News: CJ Exclusives

NCGA Preview: Week of April 4

Lawmakers will consider high-speed rail funding and health care, among other issues

Open government, transit, and coastal protections will headline the General Assembly’s agenda in the first full week of April. The Senate also may give final approval to legislation requiring state employees to pay health insurance premiums — a measure that could draw a veto from Gov. Bev Perdue.

On the calendar

House Bill 87, Sunshine Amendment, which has been scheduled and withdrawn from a vote on the House floor twice, has been reassigned to the House Rules Committee, which will hear the bill Monday at 1 p.m. The bill would give North Carolinians greater access to public records and meetings. After resistance from some Republicans and most Democrats, H.B. 87 is expected to be reintroduced as a statute rather than a constitutional amendment.

On Tuesday at 10 a.m. the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear Senate Bill 411, Vote for the Person, Not the Party Act, which would do away with straight-party ticket voting on North Carolina ballots.

At noon Tuesday, the House Transportation Committee will hear House Bill 422, No High-Speed Rail Money from Federal Government. Bill sponsor Rep. Ric Killian, R-Mecklenburg, said accepting federal funding for the rail project would commit the state to a program that would require taxpayer subsidies for decades to come. And once the multibillion-dollar rail system was complete, it would reduce travel time between Raleigh and Charlotte by a mere 13 minutes.

The Senate Health Care Committee will hear Senate Bill 307, Smart Card Biometrics Against Medicaid Fraud, Wednesday at 11 a.m. The bill would require all Medicaid recipients to carry Smart Cards, which store information such as patient’s photos, fingerprints, general health information and prescription history to prevent fraud and the over-utilization of prescription drugs.

The House Environment Committee will hear Senate Bill 110, Permit Terminal Groins, Thursday at 10 a.m. The bill, which already has passed the Senate, would allow coastal communities to construct permanent jetty-like structures to protect oceanfront real estate from erosion. Critics say the structures could worsen erosion on neighboring beaches and end up costing taxpayers millions.

Other potential action

The House passed an amended version of Senate Bill 265, State Health Plan Appropriations and Transfer last week. The bill now goes back to the Senate for concurrence and could be on its way to the governor’s desk before the end of the week.

The bill would require teachers and other state employees to pitch in for their health care in order to fill a $515 million hole and keep the State Health Plan solvent through 2013. For the first time ever, state employees would be asked to pay a monthly premium for their health insurance — about $20 for the best plan and $10 for a basic plan, or about 5 percent of the total cost of coverage. They also would have slightly higher deductibles and co-pays for office visits and prescription drugs. The governor said she has not decided whether she will sign the bill, veto it, or allow it to become law without her signature.

Although it is not yet on the calendar, the House Select Committee on Tort Reform may vote on House Bill 542, Tort Reform for Citizens and Businesses, this week. The committee held a two-hour public hearing on the bill last week. It would put a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages — such as pain and suffering — in medical malpractice cases. The bill also provides that plaintiffs awarded damages in excess of $100,000 could keep only 25 percent. The remaining 75 percent would go into a state fund used for public schools.

Committee action

A list of the regularly scheduled committee meetings can be found here.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear Senate Bill 411, Vote for the Person, Not the Party Act, Tuesday at 10 a.m.

The House Transportation Committee will hear House Bill 422, No High-Speed Rail Money from Federal Government, Tuesday at noon.

The Senate Health Care Committee will hear Senate Bill 307, Smart Card Biometrics Against Medicaid Fraud, Wednesday at 11 a.m.

The House Environment Committee will hear Senate Bill 110, Permit Terminal Groins, Thursday at 10 a.m.

Sara Burrows is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.