Today @NCCapitol (May 13): House begins crossover week with debate on cell towers, literacy test
Posted May 13, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Good morning and welcome to Today @NCCapitol for Monday, May 13. This is WRAL's roundup of what you need to know about North Carolina state government today.
CROSSOVER: With the crossover deadline coming Thursday, the state House will begin committee meetings and hold session early on Monday. Bills that don't raise or spend money must clear either the House or Senate before Friday morning in order to be eligible for consideration for the remainder of the session, although there are many exceptions and ways to work around the deadline.
The upcoming deadline means a flurry of late-night lawmaking is expected this week.
HOUSE: The state House meets at 6 p.m., an hour earlier than usual. Bills on the calendar would repeal the literacy test for voting in the North Carolina constitution, give third parties great access to North Carolina ballots and make it harder for communities to turn back the placement of cellphone towers. Also, a second debate and vote on legislation that opponents worry could undermine energy-efficient LEED certifications is scheduled.
WRAL.com will carry the House session live. Check the Video Central box on the home page.
SENATE: The state Senate will meet at 7 p.m. Lawmakers are expected to hear a bill that would allow criminal defendants to waive their right to a jury trial in favor of a trial by a judge and a measure that would make it illegal for stores to posses "tax zapper" software to allow them to illegally reduce the amount of sales tax they pay.
COMMITTEES: Legislative committees meeting on Monday afternoon include:
House Regulatory Reform (3 p.m. | 643 LOB): Among the measures on the calender is a bill that would exclude "primitive structures" from certain parts of the N.C. Building code. The measure is aimed at allowing the Turtle Island Preserve, a nonprofit wilderness education center, to reopen.
House Judiciary B (4 p.m. 643 LOB): A bill restricting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors is among the measures on the committee's agenda.
House Commerce and Job Development (4 p.m. | 643 LOB): Energy efficiency standards for residential building codes would be rolled back to what they were in 2009 under a bill on the committee's calendar today. Also, lawmakers will consider a measure that allows distilleries to sell their own liquor to patrons who take a distillery tour. Currently, bottles of liquor may only be sold in government-run ABC stores.
On the Record: A busy week at the General Assembly ON THE RECORD: Chris Fitzsimon of NC Policy Watch, and Becki Gray of the John Locke Foundation, went On the Record with anchor David Crabtree this week to look at legislation on taxes and firearms moving through the legislature.
WOS COMMENTS: The head of North Carolina's Department of Health and Human services offered an odd and factually incorrect answer when asked on Friday why the state didn't expand its Medicaid health insurance program for the poor and uninsured.
The exchange, reported by North Carolina Health News, took place at a forum held at Annie Penn Hospital. Steve Luking, a local doctor, can be heard on an audio recording posted by N.C. Health News pillorying Republicans for their decision not to expand Medicaid. Wos attempts to answer several of his questions and comments.
“In reference to your roundabout way of commenting about Medicaid expansion … in North Carolina, based on our constitution, the issue of Medicaid expansion or not, actually, was the commissioner of insurance’s,” Wos said. “Just so that you all know that and are aware of that.”
That is not the case.
Authority on whether to expand Medicaid in response to the federal Affordable Care Act initially rested with the governor. Throughout the country, it was governors who responded to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services about expansion of the program to cover more people.
However, as Gov. Pat McCrory took office this year, he remained undecided on expansion for weeks. The General Assembly, however, was determined to keep expansion from happening. One of the first measures lawmakers pushed through the legislature was a bill blocking Medicaid expansion, a measure McCrory ultimately signed and endorsed.
While the Insurance Commissioner, a separately elected statewide office, had the ability to apply for grants and help lay the groundwork for expansion, the ultimate decision never rested with his office.
“I am offended and truly disappointed that Secretary Wos decided to incorrectly accuse me of being the cause for the state’s rejection of Medicaid expansion," Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin said in response to Wos' reported comments. "Senate Bill 4 — the legislation that rejected the expansion of Medicaid in North Carolina — was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law on March 6 by the Governor. That decision was not within my constitutional authority. I trust that the Secretary will swiftly issue a correction and apologize for her statement.”
WORTH KNOWING: News you may have missed over the weekend included:
EDUCATION: Former Congressman Bob Etheridge said Friday that Republican-led efforts to reform North Carolina schools will only hurt students and teachers. Etheridge, a former state education superintendent, led a rally at Green Hope Park in Cary that he said was meant to sound an alarm and build opposition to bills winding their way through the General Assembly that would eliminate about 3,000 teaching assistants statewide, change eligibility requirements for North Carolina's pre-kindergarten program, allow state funds to pay for private school tuition and remove the cap on class sizes in elementary schools.
"Education reform is just another code word for cut, slash and burn," Etheridge said. "It's time for action. We cannot allow this to continue for our children. Make no mistake, our commitment to public education is on a downward trend."
DOGGONE: New Bern Republican Rep. Michael Speciale is not backing down from controversial comments he made during a Thursday floor debate on House Bill 930. The measure would require commercial breeders with 10 or more female breeding dogs on site to provide the dogs with the American Kennel Club's basic standards of care, like food and water, clean bedding, daily exercise and veterinary care and humane euthanasia when needed. Speaking in opposition to the proposal, Speciale said it's too ambiguous because it doesn't specifically define those standards.
"'Exercise on a daily basis' – if I kick him across the floor, is that considered daily exercise?" Speciale said. 'Euthanasia performed humanely' – so should I choose the ax or the baseball bat?"
GAS: A domestic natural gas boom already has lowered U.S. energy prices while stoking fears of environmental disaster. Now U.S. producers are poised to ship vast quantities of gas overseas as energy companies seek permits for proposed export projects that could set off a renewed frenzy of fracking.
TAXES: Senate Republicans argue that exponentially expanding the number of transactions subject to the sales tax would promote fairness in a North Carolina tax system now packed with exemptions and loopholes. Their tax overhaul proposal would make North Carolina's sales tax base one of the broadest in the country and subject nearly all consumer activities and products to the combined local and state rate, currently at 6.75 percent. In exchange, the top individual and corporate income tax rates would be lowered over three years and the combined sales tax would fall to 6.5 percent.
But some of the hundreds of thousands of businesses and charitable entities statewide worry the proposal would cause tax collection paperwork headaches and potential hardships. It may awaken scores of interest groups ready to fight the changes at the legislature and preserve their long-held exemptions.
PRISON: A federal lawsuit on behalf of eight inmates at North Carolina's Central Prison alleges correctional officers used "blind spots" out of view of security cameras to beat handcuffed and shackled inmates.
GUNS: "More than 60 people who hold active Mecklenburg County permits to buy handguns have been convicted of felonies, some involving guns, an Observer data analysis shows," The Charlotte Observer reported Sunday. "Five were convicted of robbery with a dangerous weapon, three of manslaughter, two of firing into occupied property and one of second-degree murder. Others were convicted of assaults that left victims badly injured or of using weapons to attack government officials. The Observer’s analysis also found about 230 permit holders with drug convictions, including dozens of people with multiple convictions. North Carolina law says permit holders can’t use or be addicted to illegal drugs."