General Assembly Off to a Discouraging Start
After a one-day organizational meeting in early January, the 2013 General Assembly convened in earnest last Wednesday. Bills introduced and advanced during these first two days give a taste of things to come. Note especially the bills affecting the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, weakening the benefits of unemployment insurance, and extending the presence of guns.
SB 4/HB 16, No N.C. Exchange/No Medicaid Expansion, is this General Assembly’s declaration of nonparticipation with the federal Affordable Care Act. The bills state that 1) North Carolina will not run its own Health Benefits Exchange nor will it participate with the federal government in an HBE, and 2) North Carolina will not expand Medicaid eligibility as allowed by the ACA.
Neither part makes good sense for North Carolina. If NC doesn’t opt to run its own HBE, North Carolinians will fall under a federal HBE. So these bills would give additional power to the federal government and reject the possibility of state input into the HBE, even though they are being promoted by legislators who espouse support for states’ rights. Regarding Medicaid expansion, it would be fully funded by the federal government for three years, then 90% federally funded after that. It would save the state an estimated $159 million over the next two years and would provide an estimated 25,000 new jobs for North Carolinians (to say nothing of providing a healthier life to half a million people who are poor). And North Carolinians will still be paying the federal taxes that will fund Medicaid expansion, but our money will be going to pay for expanded Medicaid coverage in other states.
This bill is a top priority for legislative leaders and is on the fast track for passage. It has already been handled by the Senate Insurance Committee and will be on the Senate floor for a vote on Monday evening. (Senate sponsors include Sens. Apodaca, Brown, and Rucho. House sponsors are Reps. Burr, Avila, Hollo, and Collins.)
SB 23, Tobacco Free Community Colleges, would require all of the state’s community colleges to have policy prohibiting the use of tobacco products on their campuses, in their vehicles, and at their events. Current law allows each community college to decide for itself about tobacco policies. (Introduced by Sen. Bingham and referred to Senate Agriculture.)
HB 18, Youth Skin Cancer Prevention Act, would raise the minimum age for using tanning equipment from 14 to 18. (Introduced by Reps. Hollo, Fulghum, Horn, and Murry, and referred to House Health and Human Services.)
SB 6/HB 4, UI Fund Solvency & Program Changes, would greatly reduce the assistance provided by the state’s unemployment insurance program. (Sponsors include Sens. Rucho, Rabon, and Brock, and Reps. Howard, Warren, Starnes, and Setzer. HB 4 is already in its Third Edition and is on the calendar for a floor vote on Monday evening.)
The following information about HB 4 is from Bill Rowe, General Counsel for the NC Justice Center.
You may be surprised to know…
• There are 3 unemployed workers for every job available in North Carolina.
• More than 54% of all recipients of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits in NC exhaust their benefits after 26 weeks without finding a job.
• Only 1 in 4 unemployed North Carolinians currently receives NC unemployment insurance (UI) benefits.
• The average North Carolina UI check is less than $296, which is about average for the country.
• The $2.5 billion debt owed to the Federal government for unemployment benefits was caused by whopping tax cuts for business in the 1990s that destroyed the trust fund.
• 1 in 6 employers in the state has not paid in enough to cover the benefits of those workers it laid off.
• North Carolina has a low average employer contribution per covered employee of $336, which ranks 30th nationally.
• North Carolina ranks 42nd in its average tax rate on taxable wages at 2.22%.
HB 4 attempts to solve the business debt to the federal government by pushing most of it onto the unemployed at the worst possible time.
The proposal –
• Slashes the maximum benefit by $185 per week and caps it regardless of wage growth, cost of living or inflation.
• Goes after every unemployed worker by cutting the maximum weeks of benefits – currently 26 (same as 43 other states) — to a sliding scale of 12 to 20 weeks.
• Cuts eligibility for UI benefits for losing a job because of family or health reasons, something half the states allow.
• Changes the way the benefit amount is calculated, affecting all unemployed workers at all prior earning levels.
HB 6, Right to Work/Secret Ballot Amendments, would add three anti-labor amendments to the State Constitution. They would 1) add a right-to-work provision to the Constitution, prohibiting employment from being contingent on union membership, 2) prohibit collective bargaining by public employees, and 3) require secret ballots on votes to unionize. If approved by the General Assembly, the three amendments would be on the ballot in November 2014. (Introduced by Speaker Tillis and Reps. Moffitt and Murry and referred to House Rules.) HB 53 is a similar bill, also introduced by Speaker Tillis and Reps. Moffitt and Murry, which also contains statutory changes related to the constitutional amendments.
SB 12, Appointment of Superintendent of Public Instruction, would amend the State Constitution to remove this position from those elected by the people and add it to those appointed by the Governor. If approved by the General Assembly, the amendments to the Constitution would be on the ballot in November 2014. (Introduced by Sen. Tillman and referred to the Senate Rules Comm.)
HB 17, Gun Permits Restaurants & Confidentiality, gives new life to a truly bad idea, that mixing guns and alcohol in public places is a healthy thing to do. H 17 would allow people with concealed handgun permits to bring their guns with them into restaurants and some bars. Current law prohibits guns in establishments where alcohol is served. Restaurant owners would still have the right to prohibit guns in their establishments, but they would have to take the initiative in order to do so. A second part of H 17 would make information about concealed handgun permits and pistol purchase permits confidential and not subject to disclosure as public records. (Introduced by Reps. Burr, Hager, Hollo, and J. Bell and referred to House Rules.)
HB 49, Firearm in Locked Motor Vehicle/Parking Lot, would allow people to bring weapons onto business and commercial property if the weapons are out of sight and locked up in a vehicle. The bill would prohibit the owners of those businesses and other employers from adopting policy to the contrary. The bill also allows anyone injured (or the family of anyone killed) “as a result of a violation” of this prohibition to sue the business. It’s difficult to see how someone would show cause and effect in such a situation. Would the family of someone killed in the robbery of a store claim that the killing would not have happened if only somebody had had a gun locked up in their car in the parking lot? (Introduced by Rep. Shepard.)
SB 17, Concealed Carry Permits Validity. Current NC law makes a concealed handgun permit issued by another state valid in North Carolina. S 17 would limit that provision by excluding permits issued to nonresidents of the state issuing the permit. (Introduced by Sen. Bingham and referred to Senate Judiciary II.)
SB 27, Public School Protection/Firearm Amendments, would allow schools to have armed “school safety marshals.” These marshals could be school employees, volunteers, or others “engaged by the school” as a marshal. (Introduced by Sen. Bingham and not yet referred to a committee.)
SB 28, Gun Permit Information/No Publication, contains the confidentiality provisions of H 17, above. (Introduced by Sen. Bingham and not yet referred to a committee.)
HB 7, Eugenics Compensation Program, would award lump-sum grants of $50,000 to those who were sterilized by the state between 1933 and 1974 as part of the state’s Eugenics Program. (Introduced by Speaker Tillis and Reps. Larry Hall, Stam, and Hamilton, and referred to House Appropriations.)
SB 21, Permanent License Plates for Churches, would allow the state to issue permanent plates for church buses. (Introduced by Sen. Bingham and referred to Senate Rules.)
Most of you in the Raleigh Report Network are people of faith who have worked for years, even decades, for legislation which advances a prophetic view of social justice and which looks out for vulnerable and excluded people. We have seen some significant progress in the past. Sadly, the last legislature took significant steps backward on issues that have been of importance to us. This legislature is taking up where the last one left off, and it can now work without worrying about those pesky gubernatorial vetoes. That’s both because the Governor and the majorities in the General Assembly are from the same political party and also because those majorities are veto-proof in both the House and Senate.
It is still important for people of faith to continue to advocate for social justice, even if it seems not to be making a visible difference. Here are steps you can take:
1) Write letters to the editor of your local paper. Point out the harmful effects that proposed legislation will have. If you can give a personal example, do so. Mention how your position on an issue is affected by your faith.
2) Continue to communicate with your members of the General Assembly. If you are not in agreement with them, they still need to hear from you, respectfully, of course. If you are in agreement with them, they need to know of your support.
3) Communicate with Gov. Pat McCrory. He was known in Charlotte as a moderate mayor. He is already starting to appear in national media, including his unfortunate remarks about higher education earlier this week. He needs to hear from people of faith who are concerned about the direction the state seems to be taking.
Contacting your State Legislators
By telephone: All legislative offices can be reached through the legislative switchboard – (919) 733-4111.
By e-mail: Legislative e-mail addresses follow the pattern of . (Example: Speaker Thom Tillis’ address is Thom.Tillis@ncleg.net.) If you have any question about the spelling of your legislator’s name or whether your legislator’s e-mail address uses a nickname, you can confirm addresses at the General Assembly’s web site: www.ncleg.net. Click on “House” or “Senate” and look for Member Lists.
By postal service mail: All legislators can be addressed at: North Carolina General Assembly, Raleigh, NC 27601-1096.
Legisative districts have changed following the 2010 census. To find out who your legislators are, go to the General Assembly’s web site: www.ncleg.net. Click on “Who Represents Me?” near the top of the homepage, and follow the directions for using the interactive maps. For those without Internet access, local Boards of Elections can be asked for assistance.
To Contact the Governor
By phone: (919) 733-5811
By Fax: (919) 733-2120
By mail: Governor Pat McCrory
Office of the Governor
20301 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-0301
By e-mail: http://www.governor.nc.gov/contact/email-pat
For Legislative Information
A wealth of information is available at the General Assembly’s web site: www.ncleg.net. Look for bill information, texts of all bills, current status and legislative history for bills, information on all members (including e-mail addresses, office telephone numbers, etc.), committee memberships, calendars for the next legislative day, legislative districts, and links to state government agencies. You can even listen in on floor sessions.