State Politics

Parts of NC Board of Education lawsuit dismissed

Part of the State Board of Education’s courtroom effort to set its own rules has been dismissed, Rep. Paul Stam said during the state House’s Monday night session.

Stam announced the news as the House took up a bill that would have required the Board of Education to pay legal costs for its lawsuit against the Rules Review Commission. Stam asked legislators to remove a provision transferring $100,000 to cover the commission’s defense costs in the case.

“We saved $100,000 this week, on lawyers no less,” said Stam, an Apex Republican.

The Rules Review Commission is an obscure board that reviews and approves the policies proposed by state agencies and occupational licensing boards. The commission’s members are appointed by House and Senate leaders.

Represented by former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, The Board of Education argued that commission’s power over its policies was unconstitutional.

With the lawsuit dismissed and the funding transfer removed, Senate Bill 14 passed the House Monday with a series of other early-session budget adjustments. In a 113-1 vote, the House supported moving $275,000 from the Department of Public Instruction to the Academic Standards Review Commission – the commission that’s currently reviewing the Common Core curriculum.

The bill also addresses how the Coal Ash Management Commission can spend the money it collects, and it directs $2 million to the N.C. Health Information Exchange, which allows providers around the state to share patient health information.

Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Winston-Salem Republican, added a provision that allocates $300,000 for a performance audit of Medicaid eligibility decisions made at the county level. “This is absolutely critical as a part of our Medicaid reform effort that we know how well our counties are performing,” Lambeth said.

Only one provision of the bill proved controversial: an effort to correct what some saw as an unintended consequence of last year’s Coal Ash Management Act. The law requires owners of dams to have regular inspections by an engineer. Rep. Jeff Collins, a Rocky Mount Republican, said he thought the requirement would only apply to owners of coal ash ponds.

“I didn’t realize that I was going to cause a lot of consternation to a lot of my constituents,” Collins said. The House added his provision to exempt dams that don’t involve coal ash in a 91-23 vote.

Senate Bill 14 will now head back to the Senate for a vote on the House’s additions.

In other legislative action Monday night:

Utility taxes: The N.C. Senate took a final unanimous vote to require utility companies to pass along a corporate income tax cut to their customers.

The bill targets the one company that senators say is still overcharging customers: Dominion N.C. Power.

Spring break: The House announced that April 6 will be a week without votes, allowing members to take spring vacations while many schools are off.

State of the Judiciary: The House formally set N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin’s speech for 4 p.m. Wednesday.

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