This week, the House presented and approved their version of the state budget. The House and Senate will now begin negotiations to develop an agreed upon spending bill. Other legislation moving through the chambers this week included the “brunch bill,” a bill loosening concealed weapons laws, and legislation accommodating wireless infrastructure for future 5G networks.
In legal news, a panel of judges ruled in favor of the legislature this week, dismissing Gov. Roy Cooper’s lawsuit regarding the combining election and ethics oversight.
State and Legislative Issues
The House passed its version of the budget shortly after midnight Friday morning. The House and Senate will now begin working on a compromise. Leaders have said there is a goal to present a complete budget to the governor by mid-June. Highlights of the two-year spending plan include:
- Public Education
- Increase funding for student enrollment growth
- Increase funding for textbooks
- Begin program to give scholarships to high-achieving community college students
- Health and Human Services
- Implement improvement plan for state child welfare system after a recent critical federal review
- Reduce Division of Medical Assistance funding, with cuts determined by agency
- Funding from Dorothea Dix property sale proceeds to set aside for local psychiatric units and to develop mental health crisis centers for children
- Agriculture, Natural and Economic Resources
- Create new Site and Building Development Fund, designed to help prepare sites to attract major manufacturing employers
- Increased funding for tourism and economic development advertising
- Funding for small business loans and financial training to businesses and lending services to community organizations
- Justice and Public Safety
- Pilot program in Wilmington for to help opiate and heroin overdose victims lacking follow-up treatment
- Create a new 200-bed facility in Buncombe County for female offenders
- Establish in Highway Fund a new fund to pay for construction projects that are immediately needed, including those related to economic development
- Create in Highway Fund a new fund for highway construction needs on state- and city-maintained roads for new and expanded public schools
- Funding for capital improvements at commercial airports
- Remove limit on state matching funds for light rail projects
- Savings and Reserves
- Increase savings reserve by $364 million
- Appropriate $365 million to Repairs and Renovations Fund
- Increase standard deduction for individual income tax filers
- Reduce corporate franchise tax rate
- Repeal privilege tax on mill machinery
- Salaries and Benefits
- Average 3.3 percent raises for public school teachers; $1,000 raises for most other state employees
- Provide five additional vacation days for state employees and teachers
- On Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court returned a case involving the state’s legislative districts to the North Carolina Supreme Court for further review.
- The further review was necessitated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision involving the state’s Congressional districts which found that the General Assembly relied too heavily on race in drawing those districts.
- A lower federal court had previously found the legislative districts to have been drawn too heavily based on race. The lower federal court had ordered North Carolina to draw new districts and to hold elections in 2017.
- The North Carolina Supreme Court has upheld the districts twice before, but that was before the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision and before the balance of power on the officially nonpartisan North Carolina Supreme Court shifted from Republicans to Democrats as a result of the 2016 election.
- Should the North Carolina Supreme Court find the legislative districts to be unconstitutional, it could order the districts to be redrawn.
- A bill that would loosen Sunday blue laws gained Senate approval on Thursday.
- The “brunch bill” would give local governments the power to decide whether to allow restaurants and bars to serve alcohol starting at 10 a.m. on Sundays.
- Current state law prohibits alcohol sales before noon on Sundays.
- The bill also would relax regulations on local distilleries’ ability to sell their spirits directly to customers visiting their facilities.
- On Thursday, a panel of judges dismissed Gov. Cooper’s challenge to stop a bill that would merge oversight of elections and ethics complaints.
- The judges stopped short of ruling on the constitutionality of combining the oversight, citing lack of jurisdiction.
- The same panel earlier this year prevented the State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission from being combined into a single eight-person committee selected by the House and Senate, with no input from the executive branch.
- On Tuesday, the House passed a bill that would allow wireless providers to mount wireless infrastructure on public property like utility poles, street lights and buildings.
- The legislation comes ahead of new fifth generation technologies that are being developed by cell phone and wireless companies as they aim to provide faster connectivity.
- Critics are worried that the bill could limit local governments’ power and input on deciding where these systems are installed. Others are concerned with potential health effects of radiation exposure associated with wireless technology.
- The Senate voted down a transportation bill that narrowly passed the House this week.
- The bill would have created a fund for “megaprojects” unaffiliated with the state’s Strategic Transportation Infrastructure program which is heralded as a data-driven prioritization of transportation spending.
- A bill that would allow for handguns to be concealed without needing a concealed-carry permit gained committee approval in the House Wednesday.
- The bill also would lower the age to carry a handgun from 21 to 18.
- Currently state law allows guns to be carried openly, except in areas where firearms are restricted. The bill would relax gun regulations to effectively allow concealed weapons to be treated in the same manner.
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