Legislature wraps first full week

Feb. 10, 2013 @ 06:18 AM

It could only be classified as an 'exciting' first full week for the North Carolina General Assembly.

The House passed legislation that trims unemployment benefits and their duration as well as a fix for group home funding.

In the Senate, members approved a bill that halts the state's expansion of Medicaid and shifts the burden of creating a state insurance exchange back on the federal government.

The Senate Rules Committee also advanced a measure that eliminates positions on several boards and shifts the appointment to other boards to the governor or General Assembly.


Unemployment overhaul

While each of those bills received significant attention, the one with the biggest impact on residents of the state is the unemployment benefits overhaul.

House Republican Whip Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, said that the bill is meant to help the state pay a $2.6 billion debt to the federal government for payments made to overcome a shortfall in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. In addition to reducing maximum benefits to $350 per week, the bill also adds an increase to unemployment insurance taxes for businesses through 2015.

"If we don't start making payments to that fund, every employer will have a $40 addition to their unemployment taxes," Hager said. "That adder will stay on until the debt is pay off."

House Republicans fended off numerous attempts at adding amendments to the bill during two days of debate. The bill will now move to the Senate where it is expected to be taken up next week.


Medicaid expansion

In the Senate, members passed a measure that prohibits the state from establishing a state health exchange or expand Medicaid services under the Affordable Care Act.

The move would shift the responsibility for creating the exchange on the federal government. However, Gov. Pat McCrory said, in a news conference, that he was uneasy with parts of the bill because it would make it difficult for the state to pay for a program that determines eligibility for Medicaid and other services.

"We're optimistic that we can hopefully work out an agreement with the House to deal with some of our concerns about the cost to the North Carolina taxpayers and to make sure that we can continue to operate the existing Medicaid program," McCrory said.

In a statement, House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said that he remained opposed to expanding Medicaid and would work the McCrory on his concerns over software program funding.

"We will work closely with the Governor's office to address his concerns in ways that are in the best interest of North Carolina taxpayers," Tillis said.


Board clearing

The Senate Rules Committee quickly moved out a bill that would remove members of key regulatory and advisory boards and turn over appointment of their replacement to McCrory and legislative leaders.

Senate Democrats told The Associated Press that it was nothing more than a "power grab" while Republicans defended the bill by saying it would make the state more efficient and save more than $2 million.

"We're cleaning up some things that have been left behind, some of them for as long as four decades," said Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, in an AP interview.

But, Democrats said that the move was unheralded.

"Look, they won, I understand that Gov. McCrory gets to make appointments," said Senate Minority Whip Josh Stein, D-Wake, in the same interview. "but their throwing the entire thing out so they can put their folks on is just wrong."


Possum Drop bill

A group of lawmakers, led by Tillis, filed a bill last week to allow the state the authority to grant a license for use of live animals for various purposes.

The bill comes after the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued the state Wildlife Resources Commission over a permit allowing the organizer of the New Year's Eve Possum Drop to trap and use a wild possum.

Under the new bill, the WRC would have the ability to issue permits for wild animals to be used for "scientific, educational, or exhibition purposes." The annual Possum Drop featured a possum suspended in a clear box adorned with festive decorations and lowered to the ground before being released at midnight.


The Associated Press contributed to this report