Today @NCCapitol (May 13): Lawmakers pledge 'focus' as they return to work
Posted May 13, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — Sad news: Keith Crisco, a former state Commerce Secretary and Democratic primary candidate in this year's 2nd Congressional District primary, died after a fall at his Randolph County home Monday.
"I think NC has lost somebody who could really make a difference. I think with NC and politics in NC I think there is a great loss there," campaign manager Christine Botta told WRAL News.
We're back: Good morning and welcome to Today @NCCapitol for May 13. Today @NCCapitol is a regular feature during the legislative session running down what you need to know about state government every week day. This is the first Today @NCCapitol for the 2014 "short" legislative session, which begins on Wednesday.
Program note: Keep an eye out for daily editions of The Wrap @NCCapitol starting this afternoon. Our capitol coverage team will give you a rundown of the day from the General Assembly and the world of politics.
Environment: When Gov. Pat McCrory unveils his new budget proposal to state lawmakers this week, a small line item will suggest the addition of 19 regulators to help enforce environmental rules. McCrory announced that move in April, a few months after 39,000 tons of coal ash from a retired Duke Energy power plant poured from a containment pond into the Dan River in Rockingham County, coating the waterway for about 70 miles. Even if members of the General Assembly approve McCrory's plan during the short session, which begins Wednesday, it won't restore staffing cuts made to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources since the governor took office in 2013. The move will actually fall just short of restaffing the 24 positions eliminated in the department's regional offices spread across the state. That amounts to a 4 percent reduction in what environmental advocates say are some of the department's most important staffers – those directly responsible for inspecting permit holders, assessing penalties and ensuring compliance.
Focus people: Lawmakers continued to pledge Monday that this year's short legislative session would be, well, short.
"We'll keep the trains moving on time," said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, the Senate Rules chairman. He said that aside from the state budget and legislation dealing with coal ash pond around the state, there were few "must-do" items for lawmakers. Lawmakers return to work under bright spotlight Education, coal ash top state Senate priorities
Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, the senior House Budget chairman, met with a group of reporters Monday and said much the same thing.
"We will be focused and the budget will be the central issue," Dollar said. "However, coal ash is a very important issue – we've seen quite a bit of work on it already by members of the House and members of the Senate." Dollar also highlighted the Common Core standards for K-12 education as an area that may get some attention during the short session. Short, he said, does not mean monolithic.
"You have a committee system, a committee structure, such that you can do more than one thing at a time," Dollar said. "The General Assembly is designed to multitask...But I think there is a desire to keep it fairly focused and not go out and create issues that are not already on the radar."
More from his conversation below.
They're not quite back: Lawmakers return to their full legislative session on Wednesday, but a few interim committees and news conferences will be setting the stage for the short session today, including:
Revenue Laws (9 a.m. / 544 LOB): The Revenue Laws Study Committee will recommend lawmakers take up a number of tweaks to state tax laws when they return to work on Wednesday. Senior lawmakers, including Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said that there shouldn't be any sweeping changes such as those wrought in last year's tax reform measure, but that lawmakers would "clarify" some provisions in that bill.
Among the higher-profile items in this package of recommendations: A measure that would tax B100 fuel – fuel made entirely from biodiesel – to the state excise tax and an measure exempting 50 percent of the sales price of manufactured and modular homes from the sales tax imposed last year.
The committee also has on its agenda today a bill that would impose an excise tax on e-cigarettes and make it illegal for prisoners to use e-cigarettes in prisons, where smoking regular cigarettes is already prohibited.
The committee also appears poised to recommend a bill that would limit what cities could charge in privilege license taxes to businesses. Those limitations would be effective starting in July of 2015. Lawmakers say they want to ensure fair, consistent taxation across the state; city leaders worry the loss of revenue will force them to raise property taxes or cut services.
ACA Study Committee (1 p.m. / 643 LOB): Known by some as the anti-Obamacare committee, this group plans to recommend legislation that would put a stop to new state regulations that require insurance companies to cover certain conditions or treatments. This has raised concerned among some patient communities, including the families of children with autism, that it would block efforts to cover certain types of therapies.
LRC Study Committee (2:30 p.m. / 1228 LB): The Legislative Research Commission is a catch-all group that studies a number of less pressing but interesting subjects during the interim. This year's LRC committees took on drone regulation, Common Core standards for K-12 education, food deserts, foster care and the state employee retirement system. Today's LRC meeting will take all of those individual reports and combine them into one package of recommendations. "You won't see anything new if you've been paying attention," said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, one of the committee's co-chairmen.
House Democrats (3 p.m. / Press conference room): House Democrats will hold a news conference to lay out their priorities for the coming legislative session. WRAL.com will carry this news conference live on the web. Check the Video Central box on the home page.
The governor: Gov. Pat McCrory has three public events on his calendar today, including a stop at East Carolina University at 2 p.m., where he will "announce a new statewide initiative focused on substance abuse and underage drinking," according to his office. "Preventing substance abuse and addiction is very important to me, and we must do all that we can to help prevent people from falling victim to abuse and addiction," McCrory said.
McCrory is also scheduled to appear at a press event at 10 a.m. in Raleigh with North Carolina Business Committee for Education, a "a nonpartisan, nonprofit comprised of North Carolina's corporate leaders." Event title: "Teacher Effectiveness and Next Generation Thinking."
Out of state: The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear a case involving Virginia's same-sex marriage ban. North Carolina is on of the other states in the Fourth Circuit, so the ruling in the Virginia case could directly affect the status of North Carolina's two-year-old gay marriage ban. (Washington Post} / Associated Press.
In the news: More news from Monday included:
Joblessness: The McCrory administration announced Monday that the state’s massive federal debt for unemployment benefits is more than halfway repaid. North Carolina's debt to the federal government has been cut form $2.6 billion to $1 billion. McCrory also announced plans to ask lawmakers for several legislative changes to unemployment. Among those changes - a bill that would exempt certain unemployment records from public records law.
Eugenics: With seven weeks left for victims of North Carolina's erstwhile forced sterilization program to apply for compensation, 442 claims have already been submitted to the state Office of Justice for Sterilization Victims.
Teachers: A Superior Court judge said Monday that he won't decide for several days whether to uphold or strike down a state requirement that school districts offer a quarter of their teachers multi-year contracts as an enticement for them to give up their so-called "career status" protections.
Retirees: State Treasurer Janet Cowell on Monday asked legislative leaders to pass a handful of reforms to upgrade oversight of North Carolina's $86 billion public pension fund. But one measure long called for by the State Employees Association of North Carolina – shifting control of the pension from Cowell's hands to a board of trustees – will likely have to wait until at least 2015, Cowell said.
Voting: Four sitting state lawmakers are likely among the more than 35,000 North Carolina voters who share a first name, last name and birthday with an individual registered to vote in another state. "I think they're innocent," said Bob Hall, director of Democracy North Carolina, as he tried to make a point about what he called "hysteria" over voter fraud that has been the backdrop for several new election laws.
Dollar (and) dollar bills y'all: More notes from Rep. Nelson Dollar's conversation with reporters:
Budget: As McCrory did last week, Dollar expressed confidence that the state would have the money to give teacher and state employee raises. He said lawmakers left roughly $250 million of unused money on the bottom line, last year. As well, unspent money from in-year budget cuts by McCrory – what lawmakers call reversions – could help fuel a teach pay bump. As well, he said, Medicaid spending appears to be less problematic than was the case during the past three years. He said that a projected Medicaid shortfall in the current year's budget should be less than the projected $130 million lawmakers heard about this year.
Medicaid Reform: As with Senate leader Phil Berger, Dollar said he did not see a sweeping Medicaid reform bill passing this year. "We need to keep momentum moving forward on Medicaid reform," Dollar said. The federal government, he noted, has sent a list of 50 question back to the state regarding a plan that would create accountable care organizations that would be paid a flat fee for taking care of patients. "There's probably another 50 questions that need to be asked," he said.
The legislature, he said, could continue to give the Department of Health and Human Services direction about where lawmakers would like to end up, but he said that a sweeping bill was likely not on this year's agenda.
"We need to take the time and make sure we get it right," he said.
Dorothea Dix: Dollar expressed optimism that the state and city would be able to craft a deal for the Dorothea Dix property. Although some local advocates have pushed for the full 306 acres to become a park, Dollar said lawmakers would likely insist on keeping a portion for a rebuilt Department of Health and Human Services campus.
"I do think there is a lot of interest in the General Assembly in being able to retain a portion of that land to have an HHS campus," he said. "One of the problems with that department is it's sprawling, it's all over the place. People that you really need to communicate with, that you really need to be down the hall from, are across town." Retaining a part of the Dix campus, he said, would allow the state to consolidate DHHS' offices.
Tillis: Asked if House Speaker Thom Tillis' dual rolls as both a U.S. Senate candidate and top legislative leader would be a problem, Dollar said no. Tillis, Dollar said, has already delegated much of the day-to-day responsibility for running the House, so the added time pressure from the campaign shouldn't be an issue.
"This speaker has been very good about letting people do their job and empowering the chairs to their jobs," Dollar said. "He hasn't run the House with any sort of iron first or just at the top."