In Part I of our legislative re-cap, we highlighted the major developments in the areas of budget and taxes and agriculture. Today we review the areas of education, voting and elections and healthcare.
Coronavirus impacted every area of public education. Governor Cooper’s Executive Order closed K-12 public schools on March 14th. Community Colleges and the UNC System followed soon thereafter. K-12 schools and colleges were forced to pivot to virtual learning with varying success. As previously mentioned, two bills provide the major framework of how the state is responding to coronavirus, SB 704 addresses needed policy changes while HB 1043 appropriates federal Covid relief funding
Bills Approved by General Assembly and Signed by Governor
SB 704 – Session Law 2020-3 – The bill made changes to state programs and funding to respond to coronavirus. Bill waives testing requirement for end-of-grade (EOG) and end-of-course (EOC) tests; waives reporting requirement for all education programs including school performance report cards, Low Performing Schools , Innovative School Districts and Third Grade Reading Camps. Bill adjusts school calendar requirements to acknowledge coronavirus shutdown and remote instruction plans. Regarding higher education, the legislation waives tuition for students in community college apprenticeship programs and waives interest charges on student debt for UNC Students and reporting requirements for UNC institutions.
HB 1043 S.L. 2020-4 . Appropriates $1.235 in federal Covid relief funds. Over half of those funds ($671.6 million) are targeted for education (K-12 and higher education). Funding includes:
- Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund -$396.3 million
- Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund $95.6 million
- Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund – $179.7 million
HB 1071 – Session Law 2020-27 – Provides Department of Public Instruction $75 million to address expected higher enrollment in the public schools.
SB 818 Session Law 2020-45 – Provides all teachers with a $350 bonus and gives a step increase for salary to eligible recipients. The legislation also calls for a one-time $600 bonus for all teachers, instructional support staff and non-certified personnel. Funding for the additional $600 bonus is scheduled to come from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund. Gov. Cooper has expressed uncertainty as to whether those funds can be used in such a way.
SB 814-Session Law 2020-43 – Transfers $15 million from various accounts to fund NC Promise Tuition Plan. The legislation sets tuition at $500 per semester for North Carolina residents at Elizabeth City State University, The University of North Carolina-Pembroke and Western Carolina University.
SB 476 -Session Law 2020-7 Requires the State Board of Education to adopt a school based mental health policy and require all K-12 schools to adopt and implement a mental health plan and training program that includes a suicide risk referral program.
HB 1050 S.L. 2020-55 –Requires that any comprehensive needs assessment for low performing local school districts include an analysis of early childhood learning
SB 113-S.L.2020-49 – Education Omnibus Bill – Among other things, the bill expands the number of districts that can use remote learning; changes charter school reporting requirement, designates the state superintendent as an approver of private bonds to finance or refinance charter school building projects and also provides immunity to nonpublic schools for claims related to Covid-19 claims.
SB 817 S.L. 2020-67– Provides $16.6 million to fully-fund enrollment growth at University of North Carolina.
Bills Not Approved by Legislature
SB 857 – Bill provides a one-time tax credit of $2,500 per student for families whose child attends a private school or a tax credit of $500 per child for families that home school. To be eligible household income must be $150,000 or less and have had a 10 percent decline in adjusted gross income. Legislation is intended to not only provide relief for families whose children home school or are enrolled in private schools, but to also blunt the expected migration of students from private to public schools.
SB 609 – Expands and simplifies eligibility requirements for Special Education Scholarships, Personal Education Savings Accounts as well as Opportunity Scholarship Program. Changes targeted on alleviating wait lists. The bill is revenue neutral.
VOTING AND ELECTIONS OVERVIEW
Preoccupation with coronavirus meant the legislature took no action on redistricting. Six redistricting reform bills were submitted to the General Assembly in 2019, with three of those bills having at least some bipartisan support. Those three were discussed in a meeting of the House Redistricting Committee on October 24 and it looked like one of them might come up for a vote in the 2020 short session.
The session produced one major elections bill and one minor bill, both Covid-related.
Bills Approved by the General Assembly and Signed by the Governor
Bipartisan Elections Act
HB 2269 S.L.2020-17. The bill legislation was a grand compromise elections bill made to help North Carolina better prepare for holding elections during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill included a host of measures such as giving elections boards more flexibility in hiring election workers, ordered boards to meet to approve absentee ballot applications earlier, and ordering the State Board of Elections (SBE) to create an online portal for absentee ballot applications. Unfortunately, the later could help political operatives get the information they need to commit absentee ballot fraud.
Help for the Unemployed
S.B 2017 S.L.2020-71 Legislation allows those on unemployment to work as temporary election officials without it impacting their unemployment benefits. The bill had passed both houses of the General Assembly in different versions last year, but it was originally passed as a bill to harmonize judicial and prosecutorial districts in the state. The bill’s conference committee completely removed the bill’s original provisions, replacing them with the new language on unemployment compensation for election workers. Presumably, we will see another bill on judicial and prosecutorial districts next year.
Bills that Failed
SB715. Another elections policy bill that failed to gather support was SB 715. Its fate may have been tied to the fact that it was a bad redistricting bill and would have altered part of the redistricting process in a way that runs counter to separation of powers in the NC Constitution. In addition, the bill would have unnecessarily complicated the redistricting process. Unsurprisingly, it was sent to the Senate Rules and Operations purgatory to quietly die.
With lawmakers focused on how state government should respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the legislature was naturally hesitant to make healthcare policy reforms at a time when the industry was already experiencing significant turmoil.
As previously mentioned, two bills passed the legislature early in the session that helped to direct the state response and allocate the federal coronavirus response money from the CARES Act.
COVID Funding Legislation -Approved by General Assembly and Signed by Governor
SB 704 S.L. 2020- 3 – A large Covid relief funding bill which contained needed policy changes to keep state government running. In the healthcare areas these changes include procedures for Covid-19 testing and reporting of results, healthcare liability and protection, distribution of medical supplies, protective equipment and testing supplies and giving preference to North Carolina based companies when addressing public health emergencies.
HB 1043-S.L. 2020-4 . Bill appropriated $1.2 billion in funding. Relevant health care funding provisions include: $50 million for the purchase of personal protective equipment; $20 million to Wake Forest University Healthcare System for a study of COVID-19 antibodies; $65 million to allocate to rural hospitals as grants; $15 million to be used as grants for the state’s five teaching hospitals; and $6 million for food banks.
Exempt Direct Primary Care from DOI Regulations
H.B. 471 S.L. 2020-85 Perhaps the biggest win for affordable healthcare reform. The bill clarifies that direct primary care doctor-patient arrangements are not subject to the same Department of Insurance regulations of health insurance providers. The changes allow doctors to keep their prices low through direct service agreements without burdensome regulations.
SB 361 S.L. 2020-82 Bill contains numerous provisions related to healthcare. Most substantial is a provision to enter the state into an interstate compact for psychology licensure which would allow psychologists to practice across state lines.
SB 808 S.L. -88 Bill funds the state Medicaid program’s transformation from fee-for-service to managed care. The process had been underway since 2015 but hit a delay when funding for the transition was halted by Gov. Cooper’s veto of the 2019 state budget.
Bills Approved by General Assembly But Vetoed by the Governor
DHHS & Other Revisions
SB 168. Bill is comprised of technical changes requested by the Department of Health and Human services. However, a provision protecting medical records of people who die in police custody caused some public protest. Gov. Cooper vetoed the bill on July 6.
Legislation that Failed or Opportunities Missed.
Perhaps the largest missed opportunity for healthcare this session was the lack of movement to repeal the state’s Certificate of Need (CON) laws. In 2016, North Carolina had the fifth most restrictive CON laws in the country, behind only Vermont, Hawaii, the District of Columbia, and New Jersey. At the on-set of the pandemic, state Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen issued a temporary waiver of CON requirements for acute care beds for existing providers. It is noteworthy that the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee for Health and Human Services did have a hearing on the topic in February, before the start of the legislative session and before the coronavirus state of emergency was declared. But ultimately, the legislature did not take the opportunity to expand freedom of healthcare providers to meet patient needs.
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