under the

Dome: State cleared to spend on health exchange

STAFF WRITERSNovember 30, 2011 

State Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin on Tuesday received the go-ahead from state lawmakers to spend $12.4 million in federal grant money that he's been waiting for over the past 3 1/2 months. The money will go toward setting up a preliminary health insurance exchange under state control before the feds step in and do it for them.

Spending the money hinged on the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations going over the details of the grant, which finally happened Tuesday. The funds will pay to hire consultants, time-limited full-time employees and contracting for IT services and for computer software.

Republicans in the General Assembly have not been anxious to embrace the insurance exchange, which would be a state-regulated marketplace for people without insurance and for small businesses. The requirement is part of the federal Affordable Healthcare Act, which has been challenged in court by 26 states and will be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court next year. Republican leaders in the N.C. General Assembly filed a friend-of-the-court brief to challenge the law.

Even if the federal law is ruled unconstitutional, Goodwin said, the state won't have to repay the federal grants, which are issued on a reimbursement basis. The state budget approved this year instructed the state Department of Insurance and the Department of Health and Human Services to find federal money for the project. Other states are similarly pursuing their own marketplaces despite the legal uncertainty, Goodwin said.

Earlier this year, the House passed a bill creating North Carolina's exchange, but the Senate took a wait-and-see approach and didn't take up the legislation. Goodwin warned committee members that they can't wait and see indefinitely.

Next June 30 is the deadline to apply for the next round of federal funds, and states that apply must have legislation establishing their exchanges in place. Legislators have a short session scheduled in May and plan on returning briefly in February and April.

"North Carolina is now in a time crunch," Goodwin told the committee.

Right-to-work appeal to DNC

North Carolina lawmakers approved a nonbinding resolution Tuesday asking the Democratic National Convention to change its rules and "respect North Carolina's right-to-work laws."

It comes after Republicans raised concerns about North Carolina firms not getting contracts for the September convention because they are not unionized shops.

The resolution asks the DNC to refrain form hiring workers and companies from outside North Carolina when qualified businesses or workers are available within the state.

So far, the convention committee has awarded three contracts to six firms totaling $7 million; only one went to a unionized firm. The resolution mentions the lone union contract - for printing services - which created a stir after the owner of a rival company complained that his nonunion status cost him the gig. (The convention committee bid states that the contract was for event production, not printing services. The resolution also contains another error about the source of the money for the convention.)

In the committee meeting, Democrats assailed the resolution and said no evidence suggests that nonunion workers are getting bypassed for union firms.

Have bumper, will campaign

State Rep. Tom Murry, a Morrisville Republican, is trying an inventive way to get his face in front of voters: an illuminated billboard attached to a car bumper.

One of the Murry's signs sat outside the legislative office building this week, attached to a Land Rover trailer hitch and shining like a beacon on the road.

Steve Donohoe is the Bumper Signs ambassador. He parked the car outside the statehouse Monday evening to get the attention of lawmakers as they left at the end of the day. For now, Murry is his only client.

"It looks great," said Rep. David Lewis, the House elections committee chairman, as he stopped to check out the sign.

Donohoe says the sign meets all transportation rules - the main one being the brightness allowed for taillights. "It's just under the DOT size rules for being a nuisance," he said. When parked, the sign also swings out to face multiple directions.

Murry said he's excited to try it out. "Pretty cool, huh?" he said Tuesday as he handed out Donohoe's business card from a pile he kept in his pocket.

Jarvis: 919-829-4576 or cjarvis@newsobserver.com

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