Politics & Government
7:58 am
Mon June 2, 2014

NC General Assembly Stories We’re Following: Week Of Monday, June 2

The old North Carolina State Capitol building.
Credit Bill Dickinson via Flickr

The North Carolina legislature is set this week to begin the third step in preparing adjustments for the state's annual budget. Members of the House of Representatives are expected to prepare their proposal in subcommittees, members of the full Appropriations Committee may then go over it next week, and the full chamber may vote on it also next week, Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake) told WRAL-TV.

To re-cap what the House of Representatives is working with: the Senate approved its version of the budget and sent it to the House shortly after midnight Saturday. The Senate’s centerpiece is an 11 percent raise to public school teachers, representing nearly $470 million in spending. To offset raises, in part, the budget eliminates teaching assistants in second- and third-grade classrooms, representing 7,400 positions and a $233 million cut.

The Senate budget additionally eliminates Medicaid coverage or eligibility for more than 15,000 people who are elderly, blind or disabled, the Associated Press reported. Also in its proposal, the Senate makes its third attempt since Republicans took over the General Assembly in 2011 to transfer the State Bureau of Investigations from the office of the State Attorney General (currently held by Roy Cooper, a Democrat and prospective candidate for governor in 2016) to the office of governor (held by Pat McCrory, a Republican).

This is step three in a four-step process of preparing the budget for the fiscal year that starts in July. The first step was Gov. Pat McCrory presenting his proposal mid-May. The second step was finalized on Saturday, when the Senate approved its proposal. The third step is the House assembling its proposal. And the fourth will be the reconciliation of the four versions.

Three major pieces of legislation expected to be be heard in the main floor at least one of the two chambers this week cover the national Common Core public school standards, a Regulatory Reform Act and the semi-privatization of parts of the state Department of Commerce.

To Repeal Or To Not Repeal Common Core

Perhaps the most sensitive issue on the legislature’s agenda this week is a bill that would repeal the controversial Common Core academic standards. The standards were initially adopted by 45 states and introduced to North Carolina classrooms in 2012. They’re meant to replace a hodgepodge of state standards with one set of clear, consistent goals for what students should learn in Math and English at every grade level.

Supporters of the national standards say they ensure critical thinking and raise the bar in terms of what students should know. But North Carolina, and many states, has seen a big Common Core backlash, driven by critics who argue that the standards are not developmentally appropriate for children, were implemented too quickly and take control away from the state.

Back in April, legislators introduced a bill to throw away the standards and replace them with North Carolina’s own education standards. A legislative study committee proposed creating a review commission to rewrite the academic standards by December 2015. That means schools would still rely on Common Core until new standards are written. Opponents of the bill say that abruptly changing the standards again would create classroom chaos and lead to more implementation problems.

At last check, the House education committee was scheduled to take up House Bill 1061 at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Fourth Annual Regulatory Reform

A House of Representatives committee is expected to take up a broad-reaching regulatory bill that has been approved by the Senate and covers more than 50 topics.

Democrats and conservationists complained over multiple sections in the Senate’s version of the bill, including a provision that would allow businesses to self-report on environmental violations and another that reduces the number of air-testing monitors in the state to the minimum required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

House Bill 736 hadn’t been given a specific hearing date by late last week.

The Associated Press has this excellent backgrounder on the bill, which is the fourth regulatory reform since Republicans took over the legislature.

The News & Observer published an article on Sunday that explains the self-reporting provision and another article last week that gives context to the elimination of air-quality monitors.

NC Commerce Department’s Semi-Privatization

The Senate will likely consider how parts of the North Carolina Department of Commerce will be transferred to a new non-profit economic development organization. A bill setting up the non-profit, a public-private partnership that will take over the state’s duties recruiting businesses and tourism to North Carolina, is expected to be heard by the Senate’s commerce committee, said the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow).

Two hallmarks of the bill: It will require the non-profit to raise roughly $500,000 to $1 million, so the state will contribute tax-payer money to the partnership, and it will require the organization to comply with open meetings and public records laws, Brown said.

“Public dollars need to be transparent, private dollars maybe not so much,” Brown said after Friday’s budget vote. “But we want to make this thing as transparent as possible.”

A similar bill didn’t get enough support to pass in the legislature last year. Brown said one reason it failed was that it required the partnership to raise $10 million from private sources before getting public money.

This bill, SB-743,  hadn’t been assigned a specific hearing date by late last week.