Representative Pricey HarrisonHouse District 571218 Legislative BuildingRaleigh, NC 27601-1096919-733-5771

Pricey.Harrison@ncleg.net

 

GREENSBORO, NC  May 12th, 2017 Rep. Pricey Harrison
Greetings,
Much of the attention at the NCGA this week has focused on the Senate budget which passed earlier today.  This week’s newsletter highlights the good and the bad of the Senate budget as well as other matters of potential interest.Senate Budget

 

The  Senate voted 32-15 earlier this morning along party lines to approve the Republican leaders’  proposed $22.9 billion state budget, which spells out numerous managerial jobs at state agencies that would be eliminated if the spending plan is approved.  While education spending proposes to increase by $600 million in the Senate budget, the state Department of Public Instruction would see its operating budget slashed by 25 percent. Several positions at the State Board of Education, which is engaged in a tug-of-war with Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson for control over DPI, would be cut, while  Mr. Johnson would receive $433,000 to hire up to five people who would report to him — the hires would not need state board approval.

 

Elsewhere in the education budget, the University of North Carolina School of Law would see a 30 percent budget cut under the proposal, and state funding for the Governor’s School, a summer program for gifted high school students, would be diverted starting in 2018-19 for a new Legislative School for Leadership and Public Service.

 

Meanwhile, the Department of Environmental Quality’s operating budget is reduced by 6 percent in the proposed budget, with Chief Deputy Secretary John Nicholson, a retired Marine colonel among those whose jobs would be eliminated. The Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service, which works with businesses and communities with environmental regulations, permitting, cost saving measures, boosting recycling, energy efficiency, and cutting emissions, would be gutted, losing 46 positions in its Raleigh and regional offices.

 

The Office of Science Technology & Innovation in the Department of Commerce would be eliminated, and funding to the North Carolina Biotechnology Center would be cut by 5 percent.

 

The budget for the Wildlife Resources Commission would be cut by 18 percent.

 

The Department of Transportation would lose 400 positions, and another 183 positions that oversee picking up litter and roadside trash also would be eliminated.

 

The director of the state Human Relations Commission would be laid off, and the rest of the staff moved from the Department of Administration to the Office of Administrative Hearings, an independent quasi-judicial agency.  Highlights are provided below.

Budget Highlights

 

Highlights of the $22.9 billion budget for North Carolina state government for the 2017-18 fiscal year approved by the state Senate. Unless otherwise noted, monetary figures reflect increases or reductions to base budget expenses or the amount of revenue generated or lost. The two-year budget bill also covers the 2018-19 fiscal year, but those provisions can be altered by the Legislature when it meets next year.

  • PUBLIC EDUCATION
    • provide for enrollment growth of 9,120 students anticipated in the public schools this fall: $31.9 million.
    • new “driver safety incentive program” that reimburses students up to $275 for a public or private driver education course necessary to obtain a learner’s permit, while eliminating the $65 cap that school districts can now charge students for such training: $25.8 million.
    • classroom textbooks and digital materials: $11.1 million.
    • expand bonus programs for teachers with students in Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and industry certification classes to charter schools: $400,000.
    • modernize Department of Public Instruction business systems: $18.8 million.
    • cover legal fees by Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office: $300,000.
    • reimburse initial teacher licensure application fee for first-time applicants: $245,000.
    • fund up to five positions in the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office: $433,000.
    • cut funding by 25 percent to Department of Public Instruction, with spending reductions determined by agency: -$13.2 million.
    • eliminate four State Board of Education staff positions: -$513,000.
    • reduce funding to North Carolina Education Endowment Fund for start-up to reinstate N.C. Teaching Fellows Program: -$4.6 million.
    • pay for enrollment growth of 800 additional full-time equivalent students in the state community college system this fiscal year: $4.9 million.
    • expand NC Works Career Coaches, employed by community colleges to work with high school students: $1.1 million.
    • transfer state apprenticeship program from Department of Commerce to community college system.
    • cuts University of North Carolina operating budget, with cuts determined by UNC Board of Governors: -$1.9 million.
    • improve and modernize UNC system data collection on students and outcomes: $9 million.
    • reduce funding for UNC centers and institutes by 10 percent, in keeping with 2014 UNC Board of Governors report: -$8 million.
    • expand North Carolina New Teacher Support Program, which provides one-on-one coaching with new teachers: $1 million.
    • establish Future Teachers of North Carolina program, which helps high school teachers with curricula designed to attract high-achieving students to teaching profession: $278,000.
    • fund Food Processing Innovation Center on the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis: $5.1 million.
    • reduce UNC-Chapel Hill law school funding by 30 percent: -$4 million.
    • fund 15 new slots for medical students at UNC School of Medicine: $3 million.
    • add funds to UNC School of Medicine’s Asheville campus project: $8 million.
    • funds to stabilize East Carolina University’s medical school: $4 million.
    • funds to continue stabilizing enrollment at Elizabeth City State University to hire temporary faculty and start-up funds for aviation science program: $2.8 million.
    • establish “Personal Education Savings Account” program, providing additional scholarship awards of $9,000 annually to children with disabilities for qualifying education expenses, including those in non-public settings: $450,000.
  • HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
    • continue compliance with U.S. Justice Department settlement to improve housing and other home and community-based support for the mentally ill: $8.9 million.
    • community and rural health center grants: $7.5 million.
    • use $18.2 million in federal block grants to serve additional 2,350 children in North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten program.
    • increase Smart Start funds to increase access to early literacy program known as Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which sends books to children every month: $3.5 million.
    • develop overhaul of child welfare system that would regionalize social services departments by 2022: $161,000.
    • implement improvement plan for state child welfare system after a recent critical federal review: $8.7 million.
    • increase smoking cessation programs: $500,000.
    • cover state public health state laboratory budget deficit: $3 million.
    • reduce funding to regional managed care organizations that treat the mentally ill, substance abusers, and people with developmental disabilities, forcing them to use more cash reserves: -$69.4 million.
    • close the Wright School in Durham, a residential mental health treatment center for children, eliminating nearly 40 positions: -$2.3 million.
    • legal fees for Department of Health and Human Services with anticipated or pending litigation over delays in construction of new Broughton mental hospital in Morganton: $3.5 million.
    • increase staff to improve inspections of hospitals, hospices and adult and family care homes: $473,000.
    • provide Medicaid funding to continue services at expected demands and use rates: $3.8 million.
    • reduce Division of Medical Assistance funding, with cuts determined by agency: -$20 million.
  • AGRICULTURE, NATURAL AND ECONOMIC RESOURCES
    • purchase airplane and maintain and operate firefighting equipment by state Forest Service: $2.3 million.
    • international marketing of state agricultural products: $500,000.
    • Tobacco Trust Fund, which provides grants to tobacco-related farms and businesses: $664,000.
    • agricultural conversation easements and other programs to sustain family farms: $1 million.
    • eliminate funding, three positions for Department of Agriculture’s Small Farms Program: -$238,000.
    • reduce Department of Environmental Quality by 9 percent, in part by eliminating 45 positions, including the department’s chief deputy.
    • Eliminate funding for the department’s environmental assistance and customer services programs, as well as for energy research for energy centers at N.C. State University, North Carolina A&T State University, and Appalachian State University: -$7.2 million.
    • Gives the legislature control over how the administration will spend an anticipated $92 million as the state’s share of the Volkswagen settlement meant to reduce diesel nitrogen oxide emissions. The Sierra Club says the legislature is improperly trying to constrain how that money will be used.
    • create state-of-the-art Department of Commerce web site: $500,000.
    • create new Site and Building Development Fund, designed to help prepare sites to attract major manufacturing employers: $2.5 million.
    • tourism and economic development advertising by the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina: $4 million.
    • digitize historic publications held by the state: $185,000.
    • Clean Water Management Trust Fund: $3.5 million.
    • Grassroots Arts and Rural Touring Arts grant programs: $875,000.
    • maintenance of state historic sites: $500,000.
    • cover debt service to pay for more borrowing approved by voters in 2016: $24 million.
    • continue film production grant program: $15 million.
  • JUSTICE AND PUBLIC SAFETY
    • pilot program in Wilmington for quick response team to help opiate and heroin overdose victims lacking follow-up treatment: $250,000.
    • State Bureau of Investigation funds for undercover drug purchases and telephone records: $500,000.
    • eliminate 69 long-vacant positions in the Division of Adult Correction: -$3.4 million.
    • create 200-bed facility in Buncombe County for female offenders who are subject to jail time for violating the terms of their probation: $865,000.
    • eliminate funding for emergency judges: -$654,000.
    • hire 56 new deputy court clerk positions in districts having trouble meeting workloads: $2.7 million.
    • create 37 new assistant district attorney positions across the state: $2.5 million.
  • TRANSPORTATION
    • purchase 1,700 credit card readers for the Division of Motor Vehicles and License Plate Agency offices: $2.1 million.
    • create new Mobility/Modernization fund to fund construction with immediate needs, including intersection improvements, economic development assets, and congestion-reducing projects: $40 million.
    • bridge preservation and replacement with some of the funds coming from the Highway Fund’s general maintenance account: $117 million.
    • decrease funds for road contract resurfacing: -$10 million.
    • pavement preservation activities: $30 million.
    • create new Roadside Environmental Fund for vegetation management, litter removal, rest areas and guardrail replacements, with money coming from general maintenance account: $104 million.
    • increase Highway Trust Fund money toward strategic transportation projects that have ranked the best through the Department of Transportation scoring system: $140.1 million.
  • OTHER AGENCIES, SPENDING AND RESERVES
    • increase state contributions to pension funds for National Guard members, firefighters and rescue squad workers: $756,000.
    • increase community investments in maintaining local military programs and activities: $2 million.
    • use $10 million from Dorothea Dix property sale proceeds to set aside hospital beds in local psychiatric units and to develop mental health crisis centers for children.
    • transfer state Human Relations Commission from the Department of Administration to the Office of Administrative Hearings, eliminates commission director’s position.
    • supplemental relief and recovery funds after Hurricane Matthew: $150 million.
    • increase savings reserve: $363.1 million.
    • repairs and renovations to state and university buildings: $120 million.
    • infrastructure improvements to North Carolina Zoological Park: $5 million.
  • TAXES
    • reduce individual income tax rate from 5.499 percent to 5.35 percent in 2018.
    • increase standard deductions for individual income tax filers.
    • lower corporate income tax rate from 3 percent to 2.75 percent in 2018 and 2.5 percent in 2019.
    • overhauls and reduces business franchise tax, creating flat $200 tax on first $1 million of a business’ net worth.
  • SALARIES AND BENEFITS
    • average 3.7 percent increase in teacher salaries: $131 million.
    • use $24 million in lottery proceeds to increase principal compensation and create a new salary schedule based on experience and performance.
    • assistant principal pay increases: $4.5 million.
    • rank-and-file state employees pay increases of the greater of 1.5 percent of their salaries or $750: $142 million.
    • complete multi-year effort to increase pay of state correctional officers: $18.4 million.
    • boost salaries for state employee positions considered difficult to retain or recruit: $5 million.
    • eliminate retiree medical benefits for new state employees hired after June 2018.
  • POLICY PROPOSALS
    • create a new Department of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice out of the current Department of Public Safety.
    • end in late 2020 the practice of 16- and 17-year-olds being tried in adult criminal court for misdemeanor charges (being considered by the House in separate legislation, below)
    • place a moratorium through 2020 on state permits for wind farm projects while lawmakers study whether more restrictions are needed to protect military installations.
    • phase out by 2025 “certificate of need” laws requiring state approval before hospitals and health facilities can offer more beds or build new locations.
    • fund web site to make all state and local government budgets available online.
    • require UNC Board of Governors to be given 10 business days before voting on items on its agenda.
    • allow people at least 65 years old to audit UNC and community college classes for free.
    • limits or prevents use of state funds by agencies to pay for outside counsel without the General Assembly expressly approving the spending. As reported by the ASSOCIATED PRESS.

The Smith Environment Blog  has posted an analysis of the DEQ operating budget.

Differences Between the Senate and Governor’s Proposed Budgets

 

N.C. Senate Republicans have major disagreements with Gov. Roy Cooper on how much to spend in next year’s budget and whether to cut taxes. Gov. Cooper released his budget proposal in early March and touted its plans for teacher raises, Medicaid expansion, and other major projects. But even when the legislature and governor’s office are controlled by the same political party, the governor’s budget is more of a symbolic document – the House and the Senate start their budget proposals from scratch and then negotiate the differences between them before sending a final budget to the governor. Republicans have a veto-proof majority in both chambers, which means Gov. Cooper has little leverage to push for his spending priorities in the final budget.

Here are the key differences in the two budgets:

  • How much to spend: Gov. Cooper’s $23.4 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning in July would be a $1.1 billion increase over the current budget, amounting to a 5.1 percent increase. The Senate’s $22.9 billion spending plan represents a 2.5 percent increase over the current budget, or about $560 million. If previous budget cycles are any indication, expect the House’s proposed spending increase to be somewhere between the Senate and Governor’s numbers.
  • Taxes: While Gov. Cooper’s budget makes no changes to the current tax system, the Senate budget would reduce the personal income-tax rate from 5.499 percent to 5.35 percent while increasing the standard deduction, the base amount of income that isn’t taxed unless a taxpayer chooses itemized deductions. The standard deduction would go from $17,500 to $20,000 for a married couple filing jointly, with similar increases for other tax-status categories. The corporate income tax rate would drop from 3 percent to 2.75 percent in 2018 and to 2.5 percent in 2019. The tax plan is estimated to reduce revenue by $324 million in the first year and $710 million in the following year.
  • Teacher raises: Gov. Cooper wants to increase starting teacher pay from $35,000 to $36,750, providing raises to teachers at every experience level, ranging from 3.1 percent to 6.1 percent. The Senate budget would keep starting pay at $35,000, and teachers with 25 years experience or more would not get a raise. The biggest raises – up to 4.8 percent – would go to teachers with nine to 14 years of experience. Teachers with one to three years and 20 to 24 years experience would see the smallest raises of less than 2 percent.
  • State employee raises: Under Gov. Cooper’s budget, state workers who are not teachers would receive raises of 2 percent or $800, whichever is more, and a $500 one-time bonus. The Senate budget calls for smaller raises, $750 or 1.5 percent of each employee’s salary, whichever is greater.
  • State retirees: Gov. Cooper’s budget proposal would provide a 1.5 percent, one-time cost of living adjustment for retiree pensions. The Senate budget once again does not include a cost-of-living adjustment, citing concerns about an increasing pension liability. Since 2009, pensions have increased just 2 percent — a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment in 2011 and another 1 percent in 2013. Last year, the final budget included a one-time COLA of 1.6 percent, but that extra pay applied for a single year.
  • Rainy day fund: The Senate wants to add more than Gov. Cooper to the state’s “rainy day” reserves, which can be used to fund state government in an emergency or economic downturn. The Senate budget would put an additional $363 million into savings, bringing the fund to its highest level ever. Gov. Cooper’s budget would add $300 million to savings.
  • Hurricane Matthew relief: Gov. Cooper’s budget includes $100 million for disaster relief, while the Senate budget would provide $150 million.
  • Preschool programs: The Senate budget would add 2,350 additional spots in pre-kindergarten programs for low-income families, in an effort to cut the waiting list for the program in half. Gov. Cooper’s budget aims to eliminate the waiting list, adding 4,668 children over two years. Both budgets propose $18 million in additional spending on the program over two years, so it’s unclear how Gov. Cooper’s proposal would serve more children.
  • Private school vouchers: The Senate budget includes an additional $20 million for the private school voucher program known as “Opportunity Scholarships,” an amount that was set in a previous budget bill. Gov. Cooper’s budget calls for reducing funding for the program because he believes it takes funding from traditional public schools. His budget includes $4.8 million to fulfill existing voucher commitments without issuing new ones.
  • Recruiting jobs: The Senate budget includes $2.5 million to create a new Site and Building Development Fund, which would be used to develop sites and infrastructure for a major manufacturing facility, such as an automaker. Gov. Cooper’s budget includes $30 million for what he calls “ready sites,” which are infrastructure projects for 50- to 200-acre tracts being marketed to employers. As reported by Colin Campbell, THE NEWS & OBSERVER.

Teacher Pay

 

Average pay for North Carolina teachers ranks 35th in the nation, according to estimates released Wednesday by the National Education Association. The NEA teacher rankings have been used as a measuring stick for legislators and education groups to gauge the adequacy of teacher pay. This school year, the average teacher salary is $49,837. Last year, average teacher salaries ranked 41st. A few years ago, average salaries had fallen to near the bottom of national rankings. The report comes as the state is beginning debates over raises that will be part of next year’s budget. That same report ranks NC 43rd in per pupil spending.

 

The state Senate has proposed an average 3.7 percent raise for teachers in its budget. The money is not distributed evenly. Beginning teachers and those with 25 years’ experience or more would not get more money, while the biggest raises would go to teachers with nine to 14 years’ experience. Governor Cooper has proposed teacher raises that would average 5 percent in the first year and another 5 percent the following year. He said it would bring teacher pay to the national average in five years. As reported by Lynn Bonner of THE NEWS & OBSERVER.

Veto Override of Hog Nuisance Bill 

North Carolina’s hog farms won an extra measure of protections from lawsuits Thursday, after the state Senate overrode a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper, who had sought to preserve the right of property owners to sue farmers over quality-of-life issues. The state Senate handily defeated Gov. Cooper’s veto on a 30-18 vote, a day after the House took the same steps on a vote of 74-40, with several Democrats voting to override the Governor. The new law, HB467, limits the amount of money people can collect in lawsuits against hog farms for odors, headaches, flies, and other aggravations. Critics have said the law limits financial recovery to the point that such lawsuits are not likely to be filed in the future.

 

The measure, which protects all agricultural or forestry operations, was prompted by 26 federal lawsuits filed against the state’s largest pork producer, Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods. In other states, such lawsuits have resulted in jury awards of hundreds of thousands of dollars to local residents. North Carolina’s law will limit financial recovery to several thousand dollars, according to some estimates.

An early version of the law, House Bill 467, would have applied retroactively to the Murphy-Brown cases, but lawmakers stripped out that provision amid objections from Democrats and Republicans alike that it would be inappropriate for the legislature to intervene in a pending legal dispute. North Carolina has about 9 million hogs on nearly 2,300 hog farm operations, many of them concentrated in the eastern part of the state. The large farms, which can contain thousands of hogs, treat the hog feces and urine in open-air lagoons, from which water is pumped onto crops as a nutrient-rich fertilizer.

 

Nearly 500 residents living near those farms allege in the lawsuits that they are subjected to revolting odors as well as swarms of flies and buzzards attracted to outdoor bins where pig carcasses are dumped for pickup by haulers. The lawsuits include allegations that the spraying from the lagoons disperses fecal bacteria that wafts across property lines and settles on cars, homes, and lawns. North Carolina’s hog farming practices have been under scrutiny for decades. Amid rising public health concerns, the state banned the construction of new hog farms in 1997 that treat hog waste in open-air lagoons. More than 30 scientific studies have documented public health and environmental problems arising from industrial hog farming here. As reported by John Murawski, THE NEWS & OBSERVER.

Raise The Age

As Rep. Chuck McGrady introduced House Bill 280* to the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday morning, he noted that not only had a majority of the committee signed on as co-sponsors, but that Senate leaders had also taken the unusual step of including a House policy bill in their budget proposal, albeit with some changes. “I think it tells you that the Senate and the House directionally really have an agreement on the bill,” said Rep. McGrady.

 

It’s taken many years for the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, better known as the “Raise the Age” bill, to gather a critical mass of support. Session after session, children’s and civil rights advocates argued that the state’s treatment of 16- and 17-year-old offenders as adults was archaic and counterproductive. But legislative leaders, hearing opposition from law enforcement and prosecutors, opted not to move on legislation they feared might make them appear soft on crime. However, that concern seems to have shifted this year. In part, that’s because the state’s judiciary has thrown its weight behind the change after an intensive 18-month study, with Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin, calling it his top legislative priority. It’s also noteworthy that, as of May, North Carolina is now the last state in the nation to try 16- and 17-year-olds charged with crimes as adults.

 

The change will be costly. It will require the construction of new custody beds for juvenile offenders this fiscal year at an estimated cost of $25.3 million. The capital costs pale in comparison to the operational price tag, beginning in fiscal year 2020-21 when the change would be fully in effect in the House bill, of $44.3 million per year.  However, ultimately, it results in cost savings. As reported by Laura Leslie, WRAL NEWS.

Wireless Technology

 

The General Assembly is working to find ways to improve wireless communication infrastructure in the state, and in doing so lawmakers in both chambers have introduced legislation targeting the regulation of small wireless facilities in cities. House Bill 310 looks to amend various state laws regarding the implementation of small wireless facilities — which helps deliver 5G capabilities for service providers.

The 10-page bill says that those small wireless facilities — often times called small cells — are most effectively deployed by using public rights-of-way, like utility poles. It establishes permitting rules for cities. The bill prohibits cities from having exclusive arrangements for the use of rights-of-way for wireless capabilities and allows wireless service providers to co-locate small cells in rights-of-way. The bill was not up for a vote on Wednesday, but lawmakers were able to learn more about how the technology works from Beth Cooley, state legislative affairs director for CTIA, a group representing wireless providers across the country.

 

While representatives from wireless providers like Sprint and Verizon told the committee they were in favor of the bill, Erin Wynia with the North Carolina League of Municipalities said cities (including Greensboro) have raised concerns, including possible interference with other utilities in rights-of-way. I have also heard a number of concerns from individuals worried about the health impacts of 5G radiation. Similar bills have been filed in at least 20 states. As reported by  Lauren Horsch of  THE INSIDER 5/11/17.

Shoreline Buffers

 

Sen. Jeff Tarte was one of only two Republicans to vote on April 24 against a Senate bill, SB 434,  that would eliminate the 50-foot shoreline buffer that protects the Catawba River and its lakes from runoff and stream bank erosion.

 

On Monday, Tarte and six other business, political, and environmental leaders met with reporters in his backyard on Lake Norman to argue against eliminating Catawba River shoreline buffers. Senator Tarte and those outside his home said eliminating the buffer could send lawn chemicals into the Catawba River and its lakes, making the water undrinkable and dangerous. They urged people to contact their state representatives to preserve the buffer.

 

“This is a perfect opportunity to ruin Lake Norman,” said Mark Lancaster, a former chairman of the Lake Norman Marine Commission who owns marinas and a dock and dredge company. “If this bill passes, it will be a huge mistake,” he said.

Studies prove that vegetative buffers are “Mother Nature’s natural way of protecting and cleaning the environment,” said Billy Wilson of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation’s board of directors. Michelle Pentecost of Sherrills Ford-based Honeybee Real Estate sells homes along the Catawba River basin. “One of the No. 1 issues is concern over water quality issues, and when I explain the buffer situation in the Catawba River basin, (homebuyers) agree that it’s the most cost effective and efficient way to help protect the value of their property,” she said.

 

Representative Adams said the state has made “a very serious commitment to the public trust doctrine,” which he said admonishes elected officials to care for public resources. “A 50-foot buffer seems a fairly effective and reasonable action to take to protect this body of water,” he said. What’s happening in Raleigh, he said, “opens the door to a conversation over property rights versus the public trust doctrine, and our responsibility to take care of these public resources.” As reported by  Joe Marusak of THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER.

Civil Rights Center

 

A proposed ban on litigation by the UNC Center for Civil Rights has drawn heavy opposition from students, faculty, alumni and others, who say such a prohibition would hurt the university’s teaching, research and public service missions. Hundreds of comments have flooded the inboxes of the UNC Board of Governors.  On Wednesday afternoon, the NAACP held a rally in support of the center in front of the Chapel Hill post office on Franklin Street.

 

A limit on the center’s work was pushed by UNC system board member Steve Long, a Raleigh lawyer who has argued the center should not be allowed to initiate lawsuits against other government entities such as counties or school districts. The center, affiliated with UNC-Chapel Hill’s law school but supported by private money, has taken on legal cases of school desegregation, fair housing and environmental justice. Its clients have typically been poor and minority groups, such as communities battling for water and sewer service or victims of forced sterilization.  It is worth noting that the Senate budget proposes to slash UNC School of Law funding by 30%. As reported by Jane Stancill of THE NEWS & OBSERVER.

Proposed Health Care Law Changes

Federal spending to help lower- and middle-income wage earners buy health insurance would drop dramatically in North Carolina under the health care law that was approved by the U.S. House last week. Only one other state would see a sharper per-person decline, according to one analysis. The Republican-backed plan would also mean North Carolina would get an estimated $6 billion less in federal dollars to fund Medicaid, a figure that represents an almost 7 percent drop. Medicaid pays for care for children, the elderly, and disabled people.

Supporters of the plan note that some businesses would be helped by changes in regulations and tax cuts and the nation stands to benefit from decreased pressure on the federal budget. Higher wage earners — those making $152,400 a year or more — also would come out ahead. And North Carolina would have more flexibility to direct the spending of federal dollars on Medicaid and other programs to provide health care, including an opening to re-establish a program that provided insurance to people with expensive medical conditions who otherwise would be unable to get coverage.

 

The American Health Care Act passed the House on a 217-213 vote last week. As reported by Mark Barrett, ASHEVILLE CITIZEN-TIMES.

Duke Energy Coal Ash Cleanup Costs

 

Duke Energy has taken a first, major step toward billing consumers for its coal ash woes by making cost-share deals with several dozen North Carolina communities that buy their electricity wholesale for distribution on community-owned power lines. In the last few months, the Duke has filed numerous petitions with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington seeking approval of these agreements for customers to pay some of its coal ash costs in “public power” communities ranging from Southport on the coast to Forest City in the western foothills. The federal agreements that would affect at least 40 North Carolina towns and cities are a prelude to another rate-change drama scheduled to get underway in Raleigh next month, one that eventually could hit Triad residents in the pocketbook. That’s when Duke Energy will formally begin an effort to persuade the N.C. Utilities Commission that it is entitled to pass along similar costs to retail customers — including thousands of Triad residents — who are served by company-owned lines.

 

FERC regulates the wholesale market for electricity that includes more than 70 public-power communities across North Carolina, while the Raleigh-based utilities board governs the direct retail sale of electricity to state residents, as is the case in Greensboro and most large cities. At issue in both the FERC proceedings and the yet-to-begin state review: How much of its multibillion-dollar cost for coal ash cleanup, disposal, and management should Duke Energy bear internally because it stems from negligent wrongdoing? And how much should the Average Joe and Jane shoulder because it is an unavoidable task associated with decommissioning even the best run coal-fired power plant?  I continue to file bills to require that Duke’s shareholders and not its ratepayers pay for the cost of clean up. As reported by  Taft Wireback of  GREENSBORO NEWS & RECORD.

Allegations of Campaign Finance Irregularities

 

A voting-rights advocacy group on Tuesday called on Sen. Ralph Hise, chairman of the Senate’s elections committee, to recuse himself from matters concerning restructuring the State Board of Elections because of pending complaints against him. Democracy North Carolina referred to two complaints filed in March with the state elections board accusing Sen. Hise, a four-term Republican, of illegally taking money from his campaign account and violating laws requiring full disclosure of campaign contributors. The complaints were filed by Greg Flynn of Raleigh. A spokesman for the elections office said it has been reviewing Sen. Hise’s campaign finance reports since mid-March, and that audit is still underway. Sen. Hise so far has not issued a response to Tuesday’s allegations.

 

Sen. Hise, who represents six mountain counties, told the elections office in March that his treasurer, who is his mother, wasn’t able to help him look into the accusations. He asked for more time for a GOP financial expert to do an internal audit, emails released by the group Tuesday show. The deadline to respond was extended to May 4, but as of Monday he had not submitted a response, according to the advocacy group.

The organization contends that Sen. Hise has a conflict of interest as part of the Senate leadership that is involved in a legal dispute with Gov. Roy Cooper over the legislature’s attempt to merge the state elections and ethics boards and prevent the governor from having a free hand to appoint members to the new board. The legislature passed a law in December, saw it blocked in court, and then passed another law last month. It’s not clear if the legislature will take up the matter again.

 

“Because Sen. Hise has such a strong personal stake in who sits on the State Board of Elections, he needs to step aside from decisions about its make-up and duties,” Bob Hall of Democracy N.C. said in a statement. “…If the General Assembly had its way, charges against Sen. Hise or any legislator could be blocked.”

The complaints against the senator claim he loaned his campaign about $50,000 but repaid himself approximately $60,000. They also say he failed to report more than $9,000 from nine political action committees over a four-year period, and that his finance reports repeatedly fail to disclose information about campaign contributors.

 

Sen. Hise has the worst disclosure reports in the General Assembly, Democracy North Carolina claims. None of his 131 contributors who gave $50 or more had their occupations included on the finance reports, as required by law, according to the group. Even prominent businessman Jim Goodnight of SAS, who contributed $9,000, did not have his occupation disclosed on the forms. As reported by Craig Jarvis, THE NEWS & OBSERVER.

Civil Rights Museum Power Bills

 

The nation’s largest utility already turned off the lights during Black History Month at a museum honoring the lunch-counter sit-in that sparked the 1960s civil rights movement. Now it’s threatening to cut off the power altogether if the museum doesn’t pay thousands more each month to cover the possibility of delinquent payments. “Disconnecting a customer’s service is the very last step in our collections process and it’s an action we never want to take,” Duke Energy said in a statement Thursday.

 

The museum honors the beginning of the sit-in movement, when four black students refused to leave the whites-only lunch counter at the F.W. Woolworth’s store in downtown Greensboro. The historic lunch counter is the highlight of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, an important tourist attraction and educational destination in North Carolina’s third largest city. But the museum has struggled to meet payment terms of loans it needed for renovations. Museum officials sent a letter to the North Carolina Utilities Commission last month, asking regulators to block Duke’s demand that the nonprofit pay $3,224 a month toward a $18,244 credit deposit, or risk losing power.

 

The letter accused Duke Energy of raising financial pressure on the museum and harming its fundraising efforts with the goal of ousting its black leaders and enabling the city to seize control. “It can only be interpreted that (Duke Energy) intended to help those forces who wished to take over the Museum,” the letter said. Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan denied that city officials have been colluding with Duke in a takeover effort; her statement called the allegation “completely baseless and very disappointing,” the News & Record of Greensboro reported. As reported by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.

 

Green Tie Award 

 

I was honored to have received the North Carolina League of Conservation Voter Green Tie Award, for being their Representative of the Year, as an environmental leader in the House. This is the third time I have been I have received  this honor and appreciate the support of the Environmental community in working to grow North Carolina’s green economy, while protecting its natural resources and public health. In the presentation remarks they kindly said “Rep. Harrison is ALWAYS our Representative of the Year”, validating the vital work I do. I thanked those in attendance for all that they do to protect our beautiful state and our planet.

*Denotes bills for which I am a sponsor or cosponsor 

Cheers,

Pricey