Having outlined what the “Short Session” is and how it proceeds and then discussed the upcoming issues, I figured I’d better talk about what I’m working on. My focus is on three things: 1) introducing and passing legislation sought by Henderson County local governments, 2) working on statewide issues that have been assigned to me, and 3) trying to move legislation I introduced that still hasn’t passed the Senate. I expect I’ll be successful at the first, two things, but don’t expect as much success on the third.
To resolve the dispute between Henderson County and the City of Asheville over the Bent Creek property that was deeded to Henderson County as part of the first regional water agreement, I’ve introduced House Bill 1113 (Bent Creek Property Sullivan Act Exemption). It simply addresses a legal technicality relating to the original purchase of that land using monies generated from the water system. Since all of the local legislators support the bill, I expect little problem moving this legislation.
Five community colleges have brewing courses, including Blue Ridge Community College. Under current law, students brew, bottle and taste their beer, but the beer isn’t allowed out to be sold — legislation is needed to allow colleges with a brewing program to sell up to 100 gallons of their beer. Since this is a short session, I can’t just introduce a bill, since this bill would have statewide application (which means it really isn’t a “local bill”). What will have to happen is the beer provision will either have to be inserted into another bill that is eligible to be heard or inserted into the budget. I expected Senator Apodaca and I would find a way to get this done and was happy to see the provision included in the Senate’s regulatory reform bill, Senate Bill 734 (The Regulatory Reform Act of 2014).
In my last update, I outlined two issues that are my primary focus: education funding and coal ash. Here’s an update.
Last week, Governor McCrory outlined his budget adjustments and the education highlights include:
- Establishing starting pay for teachers of $33,000 and raises for all teachers — which means that teachers with up to seven years’ experience will get raises of 5.7 to 7.1 percent, teachers with eight to twelve years of experience will get raises of 2.8 to 4.3 percent, and teachers over twelve years will get raises of roughly 2 percent (Basically, the McCrory budget unfreezes teacher “step increases” for those who are on step eight or higher.);
- Providing a 1.9 percent cost-of-living increase for state and public school retirees;
- Using $9.8 million from the education lottery to fund “Career Pathways” pilot program to test ways to reward and retain the highest quality teachers based, in part, on student achievement;
- Restoring $18.7 million to reinstate teacher salary supplements for teachers who started working toward their master’s degrees as of July 2013 and those who have received a master’s degree and are teaching in their degree field at least 70 percent of their work time;
- Keeping teacher assistant funding at the same level as in the present fiscal year;
- Using education lottery funding to create a pilot scholarship program for veterans and established a policy of charging military veterans who were stationed at NC bases the in-state tuition rate at community colleges;
- Cutting the UNC system budget by roughly 2 percent with a large portion of that cut to be made by the UNC system’s management.
While no one can say for sure how much of the Governor’s budget proposal will survive, there is a clear expectation that his proposed teacher and state employee pay raises will survive in some form. Interestingly, the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) president called the proposed raises for veteran teachers “inadequate” while the head of the State Employees Association of NC (SEANC) called a $1,000 pay raise for state employees a “fantastic start.” Why that is interesting is that it appears that all teachers will get bigger raises than any state employees — yet the teachers’ representative is unhappy while the state employees’ representative is not.
Having received the Governor’s budget recommendations, the Senate now starts the budget process. The expectation is that its budget will be crafted, debated and approved over the next two weeks and then the House will start its budget process. I’ll be one of the legislators crafting the education portion of the House’s budget.
On coal ash, the House agreed to have the Senate move the legislation first since the coal ash spill on the Dan River occurred in Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s district. The hope is that the Senate will introduce its bill after having collaborated with the House. The House could simply introduce a “companion bill” to the bill introduced in the Senate. Senator Apodaca and I are regularly communicating about the specifics of a coal ash bill. For more information, on the coal ash issue, please read my article “Coal Ash 101.”
Several bills that I introduced last session are still pending in the Senate. The autism bill, HB498 (Autism Health Insurance Coverage), is currently assigned to the Senate Insurance Committee, chaired by Senator Apodaca. The bill would mandate insurance coverage for all individuals that have autism spectrum disorders in North Carolina. I am not a betting man, but if I were, I’d say this bill has no more than a 50-50 chance of passage since some business groups and the insurance industry just doesn’t like the idea of the state legislature mandating any insurance coverage. Of course, it is a fact that well over 30 states have adopted a mandate like the one in the bill. (More information on my legislation to expand Autism insurance coverage here.)
Another bill awaiting action in the Senate is HB8 (Eminent Domain). The bill provides for a constitutional amendment to limit the power of governments to seize property using their eminent domain powers. For reasons I would be hard pressed to explain, the Senate will apparently not take up this legislation.
I also introduced HB28 (Henderson Fire Districts) to allow the Henderson County Board of Commissioners to standardize the ceiling on fire district taxes. I haven’t been able to get movement on this bill, but Senator Apodaca and I are both interested in moving it, so it may be possible to move his companion bill, SB48.
There are a lot of important bills moving in the House and the Senate, including HB1050 (Omnibus Tax Law Changes), SB786 (The Energy Modernization Act), and the regulatory reform bill. At the same time, the Senate will soon put forth its revisions to the budget. Our leadership continues to say that the session will be short, (probably over by July 4th) which means that the next few weeks are going to be very busy. I’ll next update you on major bills moving through the House and Senate.