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Special Session Per Diems Could've Bought Children's Insurance

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A special session on children's insurance
RALEIGH — Some state lawmakers are working on health insurance for children in a special session. However, other state lawmakers are not involved. That hasn't stopped them from collecting their paychecks.

The House and Senate are still trying to hammer out an agreement to provide health insurance for 71,000 children in North Carolina. But only a handful of lawmakers are involved in those talks. The money that's already been spent on the special session could have insured thousands of kids.

House and Senate meetings have lasted just a few minutes from gavel to gavel since the special session began. The responsibility for reaching an agreement on childrens' health insurance lies with two 10-member committees, leaving other lawmakers with nothing to do. Yet all 170 of them are entitled to payments of $104 per day.

"Here we are now several weeks into it with no apparent end in sight," says Chris Fitzsimon of the Common Sense Foundation. "They could have insured quite a number of children without insurance with all the money they've collected on per diems every day."

According to a local government news service, the state has spent more than $1.3 million dollars during the 22 days of the special session. That amount could have insured 3,385 children. Senator Roy Cooper (D) is among 51 legislators refusing to accept their per diem payments.

"I cut off my per diem because I wanted to put pressure on this whole process, to get children's health insurance in North Carolina," Cooper explains.

But most lawmakers are pocketing the payments. Senator Virginia Foxx (R) makes no apologies for accepting her $104 a day: I am in Raleigh. I am working on behalf of constituents, and basically I work seven days a week on behalf of them, whether we're in session or not. And since I am coming to Raleigh four days a week, I don't have any compunction about taking the per diem.

The full legislature will vote on a children's health insurance plan as soon as the House and Senate committees reach a compromise.

In the meantime, a local watchdog group estimates the special session is running up a tab of about $50,000 a day.

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Stephanie Hawco, Reporter
John Cox, Photographer
Kerrie Hudzinski, Web Editor

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