Today, the weekly update from Raleigh Report resumes as a supplement to Steve Ford’s commentary. The update is compiled on a volunteer basis by George Reed, the Council’s retired executive director.
May 2, 2016
The NC General Assembly convened on April 25 for its 2016 short session. Long-time Raleigh Report participants know that the legislature runs on a two-year cycle: a long session in odd-numbered years, a short(er) session in even-numbered years. The primary purpose of the short session is to tweak the second year of the state’s two-year budget, which has been adopted in the long session. Other than budget-related bills, a short session can consider only a limited number of items, including bills passed by one house the previous year, bills coming from study committees, and, this year, bills related to election laws and redistricting. Most other items would require two-thirds votes in both houses, just to be introduced.
Bills affecting the budget or coming from study committees must be introduced by May 10. Most other new bills must be introduced by May 19.
The following are summaries of some of the bills introduced during the first week of the short session that bear on matters of concern to the NC Council of Churches. When legislators are named as sponsors of more than one bill, party and hometown are listed only on first reference:
Repealing HB 2
HB 946 and the identical SB 784 would repeal HB 2, the so-called bathroom bill passed in late March in a one-day special session. In addition to provisions about which bathrooms can be used by transgender people, it also creates a statewide standard on discrimination that doesn’t include sexual orientation and gender identity, limits access to state courts to challenge discrimination of many types, and prevents local governments from setting a living wage in their community, a provision seemingly unrelated to the other parts of the bill. It has brought unwelcome nationwide, indeed worldwide, attention to North Carolina.
The bills also include over $545,000 for the state’s Human Relations Commission, charged in HB 2 with enforcing anti-discrimination laws, but which had been largely defunded in recent years. This funding provision also helps qualify the bills as eligible for consideration in the short session.
Primary sponsors of HB 946 are Reps. Jackson (D-Raleigh), Meyer (D-Hillsborough), Hamilton (D-Wilmington) and G. Martin (D-Raleigh). It was referred to the House Judiciary IV Committee. Primary sponsors for SB 784 are Sens. Van Duyn (D-Asheville), J. Jackson (D-Charlotte), and Woodard (D-Durham). It was referred to the Senate Ways & Means Committee, a notorious graveyard for bills opposed by Senate leadership. (The committee hasn’t met in years.)
For more Raleigh Report coverage of HB 2, click on the following:
Suggested action on HB 946/SB 784:
- It is important for the state’s leaders to hear from people of faith who favor full repeal of HB 2, even those leaders who have staked themselves out as still supportive of the bill. This would include Governor Pat McCrory, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, and Speaker of the House Tim Moore.
- Communicate also with your senator and representative, regardless of where they stand on repeal. It is important for supporters of HB 2 to know of opposition, especially opposition that is faith-based.
- If you aren’t sure who your legislators are, click here. If you need contact information for them, click here for your senator or here for your representative, and then click on their names. For other legislative information, including the text of bills, go to the General Assembly website.
From the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services:
SB 735 (identical to HB 1001), Appropriate Funds/Dementia Caregiver Programs. These bills would allocate $500,000, with $300,000 for Project C.A.R.E., which provides support to people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. The remaining $200,000 would go to the Division of Aging and Adult Services to assist people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers with accessing services. This funding is part of the state’s efforts to develop a comprehensive program regarding Alzheimer’s. Primary sponsors are Sens. Pate (R-Mt. Olive) and Robinson (D-Greensboro) and Reps. Avila (R-Raleigh), Dobson (R-Nebo), and Murphy (R-Greenville).
SB 736 (identical to HB 999), Suicide Prevention/Study. The emphasis would be on the role of health care providers and others, including clergy, in detecting and preventing suicide, especially by individuals under age 25, firefighters, law enforcement officers, emergency medical services personnel, active duty military personnel, and veterans. It would conclude its work and report back to the legislature before the 2017 session. Primary sponsors are the same as for SB 735/HB 1001, with the addition of Rep. S. Martin (R-Wilson).
Reforming Tax Reform
In recent years, and under the general heading of “tax reform” the General Assembly and the Governor have eliminated many tax deductions; set one flat income-tax rate, thus eliminating progressive taxation requiring those with higher incomes to pay a high percentage in taxes; and increased revenue from sales taxes while reducing revenue from higher-income individuals and corporations. Primarily because of income tax cuts, the overall effect has been to lower the amount of revenue available to support state programs and services.
There has been push-back from both sides of the political spectrum. The first effort to gain traction was to reverse the elimination of the deduction for medical expenses, something that hit especially hard on elderly people and those with disabilities, people who could have tens of thousands of dollars of medical expenses each year. The hue and cry was so great that the deduction was re-instated last year.
Now other issues have been introduced. They include:
SB 752, Small Business Tax Relief. An individual taxpayer could deduct up to $50,000 of net business income if the business’ gross receipts were no more than $250,000. Primary sponsors are Sens. Lowe (D-Winston-Salem), Smith-Ingram (D-Gaston), and Foushee (D-Hillsborough).
SB 753, Reenact School Sales Tax Holiday. The state used to have a weekend just before school started during which sales taxes were not assessed on certain school-related items. The 2013 General Assembly and Governor repealed this provision, which benefitted both students (and their families) and retailers. SB 753 would reinstate it. Primary sponsors include Sens. Lowe, Waddell (D-Newell), and Foushee.
SB 755, Modify Sales Tax on Labor. A change in tax law which went into effect in March now requires the payment of sales tax on auto repairs (along with several other services not previously taxed). These expenses disproportionately affect people of lower income. This bill would eliminate the tax requirement for repair shops employing fewer than four people. Primary sponsor is Sen. Bingham (R-Denton).
SB 757, Reenact EITC. The federal Earned Income Tax Credit benefits low-income working people. In 2007 North Carolina adopted a similar state EITC, giving a state credit equal to 4.5% of the amount of the federal credit. In 2013, the General Assembly and the Governor killed the state credit, something which had been claimed by as many as 900,000 North Carolinians per year. This bill would reinstate the state EITC and raise the amount to 5%. Primary sponsors are Sens. Foushee, Lowe, and Van Duyn.
SB 773, Reenact Child Care Tax Credit. Federal tax law permits a credit for child care expenses. NC used to permit a similar credit. It was larger for parents of younger children and those with disabilities and for parents of lower income. The 2013 General Assembly and the Governor repealed this tax credit. Primary sponsors are Sens. Robinson, Waddell, and Foushee.
Other New Bills
SB 728, State Lottery, contains recommendations from the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on the State Lottery. It would increase the amount that could be spent on advertising, from 1% of total revenues to 2%. Total operating expenses for the lottery would still be limited to 8% of revenues. As reported in the lottery’s annual report for 2014 (entitled “LUCKY to be in NORTH CAROLINA”), gross ticket sales that year totaled $1.84 billion. Primary sponsor is Sen. Tillman (R-Archdale)
SB 759, Funds/Youth Tobacco Use Prevention. In recent years the legislature and Governor have cut funds aimed at tobacco use prevention. This bill notes the rapid increase in the use of electronic cigarettes by high school students, now up to almost 17%, and in overall tobacco use to almost 30%. It also notes the “unique dangers” imposed on adolescents by nicotine. It then appropriates $250,000 for the state’s Tobacco Control and Prevention office, to be used specifically to counteract increased use of electronic cigarettes and other new tobacco products. Primary sponsor is Sen. Bingham.
HB 990, Increase Participation/Lower the Age to Run. HB 990 would amend the state constitution to lower the age at which people can run for and hold public office in NC from 21 to 18, in order to, in the words of the bill’s title, “encourage the participation of young North Carolinians in local and state government.” Of course, legislators who truly want to do that could start by repealing that part of the so-called monster voting bill, passed by the General Assembly in 2013 and signed by Gov. McCrory, which ended the practice of letting 16- and 17-year-olds pre-register to vote so that their names would automatically be placed on voter rolls when they turned 18. That same law killed a young-voter outreach program for high schools. A constitutional amendment to change the age of eligibility for holding office would have to be approved by the state’s voters. Primary sponsors for HB 990 are Reps. Burr (R-Albemarle), K. Hall (R-King), and Jordan (R-Jefferson).