED: Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie and reporter Mark Binker sum up Thursday's action at the General Assembly in The Wrap @NCCapitol.
PROGRAM NOTE: Anchor David Crabtree and Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie will go On the Record with Reps. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, and Tom Murry, R-Wake, this weekend. The episode is scheduled to air 7 p.m. Saturday.
DRILLING: Gov. Pat McCrory joined the governors from South Carolina and Virginia on Thursday to request that the federal government partner with the three states to expand off-shore oil and gas exploration.
RED ROUTE: The state House voted 87-29 to allow for the study of the Red Route, a possible highway extension through Garner. The bill now goes to the Senate.
LICENSED: State transportation officials announced Thursday that they will begin issuing driver’s licenses and ID cards March 25 to some immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children but qualify under a federal program that blocks deportation and grants work permits.
MEDICAID: The state Auditor Thursday unleashed a second scathing report in as many months on Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled. This time the auditor found a dozen Department of Health and Human Services employees improperly collected $580,758 in overtime over the last five years, while working to upgrade a Medicaid billing system. It's worth noting that system in question is neither on time nor on budget.
Also Thursday, the state House gave final approval to a bill that would prevent the state from expanding its Medicaid program. The same measure also prohibits state agencies from helping with health insurance exchanges as created by the federal Affordable Care Act. The measure must return to the Senate. If senators accept changes made to the bill by the House, it would go to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature. If not, a conference committee will be assigned to work out differences between the two bodies.
Although the bill passed mostly along party-line votes, Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, was the lone Republican to break ranks with his GOP colleagues Thursday. Lewis described his vote as "a plea for help for rural health care." Lewis says he opposes the Affordable Care Act and agrees with fellow Republicans that expanding Medicaid would be problematic. But he notes the federal health care law envisioned having more people covered by Medicaid help offset the loss of federal grants known as DISH funding.
Many rural hospitals, like the one in his district, rely heavily on DISH funding, Lewis said. With North Carolina about to block Medicaid expansion and about lose DISH funding, he worries that rural hospitals could be forced to close or slash services.
"I wanted to bring attention to the fact that, if that money goes away, many rural hospitals, including the one I represent, will go into the red," Lewis said.
Gov. Pat McCrory has said he supports the Medicaid measure now pending in the Senate, but a group of Medicaid recipients and community activists organized by the liberal Action NC will urge him to veto the bill anyway during a noon news conference at the historic State Capitol building.
Related: "The Affordable Care Act will usher at least seven million more Americans into Medicaid next year, but the question of whether enough doctors will be there to welcome them is keeping some state health policymakers up at night," Stateline reports.
ALSO THURSDAY: In other legislative action Thursday, a bill banning bare breasts snapped back to committee, a bipartisan group of lawmakers began promoting a bill raising penalties for child abuse and Senators began debating a bill to remove concealed handgun permits from the public domain.
FROM THE WIRE: The Associated Press reports McCrory has appointed longtime Democratic lawyer and commission Staci Meyer to head the Industrial Commission. Also, "North Carolina's working poor may miss out soon on a subsidy program designed to put more money into their pockets when they file state income tax returns," the AP reports.
DRUNK DRIVING: Proposed legislation would close a loophole that treats some of the state’s worst repeat drunken drivers much like first-time offenders," reports the Greensboro News & Record.
JORDAN LAKE: The News & Record also reports, Greensboro officials "and developers don’t plan to push for a full repeal of the Jordan Lake Rules this year, just a series of changes in the water-quality rules." The water quality rules force communities up stream to make improvements to sewer plants and storm water runoff facilities in order to help clean up the Triangle water supply lake. A bill delaying the implementation of the rules passed in 2012, but not before several heated debates. This is a measure where partisan rivalry gives way to geographic alliances, since how one feels about the rules depends on whether you live in a community feeding the lake or drawing water from it.
BILLS: A measure that would bring payday lending back to the state has drawn fire from Attorney General Roy Cooper and consumer advocates.
Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, has filed a bill to allow certain motorcycle riders over age 18 to ride without a helmet, provided they carry sufficient insurance.
COME ON DOWN: A former game show host is asking lawmakers to drop the idea of creating a permit so Brasstown can use possums in their New Year's celebration. "North Carolina's citizens know that this type of legislation rightfully belongs to a bygone era, and they don't want to see the legislature move the state backwards," Bob Barker, the former Price is Right impresario, wrote to Sen. Tom Apodaca. No word yet on whether the Henderson Republican has told Barker to go spin the big wheel.
SCHOOLS: Given North Carolina's recent controversy over an online charter school, this article from Stateline is worth a read. "Advocates say online classes offer a more flexible and personalized form of education, allowing students to progress at their own pace and on their own time. Supporters also tout online education as a way to dramatically expand course offerings, particularly at rural schools. But the rapid growth of online education is raising concerns—especially as more for-profit companies launch online programs. While unscrupulous or incompetent online educators may be rare, there are enough of them that many states are considering ratcheting up their oversight," reports the online news site.
HARRISON IN DC: Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, will be in Washington, D.C. today to testify before a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel about why the federal government should remain active in two key areas of environmental regulation. Harrison, who was a environmental lobbyists before running for state House, said she anticipates talking about why federal regulators should continue to oversee coal ash ponds accumulated by coal-fired power plants. She also anticipates talking about maintaining federal oversight over fracking. "The states really aren't able to handle those things," Harrison said. North Carolina in particular, she said, has limited the reach of its own regulators
Harrison's trip has already drawn fire from the GOP-friendly Americans for Prosperity. “Instead of focusing on policies to help cash-strapped families, Rep. Harrison is supporting federal regulations that will dramatically increase the cost of energy for North Carolinians. Rep. Harrison is putting her personal politics above the best interests of North Carolina," said AFP North Carolina state director Dallas Woodhouse.