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State leaders issue statements on Medicaid expansion in North Carolina

Senate leader Phil Berger (left) and new House Speaker Tim Moore (right) field questions at a press conference after Wednesday’s opening of the 2015 N.C. General Assembly session. Kirk Ross/Carolina Public Press

In case you missed it, the biggest story out of last week’s opening day of the latest N.C. General Assembly session was a set of definitive statements from new House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger on taxes, Medicaid and teacher funding.

In a press conference that followed Wednesday’s brief session and swearing-in ceremonies, Berger and Moore made it clear that they had not budged on a refusal to support expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

North Carolina is one of 23 states not to opt for expansion, which was banned by state legislation passed in 2013. Gov. Pat McCrory has appeared to warm to the idea of expansion more recently, and he announced that he had discussed potential conditions for the state’s expansion during his visit to the White House earlier this month.

But Berger told reporters last Wednesday that he still doesn’t see a case for expansion. Moore said he was worried that while the federal government is covering the cost of expansion now, funding may quickly end, leaving the state to cover the costs.

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A recent study by George Washington University for the Cone Health Trust and the Reynolds Charitable Trust estimated that the state would have seen an additional 43,000 jobs and $21 billion in federal funding over a five-year period if it expanded the program. The study estimated that over the next few years more than 500,000 uninsured North Carolinians would qualify for the program under expansion.

In other remarks, Berger and Moore said they did not anticipate major changes to the state’s tax code despite lower-than-anticipated revenues that have, so far, been roughly $200 million less than budgeted.

Berger said it was too early to judge how tax cuts passed last year would affect revenues in the long term.

The two also said they plan to continue pushing for higher pay for starting teachers as promised in last year’s education funding deal, which set a $35,000 target for starting pay.

Senate committees named

Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson

Henderson County Republican Sen. Tom Apodaca was named to a total of 12 committees in a reorganization announced last week.

Apodaca, chair of the powerful Rules and Operations committee, will also chair the Senate Ways and Means committee; co-chair the Insurance committee and committee on Pensions and Retirement and Aging; serve as vice-chair of the Appropriations Committee on Justice and Public Safety and co-chair the Appropriations Committee on Higher Education.

Other key appointments for Senate members from Western North Carolina include:

Sen. Jim Davis, R-Macon: co-chair, Appropriations on General Government and Information Technology; co-chair, Sate and Local Government;

Sen. Ralph Hise, D-McDowell: co-chair, Appropriations on Health and Human Services; co-chair, Health Care; and

Sen. Dan Soucek, R-Watauga: co-chair, Education/Higher Education; co-chair, Appropriations Committee on Higher Education.

New rules issued

In one bit of new business in its brief session, House leaders unveiled a set of new temporary rules for the chamber that Speaker Moore said was aimed at adding a little more order and transparency.

The changes include a ban on Sunday votes and no longer allow for last-minute introductions of proposed committee substitutes, which were used last session to push through extensive rewrites of legislation with little notice. The new rules require that the substitutes be distributed to committee members no later than 9 p.m. the evening before a meeting.

Eminent domain bill

Aside from the rules legislation, the first actual bill of the session was introduced last week by Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, and co-sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Jordan, R-Watauga.

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The legislation calls for a constitutional amendment limiting the power of eminent domain to go before voters. The amendment would limit the power of state and local governments to condemn land for private development, require just compensation for condemned land and allow property owners request that a jury set the price.

The House approved a similar measure in 2013, but it was not taken up by the Senate.

House still organizing

The Senate may have finished up with its committee appointments, but the House is still in flux. WNC’s representatives have put in their requests, but, for now, will have to wait for word on co-chairs and committee appointments.

One member of the delegation reports at least a hint that more work may be coming.

“I’ve been moved to a bigger office, and I’m guessing that I’ll be getting new responsibilities in the upcoming session,” McGrady said in an email to Carolina Public Press last week before the session began. He declined to speculate what exactly the new digs mean.

Kirk Ross

Based in the Triangle, Kirk Ross is the capital bureau chief for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at kross@carolinapublicpress.org.

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