February 19, 2021
Lawmakers returned to Raleigh for a short work week, holding session Monday through Wednesday. Due to another round of ice storms in the forecast later in the week, many legislators chose to get ahead of the storm and returned to their districts Wednesday evening.
The Governor has two bills on his desk awaiting action: one to require schools to offer in-person instruction and another to extend ABC permit fee payment deadlines and reinstate some inactive permits in response to pandemic restrictions. The Governor has 10 days after a bill is presented to him to sign or veto it; otherwise, it becomes law.
So far, we have only seen one new law in the 2021 session, a bill dealing with COVID-19 relief.
Governor Cooper and his Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) also changed vaccine guidelines this week, no longer requiring vaccination sites to offer vaccines to out-of-state citizens. The State says this move is based on new Centers for Disease Control guidance and limited vaccine doses. Last week, state health officials announced that teachers would be eligible for vaccines starting on February 24.
Governor Cooper also announced this week that he was appointing Machelle Sanders as the new Secretary of Commerce. Sanders was previously Secretary of the Department of Administration. A replacement for her at Administration has not yet been announced. Sanders will have to be confirmed by the Senate.
Bill Action Dates
- March 11: Senate local bill filing deadline
- March 25: House local bill filing deadline
- April 6: Senate public bill filing deadline (does not apply to constitutional amendments, elections bills, or appointments)
- April 20: House filing deadline for non-budget bills
- April 27: House filing deadline for budget bills
- May 13: Crossover deadline for both the House and Senate in which bills must have passed at least one chamber to remain eligible for consideration
Summer School Option
House Speaker Tim Moore and House education leadership unveiled a bill this week that would give parents the option to send their children to a six-week summer school program. The summer school would be in-person and aimed to help the students struggling with the challenges of online learning. Bill sponsors cite data showing that many students are below grade level and at risk of being held back from promotion. The bill does not make summer school mandatory, leaving that decision in the hands of parents. Teachers will also not be required to teach summer school but will receive additional pay if they choose to teach. The supplemental instruction will be paid for with federal relief money.
Governor Cooper has said that he supports the idea and realizes that many students will need additional instruction but feels that it is too early to tell if it will be safe to return large numbers of students to in-person settings by the summer. House leadership says that it anticipates tweaks to the bill but is optimistic that in-person instruction will be safe by summer.
The summer programs will target reading and math in early grades, while science will be added to higher grade levels. The bill also requires school lunches and transportation to be offered, as well as enrichment activities to keep students motivated.
In-Person Learning Choice for Families Heads to Governor
House and Senate conferees were able to agree on a compromise for a bill (Senate Bill 37) requiring local education administrations to offer students grades K-12 the option of in-person instruction this week. The bill is now on the Governor’s desk.
The bill was fast-tracked through the Senate but delayed when the House included a provision that would allow school districts to make work-from-home accommodations for teachers who have a documented illness that puts them at risk of serious complications from COVID-19. The final version of the bill includes a provision that establishes a process for teachers at high risk or COVID-19 complications, or are the caretaker of a child at high risk, to request work modifications that limits their exposure.
Current law allows schools to choose from three plans: Plan A with most students in-person; Plan B with some students in-person; and Plan C with no students-in person. Grades six through 12 must choose Plan B or C.
Senate Bill 37 does not require parents to opt in to in-person learning but does give them that option. Schools would be allowed to modify instructional requirements based on needs and resources. They would also be allowed to move to remote learning if COVID-19 exposure leads to insufficient staff available, but they would have to notify the State Department of Public Instruction. The bill does not require that in-person instruction be every day.
Bill supporters cite studies that they claim to show that COVID-19 transfer rates at schools are lower than the general population and point to in-person instruction being safe when done properly. They also expressed concerns about students’ mental health and ability to learn when out of the classroom.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt has voiced her support for the bill, while Governor Cooper has voiced concerns. Cooper has said that he cannot sign the bill without it having more local flexibility, although he supports more students returning to the classroom. He has not said that he will veto the bill, which hints that he could let it become law. This would mean that students could return to in-person learning by March 15. The bill passed the House 76 to 42 and the Senate 31 to 16, which is over the required three-fifths threshold to override a veto.
Medicaid Fraud Audit
State Auditor Beth Wood’s office released an audit this week showing that DHHS has been reimbursing for Medicaid claims not performed by a licensed professional. The audit claims that the Medicaid Provider Enrollment process does not remove providers who have had their license revoked or scope of practice limited and that it did not check contractors to determine if they had the proper license for the procedure they were billing for. The report notes that DHHS did not check the disciplinary records from providers licensing boards, even allowing an oral surgeon whose license was revoked due to a patient’s death to still bill Medicaid. Other providers who had lost their license due to sexual misconduct or fraud were still being allowed to bill Medicaid, according to the audit.
DHHS has a system to verify provider credentials, but the Auditor’s report claims that it has not worked since 2013. DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen says that changes have already been made and that provider credentials are now being checked weekly and that a new automated system should be ready by mid-2023. The Department is now trying to recoup over $13 million in erroneous payments to unlicensed providers, but the Auditor’s Office estimates that the total amount outstanding could be much higher given that they only looked at a small sample of providers.
Revenue Forecast Update
The Joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing this week to allow the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division to present their updated revenue forecast. The new report estimates that revenue for Fiscal Year 2020-21 will be $4.13 billion over the May 2020 forecast. The report cites several factors for the optimistic projections. The first is the large amount of federal stimulus money that the State received, which helped keep many businesses and individuals afloat and able to pay taxes. North Carolina received around $18 billion for households and $12.5 for businesses. The report also notes that since tax filings were delayed due to the pandemic, around $1 billion in revenue was shifted to this fiscal year that would have typically been corrected last fiscal year. The report cites increased sales tax numbers, which are in part due to the 2018 US Supreme Court Case South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., which allowed states to collect sales tax from retailers outside of the state. The report also noted the K-shaped recovery that North Carolina has seen, where higher-earning individuals were able to transition to working at home and staying employed, while lower-earning individuals were unemployed. Since most of the income tax comes from high to middle level earning individuals, the income tax brought in more than expected. The Fiscal Research Division noted that their forecast assumes that there will be another federal stimulus bill in the spring and that the State’s economic recovery will continue. The report estimates that the General Fund will reach $27.6 billion for Fiscal Year 2020-21 and $28.5 billion for Fiscal Year 2021-22. The Committee also heard from Fiscal Research staff on budget pressures and a breakdown of current spending by category.
List of All Filed Bills: https://www.ncleg.gov/Legislation/Bills/WithAction/2021/10
2020 Summary of Substantive Legislation
The Legislative Analysis Division has published the 2020 Summary of Substantive Legislation, which breaks down new laws by subject matter. Below is a link to the document: https://www.ncleg.gov/Legislation/SummariesPublication/Subjects/2020/