A week off, then more mini budgets for N.C. legislature

Posted August 28, 2019 5:01 p.m. EDT

The N.C. General Assembly will roll out budget bills to test backlogged rape kits, fund school safety projects, upgrade prisons and provide new disaster relief when it comes back to work next month.

The House will be in session Thursday, then both chambers will take off the Labor Day holiday and all of next week, returning to Raleigh the second week of September.

The GOP majority's continuing budget fight with Gov. Roy Cooper should still be here when they get back. Speaker of the House Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger outlined plans Thursday to pass more baby budgets when they return, sending Cooper smaller bites of the budget he vetoed, most of which have wide bipartisan support.

Next up: Bills dealing with prison safety, school safety measures, more funding to help areas affected last year by flooding and a funding to test rape kits. Already the legislature has passed – unanimously – funding bills for various state employee raises.

Berger and Moore said they'll continue to focus on measures with broad support, and which Cooper is unlikely to veto.

"Let's show people that there are things we agree on," said Berger, R-Rockingham.

The pair also said they'll delay action on teacher pay, which is likely to prove more controversial than these other funding bills. Cooper pitched a larger raise than the GOP majority, which focused its raises on more experienced teachers after setting a pay scale in recent years that benefited younger educators.

Moore, R-Cleveland, had predicted Tuesday that the House would move on teacher pay next week, pegging average raises just where they had in the full budget: A bit under 4 percent over the two year life of the budget. On Wednesday Moore said they'd simply pass that bill, if they thought Cooper would sign it.

No timetable was given for a new bill, and it's not clear it will look like when it emerges.

Legislation giving a 1 percent annual raise for non-certified employees at K-12 schools – bus drivers, custodians, teaching assistants and others – has also been delayed. House Bill 426 was on the House calender Wednesday, but with Democratic opposition and multiple amendments lined up for consideration, it was pulled.

The bill may be turned into a conference report, Moore said, a parliamentary move that would produce a bill that can't be amended and just has to be voted up or down. That would protect the language Republicans included in the broader budget.

Another mini-budget measure has also proven controversial: House Bill 555 would provide nearly half a billion dollars to fund the state's planned shift to more managed care in its Medicaid program, a long-planned reform going into effect this year. Democrats have largely voted against the measure, signaling a coming Cooper veto as he rejects health care legislation in an effort to pressure Republicans into accepting some version of Medicaid expansion.

The House is expected to give the Medicaid transformation measure final approval Thursday and send it to Cooper's desk.