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Day one of this year’s North Carolina General Assembly session, held on Jan. 9, was largely ceremonial — a day of speeches and photo ops with friends and family.
Day two, which starts today at noon, will likely see little of that.
Top of the list for legislative leaders is a fix for a gap in Medicaid funding for thousands of patients in adult group homes who are threatened with losing their access to services.
At a press conference in Raleigh yesterday, House Speaker Thom Tillis outlined some of the goals for the session. He said the group home issue and a similar gap in funds for long-term care for patients with Alzheimer’s would be dealt with soon.
“We’ll be filing a bill early to try and get that fixed,” Tillis said.
The group home funding gap will be just the first of many Medicaid-related decisions early in the session. Lawmakers and the governor are being urged to sign on to an expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. Over the weekend, Gov. Pat McCrory said he would review the long-term implications of the expansion, which, in the beginning, would be mostly paid for with federal dollars.
Tillis said Tuesday that the Medicaid expansion was an example of how much of state policy is being shaped by moves at the federal level. He said he was concerned that the state continues to “aid and abet the federal government’s expansion of the deficit.”
Another high priority for lawmakers is coming up with a solution to the state’s $2.4 billion debt owed to the federal government by North Carolina’s unemployment compensation system. Legislators are considering a series of proposed contribution changes for businesses and nonprofits along with a cut in the maximum weekly benefit from $506 to $350. Tillis said the House would also consider a cutoff of extended benefits on July 1.
On course to the next state budget: Taxes
But going forward, the main goal of the session is creating the two-year state budget, which is due by the end of the fiscal year, on June 30.
Budget briefings have yet to be scheduled but are expected to start in mid-February. Lawmakers held an information session early in the month to set the stage for changes to the state’s tax code, a critical piece to the final budget.
During January’s downtime, senate leaders, who start the state budget process this year, have been pushing a plan that would use a hike in the state sales tax to eliminate the state personal and business income tax.
But both House Speaker Tillis and state Budget Director Art Pope have recently said they are not convinced the plan could work, but on Tuesday Tillis left the door open to moves in that direction as long as the case could be made that any tax changes proposed were truly “job creating.”
State government may be under one-party rule, but the tax issue is just one reminder that institutional and personal differences will keep things interesting.
Your session guide to the NCGA
Tracking bills and more
The General Assembly’s website is a first stop on following and keeping up with lawmakers. Here’s a guide to the site. Of note: The website allows you to search for bills in several ways, including keywords, sponsor and date of introduction. Go here to start your search.
Once introduced, each bill has a tracking page, which follows text changes, votes and includes documents related to the bill. Budget impacts are detailed in fiscal notes, which are linked on the tracking page.
You can also access the website remotely here.
Each legislator has a home page with contact information, committee assignments and a list with links to legislation he or she has introduced.
You can also visit Carolina Public Press’ “Inside WNC” feature to find your county’s elected officials, all the way to the county level. Profiles are still being published for all 18 counties.
Each chamber publishes a daily calendar, which can sometimes change once the legislative day starts. They are available for download on the General Assembly’s main page.
Streaming audio is available when the House and Senate are in session and in two key committee rooms — Rooms 643 and 544 — which are home to the appropriations and finance committees, respectively, and often the site of large hearings on other matters.
The legislature’s audio links page is here and features a how-to guide and help for anyone with problems connecting.
Timetable and rules
Upon convening today, the state House and state Senate will be working under procedures and a timetable set on opening day. This year, the Senate adopted a permanent set of rules (Senate Bill 1 or S1) and the House adopted a set temporary rules (House Bill 1 or H1) after Democratic members objected to the deadlines set for local bills.
The filing deadlines established under the rules are:
Bills recommended by study commissions: Feb. 27
Bill recommended by state agencies: March 20
Local bills: April 3
Public bills and resolutions: April 10
Appropriations and finance bills: May 8
Local bills and resolutions: March 13
Public bills and resolutions: March 28
The “Crossover Deadline,” the date at which a bill must have passed at least one chamber of the Legislature to remain in consideration, is May 16.