BLOGS: Keeping Up With Jones Street

Friday, May 22, 2015, 3:24 PM

Womble Carlyle Legislative Update for the week of May 18th


House Budget

It was a week of herding cats for the House Leadership as they worked their budget through caucus, subcommittees, caucus, committee, caucus, then caucus again, caucus again, and caucus yet again, then an emergency trip to the Rules Committee to assuage the objections to the increased DMV fees, and then to the House floor.  But the House budget passed with strong bi-partisan support; final reading took place in the wee hours of this morning. 

The House Appropriations Committee met Tuesday to consider over 120 amendments.  Last night and this morning the full House dispensed with nearly 70 amendments before adopting the final spending package of $22.2 billion with strong bi-partisan support and sending it to the Senate. 

The House spending plan raises new money with increased DMV fees of nearly 50 percent which caused an uproar among Republicans and Democrats. Ultimately the fee increase will only be 30 percent and those funds will augment road-building and maintenance, upgrade the state ports, ferry vessel repair and replacement.  North Carolinians will see their annual vehicle registration fee go from $28 to $36.50 (not including county property taxes that are collected at the same time) and an 8-year driver’s license fee would increase from $32 to $41.60.

In a few hours you’ll be able to read the House Budget Money Report here and the accompanying bill language here.

The Senate plans to work all of next week voting on their version.

Program Evaluation Projects

A decade ago the General Assembly created the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee to evaluate programs the state is funding to make smart decisions regarding future funding.  The Committee is made up of members from the House and Senate who are given the responsibility of examining whether public services are delivered effectively.  Each year they adopt a work plan for their staff.  Here’s what they’ll look at this year:

·         Funding Formulas for K-12 Public Schools and Feasibility of Student-Based Funding

·         Community Colleges Funding Formula

·         Performance of Privatized State Government Functions

·         Effectiveness of Economic Development Tiers

·         Effectiveness of Medicaid Program Integrity

·         Feasibility of Consolidating State Purchase of Health Care Services

·         School Calendar Flexibility

·         Performance of Medicaid Data Warehouse

·         Management of Layers and Span of Control for State Agency Executive Offices

·         Management of Inmate Health Care

·         Professional Educator Licensure Process and Teacher Education Requirements

·         Analysis of North Carolina Lottery Commission Operations

·         Implementation of Results First in NC

·         Review of DOT’s Ferry Division

·         Management of State Pension Fund Investments

Click here for the list and descriptions of each project.

“Ag-Gag” Bill
HB 405Property Protection Act – has passed the Senate and been sent to the Governor for his signature.  The bill allows employers to sue employees who use their positions to gain access to documents or to secretly record areas that aren’t open to the public.  Known by opponents as an “ag-gag” bill, they argue that it is specifically intended to prevent undercover investigations of farms and agriculture facilities.  Supporters have stated that it protects the rights of property-owners.

Opossum Drop
HB 574Opossum Exclusion From Wildlife Laws – has passed the Senate and will be sent to the Governor.  Clay’s Corner is Brasstown, NC will once again be able to have a New Year’s Eve opossum drop because opossums will be exempt statewide from protections pertaining to capture and treatment of animals from December 29th until January 2nd.  Since it’s a state-wide bill, any city would be allowed to participate in opossum drops for New Year’s…  Just an observation.

Renewable Energy
In 2007 NC became the first state in the region to adopt a renewable portfolio standard which required utilities to get increasing amounts of the energy it sells from renewable sources such as solar, wind and “green” sources so that by 2021 their portfolios would reach 12.5 percent renewables.  The 2007 agreement was the result of much stakeholder input, good faith and substantial compromise all around.  In addition to the clean environment benefit, producers of green energy appreciate the market demand created by the law which in turn helps to subsidize the cost of innovation.  The argument against renewables is they cost more to produce and are less reliable than traditional energy sources.  Rep. Hager’s bill, HB 332 – Energy Policy Amendments, freezes the renewable energy portfolio requirement at its current 6% level and freezes the current cap on annual costs utilities can charge customers at $12 per year -- not even halfway to the mandated levels in the 2007 law but still with years to go.  Hager’s reason for the bill is to keep costs low for ratepayers. But advocates are concerned about renewable markets and capital investments into new technologies.  The bill passed the Senate Commerce Committee after a lively debate and voice vote and was referred to the Senate Finance Committee.  Finance Committee Chairman Rucho declined to allow public comment on the bill at the hearing and he declared that the bill passed by voice vote while members present insist it failed; the chairman declined the motion for “division” which allows a vote by show of hands.  The bill is expected to reach the Senate floor early next week although the Finance Committee has not yet released the bill.

Champions Among Us
The state officially lent her voice to the chorus of congratulations to Coach Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils on their 2015 NCAA Basketball Championship title by honoring the team with a Joint Resolution.  The coaching staff and players attended the session, made remarks, signed autographs and posed for pictures.  Though your Government Relations Team bleeds two shades of blue, we were proud to of the Blue Devils’ enormous feat this year, exciting athleticism and class.

Coach K had something for everyone: he urged the legislators to remember our educators as the real heroes in NC.  He then touched the Tar Heels in the crowd by remembering with admiration Coaches Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge who we lost earlier this year.  And for you Wake Forest crowd, he told Senate Chaplain (and former Demon Deacon) Peter Milner that it wasn’t about games, it was about championships, and that is humbling and good.

Sometimes it’s okay to secretly admire your adversary; Tuesday was one of those days.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015, 3:47 PM

Safely Boarding the School Bus - we're never done.


The safety of schoolchildren has been a priority every year at the General Assembly.  But several years ago former NC House Speaker Pro Tempore Dale Folwell shone a bright light on the safety of children boarding and disembarking from school buses — his own son Dalton was tragically hit and killed by a car that illegally passed a stopped school bus in Forsyth County in 1999.  Pro Tempore Folwell was able to push legislation increasing the penalty for passing a stopped school bus to 5 points on a driver's license, but a punishment isn’t always the best deterrent.

In fact, the best deterrent may be a barrier for the passing car.  BL Solutions has developed an new school bus arm that extends from the bus totally across the oncoming lane of traffic.  Any oncoming car that runs into the arm will incur lots of collision damage but the arm will fall away from the bus without harming it.

This legislative session House Bill 489 was introduced to require that schoolchildren be trained about the safety of boarding and disembarking from school buses. The legislative “crossover” deadline has arrived without consideration that bill so it’s dead for the biennium but the point has been made and legislators are once again thinking about school bus safety.
 
It didnt' stop there for Dale Folwell and his wife Synthia, who donated Dalton's organs and have made the awareness of organ donation a priority.  Falwell famously set the record for miles travelled in the U.S. by motorcycle one October to raise awareness of organ donation with nearly 33,000 miles travelled.
 

Friday, April 24, 2015, 4:02 PM

Womble Carlyle Legislative Update - April 24, 2015


Crossover is the deadline established by House and Senate Rules by which a House bill must be received by the Senate, and a Senate bill must be received by the House, in order to remain eligible for action for the rest of the biennium. Bills not subject to Crossover are those that contain a fee, tax or appropriation, or a constitutional amendment, local bill or a bill recommended to the 2016 session by a study committee. Thursday, April 30th is crossover so the volume of work on Jones Street is huge, the atmosphere is chaotic, and the very clever people are getting things done under the radar.  Here are the highlights/lowlights:

 Abortion Bill
HB 46572 Hours Informed Consent by Person or Phone – passed the House along party lines on Thursday and now goes to the Senate. The bill extends the waiting period for an abortion in NC from 24 hours to 72 hours and contains a new provision that requires doctors who perform abortions during weeks 19 and 20 to send ultrasounds, measurements, and other information to the NC Department of HHS so the state can ensure no abortions are being performed after 20 weeks.

House Republicans took a different political approach with this bill by having only female primary sponsors on the bill and agreeing that no male caucus members would debate the bill on the floor. It was a robust debate of women legislators. The party-line vote included the Speaker, who historically doesn’t cast a vote except in close votes, on memorializing resolutions, and on major tax and budget issues.  Also of note was the “no” vote of Rep. Tine (Dare County) who was elected as a Democrat, dropped his party affiliation just before the session convened, and has been caucusing with Republicans this session. We expect this bill to sail through the Senate.

Economic Development
The Senate Finance Committee began discussing HB 117 this week.  Sen. Rucho suggested that the committee will develop a new plan from parts of the three bills below. This is the first Senate movement on Economic Development this session.

HB 117NC Competes – is the first plan passed by the House and supported by Governor McCrory.  It:
·         doubles JDIG money to $45 million
·         extends the sales tax refund for aviation fuel
·         enacts a sales tax exemption for datacenters

SB 526Job Creation and Tax Relief Act of 2015 – is the first plan introduced by the Senate.  It:
·         proposes a move to a “single sales factor” where a company would be taxed only on what they sell in-state
·         refunds taxes for companies investing at least $1 billion and hiring 2,500 workers
·         reduces the corporate income tax rate from 5% to 4% over the next two years
·         reduces the individual income tax rate from 5.75% to 5.5% over the next two years
·         retools JDIG to benefit rural counties

SB 338Economic Development/Tax Modifications – is the second plan introduced by the Senate.  It:
·         proposes a move to a “single sales factor”
·         refunds taxes for companies investing at least $1 billion and hiring 2,500 workers
·         reduces the corporate income tax rate from 5% to 3%
·         retools JDIG to benefit rural counties

Failed Legislation
It’s rare for a bill to fail on a vote and there has been a flurry of them recently. Typically a bill sponsor or committee chair will pull a bill if the votes don’t appear to be there.  This session we’ve seen some bills go down and we’re wondering if vote counting is a lost art.  

HB 344Gubernatorial Team Ticketfailed on the House floor this week.  It is the proposed constitutional amendment that we told you about last week that, if approved by voters, would require candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to run together on one ticket.  It received 60 votes with 58 against it, but fell short of the necessary three-fifths votes needed to get on the ballot.  Although bill sponsors argued that it’s important to have a lieutenant governor from the same party as the governor in case something were to happen to the governor, the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” argument won out in the end.  So, don’t worry, you can still split the top of your ticket.

HB 128Referendum for Certain Local Debtfailed in committee this week.  It would have allowed residents to force a referendum on proposed spending by local governments for projects costing $5 million or more.  Rep. Speciale argued that the bill would protect citizens and give them more of a voice in preventing local tax increases.  Rep. Ross reminded the committee that citizens elect their local officials as he made a motion for an unfavorable report.  The motion passed easily killing the bill.

HB 761Charter School Capital Fundsfailed on a motion for a favorable report.  It would have allowed for county money for capital needs for schools be shared with charter schools to help with construction and renovation needs, the purchase of property, furniture or equipment for charter schools.  The committee chairman ruled the motion to approve failed on a voice vote.  After counting hands, the motion failed 12-7.

Health Insurance Mandates
The NC Chamber and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) has made opposing health insurance mandates, which can be costly for businesses, one of their top priorities. There are a number of bills moving this session that impact health insurance:

HB 306NC Cancer Treatment Fairness – requires health insurers to offer coverage for oral chemotherapy drugs that is at least as good as coverage for IV chemo. The bill sponsor argued in the House Insurance Committee that some chemo drugs are only available in in oral form. The bill received strong support in committee, then passed the House floor by a vote of 104-10.  The bill has been sent to the Senate where it died last session.  No indication whether the Senate will take up the bill.

SB 676Autism Health Insurance Coverage passed the Senate Insurance Committee and will be on the Senate floor next week where it is expected to pass.  This bill mandates that health insurance cover treatment therapies for autism. Some advocates believe the bill still needs some tweaks.

HB 528 - Chiropractor Co-Pay Parity is scheduled for consideration by the House Insurance Committee next week. It would require that an insurance plan treat a chiropractic visit the same as a general practitioner visit for purposes of co-pay. The bill does not set the amount of the co-pay so some argue it is not an insurance mandate.

LegalZoom
HB 436Unauthorized Practice of Law Changes – passed the House on Monday by a vote of 115-4 and has been sent to the Senate.  This bill would allow legal service websites such as LegalZoom to continue offering products in North Carolina only if they meet certain criteria but they will not be allowed to offer legal advice or legal documents based upon questions and answers with a consumer, which are both considered the practice of law and can only be performed by a licensed attorney. Legislators say this version of the bill has the support of the NC Bar.

SEPA
HB 795Amend State Environmental Policy Act passed committee and is on Monday’s House Calendar. The bill puts thresholds into law in order to trigger to the need for a SEPA document by requiring the expenditure of public funds or disturbing of public lands to be “substantial” which they define with a dollar trigger of $20 million and disturbed publicly-owned land area threshold of 20 acres.  A SEPA document is a comprehensive, time-intensive and costly study of the potential adverse environmental impacts from the projects using public funds or public lands for development, ie a public wastewater plant.  Sierra Club and other conservation groups strongly oppose the change.  The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has not taken a formal position on the bill.

Next week will be a zoo on Jones Street. Wish us luck and let us know what your questions are.

Friday, April 17, 2015, 2:58 PM

April 17, 2015 NC Legislative Update


Legislators are back in Raleigh after a week off and it doesn’t look like anything has changed after the extra time they were given to reflect on the session.  Just as we’ve seen before:

·         There’s a new bill that would allow the opossum to be dropped in Brasstown on New Year’s Eve. 

·         There’s another economic incentives bill in the House. 

·         The usual bill to allow hunting on Sundays has been filed. 

·         There were dogs that had been rescued from puppy mills at the legislature to lobby for the puppy mill bill. (And YES, that was best thing to happen all week!!!!  Well, for Angel at least.  Laura watched and smiled.)

One thing that we haven’t seen before is the introduction of multiple bills dealing with the prohibition of powdered alcohol.  You heard it right.  Powdered.  Alcohol.  There’s just too much to say about that.

Opossum* Drop

There’s a perennial issue out there that offers a good lesson in sausage-making: the Clay’s Corner Opossum Drop. For more than six years, Clay’s Corner in Brasstown, NC has been fighting to maintain its now famous New Year’s Eve tradition of lowering a caged Opossum at the stroke of the new year. PETA and other animal lovers groups have been trying to get it stopped through administrative hearings and Superior Court, but lawmakers have been trying to find a way to let this tradition continue in a limited way.  In 2014, a bill was filed to carve out Clay County from NC wildlife laws regarding opossums at year’s end, which many argue is unconstitutional. This year’s attempt is HB 574 which exempts opossums statewide from protections pertaining to capture and treatment of animals from December 29th until January 2nd.  The effect of that carve out is that New Year’s opossum drops would be legal statewide.  The bill got a nod from the House and will be considered by the Senate. It would be in bad taste to say that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

 *”O” or No?  Opossum refers to the animals native to North America, while possums are native to New Guinea, Australia and Indonesia.  Thank us later when you answer that question correctly in trivia.

 Another Incentives Bill

HB 920Omnibus Economic Development Improvements – is the latest economic development bill to be introduced in the House.  With a bipartisan sponsorship led by Rep. Jason Saine, this bill includes many of the same things as the previous economic development bill that the House sent over to the Senate.  But because the Senate is sitting on that bill, the House decided to hit them again.  New additions in this bill include:

  • Historic rehabilitation tax credits
  • Film grant fund modifications
  • Credit for manufacturing cigarettes for exportation
  • Use of North Carolina ports credit
  • Motorsports sales tax credit
No word yet on what the Senate will do.

 Elections Bills

Judicial Elections

HB 8Restore Partisan Statewide Judicial Elections – would restore the “D” and “R” beside a judicial candidate’s name on the ballot.  A decade ago, judicial elections were made nonpartisan and public funds were made available for judicial campaigns by a Democratic legislative majority. In the last few years, Republicans have eliminated public financing and outside spending has taken its place in judicial elections. This bill would make them partisan elections, requiring primaries in some cases.  Bill sponsors argued that providing candidate party affiliation will help voters to make choices based on whether a candidate’s ideology matches their own, thus increasing voter interest in these elections.  Opponents don’t believe that partisan politics should be brought into races of judges who should be impartial.

 The bill passed the House Elections Committee on Tuesday and got its second nod on the House floor with 3 Republicans and an Independent joining the Democrats in their losing effort.  Final House approval is scheduled for Monday, after which it will be sent to the Senate for consideration.

 Gubernatorial Elections

HB 344Gubernatorial Team Ticket – also passed the House Elections Committee on Tuesday.  This bill would change the current method of separately electing the governor and lieutenant governor, instead making them run as a single ticket.  Candidates would run separately in the primaries before being teamed up for the general election.  The bill sponsor, Rep. Bert Jones, believes that the governor and lieutenant governor should be from the same party and might remember the photo finish between LTG Dan Forest and Democratic candidate Linda Coleman – who has formed her committee to run again.  As a practical matter this bill would make it close to impossible for an unaffiliated candidate to run.  Look for it on the House floor next week.

LegalZoom

HB 436Unauthorized Practice of Law Changes – updates the definition of “practice law” and authorizes the State Bar to challenge an additional list of unlicensed services, including online services like LegalZoom.  Online service companies argue that the State Bar is simply trying to protect its turf, but the State Bar argues that there is a legitimate concern for public protection.  The bill easily passed the House Judiciary I Committee and will now head to the House floor.

Revenue Forecast

Most North Carolinians filed their taxes this week and have an opinion about the new Republican Tax Plan that is now fully in effect – they are either winners or losers. Detractors from our new tax structure have been awaiting a post-April 15th notice of a structural budget deficit, but whether the sky is actually falling is not clear.  The state budget is drafted, considered and passed by the General Assembly upon the professional advice of its staff economist, who says there will be budget hole of $94 million.  However, if you ask the State Budget Officer who answers directly to the Governor and has responsibility for implementing the enacted budget, he’s still suggesting a hole of $271 million. It's rare that they don't agree. There will be a shortfall – and there always is since NC budgets one-time money in addition to recurring revenues from fees and taxes. We’re anxious to see what the “April Surprise” looks like this year since it will determine the tax policy talking points for the 2016 elections. (I know – too soon!)
 
This leaves the Republicans with the problem providing adequate funding for state and local governments with the natural but problematic solution of raising taxes.  A few creative members are now looking at gaming revenue to fill some gaps.

Sweepstakes

HB 938Comprehensive Gaming Reform – was introduced by Rep. Harry Warren.  This bill would eliminate the State Lottery Commission and replace it with the North Carolina State Gaming Commission with expanded oversight covering ALL gaming in the state, including bingo and the boxing commission.  It would also legalize and regulate the operation of sweepstakes establishments with a valid license issued by the Gaming Commission.  Just a few ways this bill could generate revenue are through application fees ($250), penalties for operating sweepstakes without a license ($25,000-$100,000), and annual excise taxes on sweepstakes establishments and devices ($2,000 and $1,000 respectively).  It also allows counties and cities to impose an annual excise tax of $500 on each sweepstakes device and $1,000 on each sweepstakes establishment.  Local governments must distribute at least 3% of these revenues to the county sheriff’s department or the municipal police department of the taxing jurisdiction.  The remainder many be used for any public purpose. 

 HB 922Video Sweepstakes Regulation and Taxation – was introduced on the same day by Rep. Chris Malone.  This bill also legalizes and regulates the sweepstakes industry and has the same fees and penalties as Warren’s bill.  The major difference is that this bill does not create a gaming commission to oversee all forms of gaming in the state.

Thursday, April 16, 2015, 5:25 PM

New NC Business Court tweak in the works

A new Senate Bill making a further update to defining a mandatory complex business case for referral to the Business Court was filed and has begun to move.  Senate Bill 435 sponsored by Bob Rucho and Tamara Barringer who you may remember from last session's Business Court Modernization have an additional tweak this session. The bill would require that for mandatory designation to the Business Court a tax contestation must involve at least $5,000 in controversy.

The bill was filed last month and referred to the Senate Rules Committee which used to be where bad (and some good) bills went to die, but this session the Rules Committee is also the staging area for all bills that will receive committee action as well, giving the Senate Rules Committee Chairman total power over the flow of legislation in that chamber.  The bill is now in the Senate Judiciary 1 Committee and we expect it will receive consideration soon.

We'll keep you posted on any changes, but you can check out the bill here: http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2015/Bills/Senate/PDF/S435v1.pdf

Friday, April 10, 2015, 4:09 PM

April 3, 2015 Legislative Update


Spring Break Y’all

 

For the first time we can recall the House and Senate will take Spring Break next week. The House announced last month it will have Spring Break while the Senate announced it will hold skeletal sessions with no recorded votes. For clarification, both chambers will do the exact same thing by holding a “skeletal session” twice next week in order to meet the constitutional obligation to not recess longer than 3 days while in session. We’ve heard the best place to lobby next week is Augusta.

 

Rules

This week chaos ensued in the House as it adopted the House Permanent Rules to govern its activities. The Rules determine how the members may participate in making laws and how legislation will flow.  The House uses Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure as its guide like most state legislative bodies. The Rules are introduced and debated in a Resolution that the House (or Senate) adopts without consideration by the other chamber or interference from the Governor; it uses the committee process and requires approval by a simple majority on the House floor. Once the Rules are approved, suspension of those rules requires a 2/3 vote of the members present and voting. That means, in the House, it takes 61 votes (or a simple majority of those present and voting) to create the Rules and 80 votes (or a 2/3 majority of those present and voting) to rescind or alter the rules. During long House Sessions there is often unanimous support to suspend Rules that prohibit food in the chamber or require men to wear coats on the House floor.  More contentious is the suspending of rules regarding adding a bill to that day’s calendar without notice. The Rules also contain all those creative and nontraditional ways to get things done that we’re so fond of.

 

Speaker Moore prefers more transparency than his predecessor and is seeking to keep substantive lawmaking out of the budget document, and non-germane provisions out of conference reports. A popular change allows a House bill sponsor to remove his name from a bill if the Senate has changed it substantially – or even completely; many very controversial laws are passed attached to the bills of unsupportive sponsors causing these members trouble back home with their constituents. The House Permanent Rules also allow House Members to sponsor 15 bills rather than 10, with a bill introduction deadline of April 14th rather than yesterday.  Just when the we thought we could relax…..

 

In typical fashion the highly disciplined Senate proposed and adopted the Senate Permanent Rules on January 14th when the legislature held its organizational session.

 

Sales Tax Redistribution and Proposed Increases

Two bills have been filed in the Senate to promote the Senate Republican plan of redistributing sales tax revenue to rural counties while taking it from urban ones by focusing on county population rather than point of sale. This is the clearest example we’ve seen of the anticipated rise in fighting between rural and urban North Carolina. After announcing the plan, urban counties got fired up, so the bill sponsors have softened the blow by including provisions to address that concern by allowing urban counties to raise taxes. The House takes a gentler approach.

 

The Senate approach:

·         SB 608—Simple and Fair Formula for Sales Tax Distribution – was filed by Senator Rucho.  Because of reaction from urban counties, Rucho has said that he wants a provision that will prevent counties’ revenues from falling below their 2013-2014 levels.  To do this he said that the state will need an additional $66 million in revenues.  How does the state get more revenue, you ask?   More taxes, of course!  Senate Republicans are discussing options of expanding the sales tax to services. Examples we’re all familiar with are barbers, lawn services, attorneys…

·         SB 369 – Sales Tax Fairness Act – was filed by Senator Brown with 11 other Senate Republicans signing on as sponsors.  This bill would address the loss in sales tax revenue from urban counties by allowing counties to raise local sales taxes by a quarter-cent without a voter referendum.

 

The House approach:

·         A bill was also filed in the House to address the lack in revenue for rural counties.  HB 518 – County Sales Tax Flexibility – does not redistribute the sales tax revenues.  Instead, it allows all counties to raise local sales taxes by a quarter-cent without a referendum in most cases.

 

Historic Tax Credit

HB 152 – New Historic Preservation Tax Credit passed the House and was sent to the Senate where it was referred to the Ways and Means Committee which rarely meets. Committee Chairman Sen. Apodaca described the committee as a graveyard which offered little hope to supporters of the tax credit. However, House bill sponsor Rep. Ross suggested there are “graveyards” in both chambers. So this is how it’s going to be….

 

Biosimilars

HB 195 – An Act Amending the North Carolina Pharmacy Practice Act to Allow for the Substitution of an Interchangeable Biological Product overwhelmingly passed the House and goes to the Senate.  The bill allows generic alternatives to “biologics” to be dispensed by pharmacists thereby significantly reducing the price of some costly treatments to cancers and autoimmune diseases. The bill was a consensus effort of health insurance plans, pharmaceutical companies and pharmacists – a rare  coalition.

 

Vaccination bill

Last week we told you about the Senate bill that would remove the religious exemption from immunization requirements and the resulting onslaught of angry anti-vaccine parents in the hallways of the General Assembly.  Well, it looks as if protesting from the general public actually works…  Sponsors of the controversial bill along with Senate Leadership released a statement this week that read, “After hearing serious concerns about stricter vaccine and immunization requirements from our constituents and from citizens across the state, we have decided we will not move forward with Senate Bill 346.  The vaccine bill is dead.”  We’ve never seen anything like this; the moral of the story:  Don’t mess with angry moms.

 

Wake County Commissioners Redistricted
SB 181 – Wake County Commissioner Districts – was passed by the House after the Senate approved it last month. The bill changes the way Wake County elects its Commission by establishing districts rather than the current county-wide races which resulted in a Democrat sweep last November. The districts will overlay the newly-formed Wake County School Board districts. In addition, two new regional districts will also be created, one representing Raleigh and the other representing Wake County’s rural and suburban areas. No Democratic lawmakers supported the bill in either chamber.  Because this is a local bill, it does not require the governor’s signature and becomes law upon Ratification.

March 27, 2015 Legislative Update


Many large groups of the general public descended on the General Assembly this week in an attempt to have their voices heard on various issues. One such issue was vaccinations, which resulted in a lot of women walking around with babies strapped to their backs while pushing a stroller with one hand and holding a toddler’s hand with the other.  It was actually pretty impressive to see. 

 

There were also a number of groups there to support the medical marijuana bill, with Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) back for their second week in a row.

 

The Senate’s bill filing deadline was Thursday of this week.  Almost 200 bills were filed on that day, including one that would name the Linville Caverns spider as the state’s official spider.  If you want to know more about the Linville Caverns spider, I’d suggest taking a trip to the Linville Caverns because Google isn’t going to give you much information, other than the spider’s confidence level is “confident.”  I’m guessing that spider confidence is a good thing, but it’s probably not enough information to make an informed decision on a majorly important issue such as this. 

 

The House filing deadline for public bills is April 8. 

 

However, if your clients have problems after the bill filing deadlines have passed, don’t worry!  There are still ways to continue to solve problems after those deadlines, and language can still be added to bills through different means.  So, continue to let us know if we can help you with anything!

 

 

Medical Marijuana

HB 78Enact Medical Cannabis Act – was unanimously voted down on Wednesday in a House Judiciary Committee.  The committee opened the floor to public comment and heard passionate pleas from both sides for an hour.  After the public had spoken, there was no debate amongst the committee members before they voted for an unfavorable report and killed the bill.  However, supporters of the bill weren’t too pleased with Rep. Dean Arp who made the motion for an unfavorable report.  As Rep. Arp was leaving the committee room, he was struck in the back by one of the bill proponents who was then quickly pulled back by a very large, ex-football playing lobbyist.  Capitol Police then ushered the man away.  After being presented with an apology note, Rep. Arp chose not to press charges.

 

Vaccinations Bill

A bill filed a few weeks ago, which would repeal the religious exemption from vaccinations in NC, will not pass in its current form.  Primary sponsor Senator Jeff Tarte told us this week that he thinks Senate leadership would like to see the bill passed, but only after it undergoes some changes.  One possible change could be an informed consent provision to replace the religious exemption, which Tarte thinks may be overused by people who are just personally opposed to vaccinations.

 

Gas Tax Agreement

The House and Senate announced an agreement this week on the plan to temporarily revamp the gas tax in order to avoid a drop in the tax to 30 cents per gallon in July.  They estimate that drop would result in a loss of around $400 million in funds towards building and repairing roads.  While the current gas tax is 37.5 cents per gallon, the new agreement will cut it and set a floor of 36 cents on April 1, 35 cents on January 1, 2016, then 34 cents on July 1, 2016.  This plan will give the legislature time to come up with a new permanent plan of transportation funding that is less volatile, which they’re hoping to do by the end of 2016.  The agreement also contains the IRC update provision to help North Carolina’s tax laws match the federal government’s.  In addition, the bill makes it to where taxes will be charged on mortgage debt that has been forgiven, treating it as income.  The House and Senate will vote on the agreed upon conference report next week, after which it will go to the governor’s desk.

 

More Economic Development

The House Finance Committee discussed yet another economic development bill this week.  However, the discussed bill – HB 89 – is a bill sponsored entirely by Democrats.  Nevertheless, Finance Chair Jason Saine told us that they wanted to discuss the bill and its ideas as part of a robust discussion on economic development.  The bill will be used as a starting point for a bi-partisan bill which will include historic tax preservation credits, film tax credits, and credits for construction of low-income housing and for users of state-owned ports.  This will be the second economic bill filed by the House.  Why?  Because the Senate hasn’t expressed much interest in taking up the first bill that the House sent over.  Maybe the second time’s the charm…

 

Tax Cuts

SB 526Job Creation and Tax Relief Act of 2015 – was filed Thursday by Senate leadership and includes about $1 billion in tax cuts.  The bill lowers personal income tax rates from the current 5.75% to 5.625% in 2016, and then to 5.5% in 2017.  The corporate income tax rate would also be lowered to 4.5% in 2016, and then to 4% in 2017.  The bill also provides for the transition to single sales factor apportionment.  House leadership has expressed concern about ending up with a shortfall in state revenue if taxes are lowered too quickly. 
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