By George Reed, Retired Executive Director
The 2017 General Assembly has begun its work. Elected in November, it came to Raleigh for a day in early January in order to organize itself and then returned last week to begin work in earnest. The following are bills which have been introduced and which may be of interest to members of the Raleigh Report Network.
H 6/S 9, Education Finance Reform Task Force, empowers the Senate President Pro Tem and the Speaker of the House to name members to the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform, created by this bill. Its task will be to study various weighted student formula funding models and develop a new model for NC’s public schools. The Task Force will report and propose legislative changes by July 1, 2018. (It should be noted that passage of one of these bills would be the first step in what could be a months- or years-long process, but which could eventually make significant changes in how state money is allocated for public schools and among various school systems.) Introduced by Reps. Horn (R-Weddington), Lucas (D-Spring Lake), Johnson (R-Kannapolis), and McGrady (R-Hendersonville) and Sens. Foushee (D-Hillsborough), McInnis (R-Rockingham), and Krawiec (R-Kernersville). Referred to House Education/K-12 Comm. and Senate Rules Comm.
H 13, Class Size Requirement Changes. The last General Assembly enacted changes designed to reduce class sizes in grades K – 3. Those changes set teacher-student ratios of 1:18 for kindergarten, 1:16 for first grade, and 1:17 for second and third grades. A school system cannot have average class sizes (i.e., across the whole system) higher than those ratios, and no individual class can be more than three students over those limits. But, because the legislature didn’t allocate additional money to the counties, several school systems say that they may have to reduce arts and physical education classes in order to pay for additional classroom teachers. H 13 is an effort to correct this situation; it would allow the system-wide ratio to be up to three students over the limits and individual classes to be up to six students over the limits. Introduced by Reps. McGrady (R-Hendersonville), Elmore (R-North Wilksboro), Malone (R-Wake Forest), and Corbin (R-Franklin). Referred to House Education/K-12 Comm.
BUDGET AND TAXATION
H 7/S 14, Strengthen Savings Reserve, would make changes in how the state puts money into the so-called Rainy Day Fund and how it decides on spending that money. Specifically, it would make these changes:
- The state’s budget would have to include the transfer of 15% of each year’s estimated growth in tax revenues to Savings Reserve, up to the target balance mentioned below. (Current law requires the State Controller to reserve 25% of leftover money at the end of the budget year.)
- Money could be spent out of the Savings Reserve up to a total amount equal to 7.5% of the prior year’s General Fund operating budget if approved by majority votes in the House and Senate and if that money is to be used 1) to cover a shortfall or reduction in revenues, 2) to pay costs imposed by a court or administrative order, or 3) to pay for recovery from a natural or man-made emergency.
- Expenditures for other purposes or for those three purposes in an amount greater than the 7.5% limit would have to be approved by 2/3 votes in the House and Senate.
- The Office of State Budget and Management (part of the Governor’s Office) and the Fiscal Research Division of the General Assembly would estimate the “target balance” needed for the Savings Reserve, based on fiscal analysis of the state’s tax system and possible shortfalls in revenue.
(This bill, like the one on education finance, may seem like an insiders’ game, but by automatically diverting some projected increases in revenue and then more tightly limiting how that money can be spent, it has the potential to make significant changes in the state’s Rainy Day Fund.) Introduced by Reps. Dollar (R-Cary), McGrady (R-Hendersonville), Arp (R-Monroe), and B. Richardson (D-Louisburg) and Sens. B. Jackson (R-Autryville), Brown (R-Jacksonville), and Harrington (R-Gastonia). Referred to House Appropriations Comm. and Senate Rules Comm.
ENVIRONMENT AND HEALTH
S 11, Regulate Pesticide Application in Restaurants, would require the state’s Public Health Commission to adopt rules for restaurants that would ensure that poisons used for controlling “animals and vermin” are applied when the restaurants are closed and in a way that protects against the contamination of food or food preperation areas. Introduced by Sens. Dunn (R-Lexington) and Lowe (D-Winston-Salem). Referred to Senate Rules Comm.
H 21, Driver Instruction/Law Enforcement Stops, would revise the state’s driver license handbook to include information on law enforcement procedures during traffic stops and how a driver should conduct him/herself during a traffic stop (e.g., don’t get out of the car or reach for your vehicle registration unless/until the officer requests it, keep your hands visible, tell the officer if there is a weapon in the car, etc.). Similar changes would be made in the curriculum for driver education courses. The intent of the bill is to reduce the number of traffic stops that result in someone being injured or killed. Introduced by Reps. Goodman (D-Rockingham), Faircloth (R-High Point), McNeill (R-Asheboro), and Earle (D-Charlotte). Referred to House Transportation Comm.