Dome: What's in store for NC and federal legislators this year?

Posted on January 1, 2014 

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Jodi Hughes instructs Frank Leo and Caetlyn Bowles at Thales Academy, a private school in Apex that could benefit from vouchers.

<137>TED RICHARDSON<137><137><252><137> — 2009 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

Congress gets back to the business of governing, or whatever it is our representatives have been doing, next week. The North Carolina legislature returns to work on May 14. So what will the new year bring?

Here’s a look at what to expect.

POLITICAL ADS AD NAUSEUM: Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan will be fighting hard to keep her seat for a second term. Republicans will be fighting equally hard to replace her. That means ads from the candidates, ads from the national parties and ads from anyone who wants to form a PAC and throw some money around. Even before the year began, $4 million was spent on anti-Hagan ads from Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group funded by David and Charles Koch of Koch Industries, and $750,000 on pro-Hagan ads by the Senate Majority PAC. Roll Call predicted in December it would be the most expensive Senate race in the nation.

GOP INTRA-FIGHTING: Before we get to November, Republicans will be vying for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate seat. Charlotte pastor Mark Harris, Cary obstetrician Greg Brannon, nurse practitioner Heather Grant and radio host Bill Flynn will all be trying to knock off state House Speaker Thom Tillis, who at this point is the best-funded.

INTRA-PARTY FIGHTING, PART II: Redistricting means that Republican members of Congress don’t have much to worry about from Democrats in their districts. But U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers of Dunn will have a GOP primary fight as some of the more conservative members of her party are upset that she has sided with House leadership. Frank Roche of Cary wants to replace her.

GRUDGE MATCH: Meanwhile, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre of Lumberton could face a repeat challenge from Johnston County Republican David Rouzer. First, both men will have to get past potential challengers from New Hanover County commissioners. Woody White is considering challenging Rouzer, and Jonathan Barfield will run against McIntyre. McIntyre beat Rouzer by just 654 votes in 2012.

SLEEPER RACE: So far U.S. Rep. George Holding of Raleigh has one announced Democratic opponent – Brenda Cleary, a registered nurse who has a background in national health policy and helped shape the final version of the Affordable Care Act. You can just imagine the ads, can’t you?

MEDICAID MACHINATIONS: State legislators are set to decide if and how the state will change Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor.

The McCrory administration is pushing a move to Medicaid managed care, which would be the biggest change to the state program in its history. The details are still undecided, and many questions remain about how it would work. Managed care would bring predictability to the state Medicaid budget, one of the biggest state expenses behind education.

The federal government would need to approve any change this big, so any effects are likely a ways off. But expect significant strides toward change this year.

WHITHER PUBLIC SCHOOLS? Charter schools have been on the rise for a few years, and private schools are poised to join them.

Barring a court decision stopping it, taxpayer money will be used by public school parents to pay for their children to attend private school starting this fall. The state legislature set aside $10 million for private school vouchers, but supporters made clear they want the program to grow.

WATCHING THE RULE MAKERS: State health regulators have begun to draft proposed regulations that will require abortion clinics to upgrade. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is required to report to the legislature on its progress, but not much progress has been made yet.

It’s likely that the rules will be controversial enough that the legislature will get the final say on them (as the law requires when 10 or more people object).

Clinic operators are worried that the regulations will be so stringent that some might have to close. Gov. Pat McCrory, in signing into law last year a bill requiring the upgrades, insisted that the new regulations will improve women’s health and safety and will not impose new restrictions on access to abortion.

WATCHING THE RULE MAKERS, PART II: A new law says that all state agencies must evaluate and report whether the thousands of rules they have imposed are necessary but controversial, necessary and not controversial, or unnecessary. If regulators can’t make these determinations in a timely fashion, the rules will expire.

The N.C. Sierra Club issued a statement saying the legislation would put people and drinking water at risk.

ALL EYES ON THE COURT: The state’s sweeping elections law is being challenged in federal court, while there are lawsuits in state court over educational matters (eliminating “career status” for veteran teachers and providing tax-funded scholarships for some students to attend private school). Timely decisions will have ramifications in the short session.

Staff writers Lynn Bonner, Craig Jarvis and Mary Cornatzer, and Renee Schoof of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau

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