Under the Dome

Major bills squeezed into session end

Construction vehicles work between opposing lanes on I-40 between Lake Dam Road and Avent Ferry Road in Raleigh, N.C. on Thursday, July 9, 2015.
Construction vehicles work between opposing lanes on I-40 between Lake Dam Road and Avent Ferry Road in Raleigh, N.C. on Thursday, July 9, 2015. clowenst@newsobserver.com

And on the 128th legislative day in the House, a budget was born.

Then the governor signed it, and now we’re on to other things.

Since the logjam of budget negotiations has passed, the General Assembly will try to resolve some other big issues in the next couple of weeks.

House Speaker Tim Moore says he hopes to finish the session by the end of the month. Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca predicted roughly the same time frame.

Here’s a look at what’s left.

There are three major bills to resolve:

▪ Medicaid – On Tuesday, lawmakers from both chambers are scheduled to take up a long-awaited overhaul of the state’s Medicaid program. An agreement was reached late last week to privatize the $15 billion health insurance program for the poor, elderly and disabled.

Three insurers would be given contracts to offer managed care plans, and there would be up to 10 contracts with groups of doctors or hospitals that would enroll patients in regional networks.

Rather than pay for each hospital visit or medical procedure as it does now, Medicaid would give the companies a fee for each patient when they enroll. The government would not be liable for cost overruns.

The remake is a response to unpredictable Medicaid costs, which are shared with the federal government. It would ultimately be overseen by a governor-appointed director of a new division within the state’s health agency.

The compromise bill is HB372.

$3 billionThe amount of bonds Gov. McCrory wanted voters to approve

▪ Bonds – Gov. Pat McCrory staked a lot this year on convincing the legislature to put two bond proposals before voters, totaling $3 billion for highway projects and state building improvements. House and Senate leaders recently announced they have agreed to hold a bond referendum, but reports varied on how much it would be – likely between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.

Discussions are still underway to determine which projects would be funded and when. On Friday, McCrory, speaking to a Charlotte Chamber of Commerce retreat in Durham, said he would be “pushing up to the last minute” for transportation bonds.

McCrory originally wanted to split the money between roads and buildings. The House favored building construction over transportation. The House also wanted to allocate $500 million for school construction and renovation.

Whatever is finally approved could very well become one of the largest borrowing packages put before voters in recent years. The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to take up HB943 on Monday.

▪ Economic incentives – McCrory has sought to replenish the state’s main job incentives and recruiting fund, known as the Job Development Investment Grant, which has been out of money for months. But House and Senate have been far apart on an agreement, until now. A conference committee posted online their compromise on HB117, and it is scheduled to be voted on in the Senate on Monday night.

$20 millionThe annual cap on economic incentive awards under compromise bill

The compromise would increase the cap on incentive awards to $20 million a year. The cap would be increased to $35 million for any year in which the state has a “high-yield” jobs deal where a company invests at least $500 million and adds at least 1,750 jobs.

Those companies would be eligible for more generous incentives. That provision is aimed at attracting a large manufacturer, such as an auto plant.

In the state’s wealthiest counties, local governments would need to add incentives of their own in order to qualify for a JDIG grant. The governor has been asking for additional JDIG funding for more than a year, and he’s said the lack of funding leaves North Carolina unable to compete for major employers.

And there are additional issues that are expected to move toward final votes:

▪ Primary election – Heading rapidly toward approval will be legislation moving the state’s primary elections from May to March 15. That means primaries for governor, U.S. senator and the legislature, and possibly road and infrastructure bonds could be just around the corner.

The early primary move began as an attempt by Republicans to make North Carolina a more significant player in the presidential campaigns. Late February was their first choice, but the national parties discouraged that under the threat of reducing the number of delegates the state would be able to send to conventions to choose nominees.

▪ Deregulation/environmental protections – A conference committee of House and Senate members has been trying to work out an agreement on a wide-ranging regulatory bill, House Bill 765. Another environmental bill, HB760, which has been sitting in a Senate committee for three months, would freeze the state’s progress on increasing renewable energy sources, among other controversial provisions.

▪ Deer farming – Who should regulate the state’s deer farms – where the animals are raised for their antlers and for a small meat market – is another highly charged issue. A bill would move regulation from the state Wildlife Resources Commission into the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The farmers hope the move would allow their budding industry to grow, after the wildlife agency halted permits out of concern over a devastating disease that has killed deer in other states.

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