The Senate did not have any bills on the calendar Monday, but the House came back from the Easter Holiday ready to work. The House had more than twenty committee meetings listed for Tuesday and Wednesday, while the Senate is gearing back up in their committees after rolling out their budget last week. House Appropriations chairs began meeting twice a day to review the Senate budget, while waiting for the April 15th tax revenue numbers to be determined.
The House caucused on Monday at 6:00 PM before Session to try and resolve the pending issues with the legislation on the State Health Plan and the legislation authorizing public schools to provide both abstinence education and sex education (parental request) for middle school and high school students. The Health Plan passed the House on Tuesday/Wednesday and was sent to the Senate. On Wednesday, the Senate rejected the House version. We are waiting for conferees to be appointed by both bodies to resolve the differences. The Senate plans to remove several of the changes added by the House since they increased the cost of the Health Plan for the State, without the resources. The House version also removed the smoking and obesity requirements.
House Education Appropriations met on Wednesday morning to discuss HB582 Special Education Changes but they could not vote on the bill. The Committee also reviewed the Senate Budget and Special Provisions again. Another local calendar flexibility bill was defeated in the House State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday. NCAE did speak in favor of the bill, but it still lost by a vote of 9-6. The Senate Education Committee met Wednesday to take up several bills, but they got bogged down on the SB362 “Retired Teachers Return to Work.” Joint Legislative Education Oversight had recommended the bill. It shortens the break-in-service from 6 months to 4 months for teachers. It also allows for contractual agreements. The members spent the entire meeting debating this “one” bill. They argued about the break-in-service, and the contract language. Michael Williamson also spoke about the fiscal impact of the shorter break and the fact that the contribution amount of 11.7 percent to the retirement system is not enough and may need to be increased. They debated many aspects of the bill and in the end Chairman Malone agreed to send it to a subcommittee for more work. The other bills listed in the committee may be back on the calendar for next week.
The House spent hours Wednesday afternoon debating HB88 Healthy Youth Act (sex education bill). After four amendments by the Democrats (which were agreed upon to get enough votes) the bill passed on second reading. The Republicans ran several amendments, most were defeated. The bill finally passed on third reading Thursday afternoon, after another long debate and numerous amendments by the Republicans (that failed). It now goes to the Senate where rumor is it may have a harder time passing.
Things were quiet in the Senate this week as they waited for the House version on the Health Plan to pass so they could work on the compromise bill. Though Senator Rand did call a meeting of the interested groups on the issue of Government Immunity, an issue many have worked on for several years. Senator Rand introduced a bill, this session, for the Trial Attorneys that seeks to eliminate NC Government Immunity for cities, towns, counties and public schools. This legislation could be a huge problem for accessing affordable insurance by the public entities and also increase the number of claims, substantially. Senator Rand has set a timeline and encouraged the groups to work to resolve their differences. This will be one to watch.
The April 15th numbers (estimates) may be out early next week (Monday), but all predictions are that the State will be in a deeper financial hole than originally predicted. It will then be up to the House to make more cuts to the budget or find a way to add some revenue. The Senate has not passed their Finance package for the budget yet. Senate Finance did meet this week to review some the major changes they are considering for the State, in the way of taxes, but it was more information. They are still talking about taxing services, reducing the State Sales and Use Tax, closing more tax loopholes, consistency in taxing and reducing the Corporate Income Tax to encourage businesses to come to North Carolina.
On Thursday, the House Education Appropriations Committee met to discuss the Senate budget section on Community Colleges and Universities. The House Education subcommittee also met to hear several bills, though the committee spent most of its time on a minor change to the Calendar legislation. The bill was changed by NCAE with agreement from NCASA. Several amendments were approved to clarify minor sections of the bill and though Representative Stam and several Republicans voted against the bill it received a Favorable Report and was re-referred to Commerce. Next week Representative Luebke will have HB 593 on the calendar which will allow the start date to be as early as the second Monday in August. Work has started to try and pass this bill in House Education on Tuesday.
As if all this wasn’t enough the State continues to fight to find the funds to pay the bills through June 30, 2009. Directives came out to public schools this week, no more State funds unless it is for direct classroom instruction and some safety issues with respect to buses. Things are very shaky and with no money the Legislature seems intent on passing one policy bill after another. There are more than fifty bills on the House and Senate calendars to be heard on Tuesday alone. Hang on to your hats.
Bills Introduced Last Week:
HB 1260 Voter Preregistration and Education
HB 1473 Education Employee Associations/Equal Access Act
HB 1508 Technical Corrections -2/3rds Bonds Act of 2008.
HB 582 Special Education Changes-Undetermined
HB 161 Require Six-Year Old to Attend School – Pulled from the Agenda.
HB 218 Parent & Student Educational Involvement Act Favorable Report to the Proposed Committee Substitute and re-referred to Appropriations.
HB 817 Establish NC Financial Literacy Council Favorable Report to the Proposed Committee Substitute and re-referred to Appropriations.
HB 856 Modify Charter School Law Favorable Report to Proposed Committee Substitute and re-referred to Appropriations.
HB 1029 Impact of Student Mobility on Academic Performance Favorable Report and re-referred to Rules.
Education Subcommittee on PreSchool, Elementary and Secondary Education:
HB 636 Staff Development OK on Protected Teacher Workdays-Favorable Report to Proposed Committee Substitute as amended. The bill now allows three additional days up until June 13th in the case of inclement weather or emergency conditions, and then further allows the use of up to two professional development days after those three days are used. Another amendment to changes the words “sufficient days” to week days also passed, but will have to be clarified further. Lively discussion took up most of the committee time. Finally, an amendment or two were passed and defeated. The bill was re-referred to Commerce. Probably won’t be calendared until the week of April 27th.
HB 952 Study Merit-Based Components/Teacher Salary Favorable Report to Proposed Committee Substitute.
HB 1268 Eminent Domain Favorable Report to Committee Substitute as amended.
HB 9 No Texting While Driving Favorable Report and sent to House Floor.
HB 659 Study Existing Children/Youth Programs Favorable Report and sent to the House Floor.
HB 438 State Health Plan/Calendar Year Meeting Canceled
Pensions and Retirement:
HB 862 Study Retirement and Health Benefits Favorable Report and re-referred to Rules.
State Government/State Personnel:
HB 708 Furlough of State Employees Lengthy discussion. Discussion on the bill, no vote was taken, but it is back on the calendar for Tuesday next week.
HB 1172 Take Voluntary Furloughs/State Government & Schools Favorable Report to Proposed Committee Substitute and re-referred to Appropriations.
Local Government II:
HB 850 Local Control of School Calendar/2 Counties – Committee defeated the bill.
Education Subcommittee on Community Colleges:
HB 735 Building Code/High Schoolers at Community Colleges Favorable Report to Proposed Committee Substitute and re-referred to State government and State Personnel.
SB 1028 Encourage Volunteerism in Schools Not Heard
SB 657 SBE Develop Teacher Assistant Salary Schedule Not Heard
SB 362 Retired Teachers Return to Work Lengthy discussion concerning the time permitted for the break-in-service, IRS requirements, and retirement contributions. Chairman is sending to a subcommittee, which was not appointed.
HB 206 Affordable Housing for Local Employees Passed third reading to Committee Substitute and sent to the Senate.
HB 531 Affordable Housing for Teachers/Edgecombe County Passed third reading to Committee Substitute and sent to the Senate.
HB 76 School Board Candidate Filing Fee Passed third reading to Committee Substitute (96-20) and sent to the Senate.
SB 287 State Health Plan/Good Health Initiatives Passed second and third reading and sent to the Senate. Short-term fix for state health plan which appropriates $250 million for 2009-2010 and $462 million for 2010-2011. Deletes 90-10 option, changes enrollment period to July 1, 2009 from October 1, increases co-pays for chiropractors, speech and physical therapists, and creates a Blue Ribbon Task Force to study wellness initiatives (smoking cessation and weight control). There will be an increase in premiums from 8.6 percent to 10 percent. In addition, the change in the calendar will cost approximately $69.4 million. Several amendments were introduced and discussed. The first amendment provides guidelines for the Task Force and pharmacy benefits manager, amendment was adopted (110-6). Second Amendment- independent audit of the health plan to look for savings in processing claims, overpayments to doctors and hospitals and if overpayments were recovered, the funds would be credited to offset premiums paid by employees, amendment adopted (116-0). Third amendment – Removes operation of the health plan from legislative branch to executive branch, vote 50-60, amendment failed. Fourth amendment- clarifying language regarding the word “drugs”, amendment adopted.
HB 9 No Texting While Driving Passed second and third reading and sent to the Senate.
HB 96 Local Government Surplus Property Donation Passed second and third reading and sent to the Senate.
HB 88 Healthy Youth Act Passed second and third reading and sent to the Senate.
HB 218 Parent & Student Educational Involvement Act Passed second and third reading and sent to the Senate.
HB 659 Study Existing Children/Youth Programs Passed second and third reading and sent to the Senate.
SB 66 Require Arts Education Credit for Graduation Passed third reading and sent to the House.
SB 708 Amend the Compulsory School Attendance Law Passed second and third reading and sent to the House.
Bills in Committee Next Week
HB 538 Charlotte/Meck School Board Police
HB 1470 Study Length of School Lunch Period
HB 1471 Counties & Schools Share P.E Equipment
HB 593 Change School Starting Date
HB 1179 Equity of School Counselor Compensation
HB 708 Furlough of State Employees
HB 1221 Develop State Employee Benefits Statement
HB 193 Electronic Notice of Public Hearings
HB 442 Parental Involvement in School Discipline
SB 406 Classroom Experience for School Personnel
SB 962 Probationary Teacher Appeals
SB 1028 Encourage Volunteerism in Schools
SB 248 Conform School Board Vacancy