News: CJ Exclusives

Budget Deal May Come Together in Senate

House passes health insurance exchange and offers another unemployment benefits bill

RALEIGH — The Senate may increase spending in its version of the budget in order to satisfy five House Democrats and gain a veto-proof majority in both chambers. In the meantime, the House passed a bill that would establish a health insurance exchange, the first step in implementing federal health reforms in the state. The chamber also moved a bill that would extend unemployment benefits and prevent a government shutdown should a budget deal not be reached by June 30.

Budget

There’s been a potential breakthrough in an expected budget standoff between legislative Republicans and Gov. Bev Perdue, though if it comes about it won’t be to Perdue’s liking.

Last month, House Republicans — with the help of five Democrats — passed a budget approximately $800 million less than the governor’s proposed $19.9 billion spending plan. So far, the Senate’s version is about $700 million less than the governor’s. The governor was expected to veto either version.

However, the five House Democrats hinted they would consider joining House Republicans in approving the Senate’s version if it were amended to include about $300 million more in education spending. If the five Democrats held fast, it would give the General Assembly’s budget a veto-proof majority in both chambers.

The Senate may take up its budget plan as early as Tuesday.

Health insurance exchange

The House passed House Bill 115, North Carolina Health Benefit Exchange, Wednesday. The bill would create a pool of federally approved health insurance companies from which North Carolinians would have to select under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as “ObamaCare.”

Republican bill sponsors argued that if the state didn’t set up the exchange, the federal government would. Opponents of the bill called the move premature as the mandate that individuals purchase health insurance is being challenged in the courts. Some House members argued that the bill benefits a select few insurance companies and hurts consumers.

Unemployment benefits

Republicans tacked the extension of expired unemployment benefits onto a second bill in an attempt to get the governor to agree to a continuing resolution. The continuing resolution – House Bill 439 – is meant to continue the operation of state government at current spending levels should the governor and legislature be unable to reach a budget agreement by June 30.

Perdue vetoed similar legislation last month that would have continued state spending at 87 percent of the governor’s recommended budget.

Action on other bills

House Bill 623, Eliminate Agency Final Decision Authority, passed the House Wednesday. The bill would ensure that an executive agency would not have the final say in lawsuits brought against it.

House Bill 709, Protect and Put NC Back to Work, moved out of committee and will be considered by the full House next week. The bill gives employers more protections against worker’s compensation claims.

House Bill 503, Nutrition Standards for All Foods Sold at School, passed its second reading on the House floor Tuesday and is scheduled for a final vote next week. The bill applies federal nutrition standards to all food sold at school, including food sold in bake sales and other fundraisers.

House Bill 188, Taxpayer Bill of Rights, was discussed at a public hearing held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee A Wednesday. The bill would amend the state constitution to limit budget increases and establish a rainy day fund.

Sara Burrows is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.