The state Senate is continuing to craft a proposed budget and has indicated its draft of the plan may be presented next week. I am hopeful that the Senate will improve its initial version and restore some of the millions of dollars cut out of education in the House plan.
Our chamber has considered a number of issues this week, both on the chamber floor and elsewhere and I have included updates about them below. If you have any questions, or if I can be of any service, please contact me.
The number of people who have lost long-term unemployment benefits because of the legislative leadership’s refusal to take up a bill has now increased to 42,000. I continue to work with my colleagues to extend the benefits. House Democrats held a press conference this week again urging action on a bill after the majority party rejected several attempts to pass legislation that would extend the benefits. I have also signed a petition that would force a bill on the issue (H676) to come to the House floor, but no members of the majority party have joined us, leaving us nine votes short of the number we need for action. Please know that I am continuing to work on this and hoping that we will get the benefits moving soon to these people who need them.
State Health Plan
Gov. Beverly Perdue reached a compromise this week with legislative leaders that will allow teachers and state employees to continue receiving premium-free health insurance. Gov. Perdue had vetoed an earlier bill that did not provide that option to participants in the plan. The compromise allows participants to pay a small premium if they want to receive a more generous plan. The bill (H578) that clears the way for the compromise was approved on the House floor Thursday. Some people continued to object to the change in the benefits because the new free plan raises the costs of co-payments and medicine and provides less coverage than the current plan.
The majority in the House voted to cut a week from early voting, despite the popularity of the program in North Carolina. I believe we should be doing more to expand the opportunity to vote, not to limit it. Supporters of the bill argued that the change will save counties about $2,000 for each voting site. The executive director of the State Board of Elections disagrees, saying in a memo that counties may have to spend more to handle a larger volume of voters on Election Day. Several elections observers say that efforts to restrict voting tend to suppress turnout among African-Americans and Democrats. (H658)
A bill to align North Carolina’s law for military absentee votes with national standards and set standards for electronic transmission of ballots passed the House unanimously this week. It now goes to the Senate. (H514)
Legislation that would add several new requirements for municipalities to involuntarily annex areas cleared the House this week. The changes include allowing a petition of 60 percent of property owners in the area to block a proposed annexation. Cities and towns also could no longer charge for water and sewer service hookups under some circumstances. (H845)
The House voted unanimously to strengthen the law requiring prosecutors to share their files in all felony cases so defense lawyers can review more items that may point to a suspect’s innocence. The bill now directs investigators to turn over evidence, even without a formal request from prosecutors. The bill is now in the Senate. (H408)
Please remember that you can listen to each day’s session, committee meetings and press conferences on the General Assembly’s website at www.ncleg.net. Once on the site, select “Audio,” and then make your selection – House Chamber, Senate Chamber, Appropriations Committee Room or Press Conference Room.