On Thursday morning at about 4:00 am, the North Carolina General Assembly’s long session adjourned. And a long session it was – only one session has been longer in the past 40 years of NC history. So, now that legislators have gone home, here’s a quick look at what happened.
After many weeks, the General Assembly finally passed a budget. The $21.7 billion “compromise” budget funds teacher’s assistants (with a few caveats) and funded driver’s ed programs.
The budget cut income taxes, largely benefiting wealthier North Carolinians, and extends the state’s sales tax, which hurts low-income families. Beginning in 2017, the personal income tax will drop from 5.75 percent to 5.5 percent, a savings of about $50 for households that earn $30,000 or less. To make up the lost state revenue, sales tax will cover some services – like car repairs – beginning March 1st.
The budget gives teachers and state employees a one-time $750 bonus. New teachers – those with fewer than four years experience – will see their base salary increase from $33,000 to $35,000.
Legislators approved big changes to North Carolina’s $14 billion Medicaid system.
Doctors will no longer be paid for each service they provide; instead, Medicaid will shift to a managed care model.
The changes are complicated and will take as many as four years to fully implement. The bill creates two tiers of insurers – regional groups that are led by providers and statewide entities that will likely be national, for-profit managed care companies.
Changes will also eliminate the state’s Division of Medical Assistance and shift management of Medicaid to a new Division of Health Benefits within the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Employees in the new division will not be covered under protections provided by the State Personnel Act.
One of the bills passed in the waning days of session was a ban on so-called sanctuary cities, which are places that have either formal or informal policies against enforcing immigration laws. Although there are no cities in North Carolina that identify as sanctuary cities, the bill aims to send the message that local officials should place a priority on enforcing immigration laws and removing undocumented immigrants.
Responding to a series of “undercover videos” about Planned Parenthood, legislators banned the sale or donation of body parts resulting from an abortion. The new law also prohibits state funding for family planning organizations that provide abortions, a move directed at Planned Parenthood.
The budget provided some new funding for open space preservation, but legislators also passed a flurry of provisions weakening environmental protections. Legislators also weakened the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA), which required an environmental review of public projects using public funds or public lands. Among other provisions, the renewable energy tax credit was allowed to expire and more “terminal groins” or artificial, hardened structures were approved.
All of North Carolina’s primaries, including the presidential primary, will now move to March 15. The move means that candidate filing will begin December 1.
Legislators approved placing a $2 billion bond referendum on the ballot in March. If voters approve the referendum, the money would largely go to fund construction projects at universities and community colleges as well as water and wastewater system projects.
The General Assembly passed new legislation requiring insurance companies to provide coverage for certain autism treatments for children under 18.
Lawmakers passed legislation to broaden the expert qualifications behind the sex education curricula taught in schools. The approval of a certified sexual health educator would no longer be required, opening the door for ideological and religious groups.
One of the state’s most popular corporate incentives program, the Job Development Investment Grant program, was extended through 2018. Legislators also raised the monetary value of JDIG grants the state can give each year from $15 million to $20 million. The cap goes even higher – up to $35 million –when a “high-yield” project, one that would those that invest at least $500 million in facilities and create a minimum of 1,750 jobs, is involved.
A new law will ban indoor tanning by those under 18 beginning October 1st.
With all that time legislators were in Raleigh, did they accomplish the things that are important to you and your family? Did that set the groundwork for growth and success in our state?