Last week in the North Carolina General Assembly was a longer week than most summer sessions with voting sessions in the House on four days, as well as several committee meetings. We were able to get final House action on bills on small business health insurance, rural hospital financial assistance, and standards of student conduct. There were also some discussions about the security of members and staff at the legislature, following an incident the prior week.
Senate Bill 86 – Small Business Health Care Act allows associations of small businesses and non-profits to offer group health insurance to association members. The best example in our area would be the realtors, who are independent contractors and belong to the N.C. Association of Realtors. Many other associations exist, and most of them were in strong support of this legislation. It passed the House 82 – 32 and goes back to the Senate for concurrence with the House Committee Substitute language.
Part of Senate Bill 681 deals with a fund for rural hospitals to obtain loans to sustain operations. The county in which the hospital is located would be responsible to see that the loan is paid back. While only a few hospitals would be able to use the fund, it could be a lifesaver for those few and for the counties where it is the only hospital. It passed 81 – 31 and goes back to the Senate for concurrence.
While these two bills had some debate on the House floor, the most debate was over Senate Bill 295 – Standards of Student Conduct. It gives teachers and principals more authority to decide what determines disruptive behavior. On Tuesday the discussion was heated, and some implied that certain groups might be targeted because of skin color or disabilities. The vote that day was split 62 – 52. After an amendment on Wednesday that clarified some of the offenses the vote was unanimous on third reading, 114 – 0. This bill also goes back to the Senate for concurrence with the House changes.
August 1st there was an incident where a visitor to one of the House members was stopped at the entrance with a handgun and two extra clips in his bag. Fortunately, the member’s office was in the Legislative Building (LB) where the entrances have been hardened with metal detectors and guards. No motive for carrying in this weapon has been announced.
The building that contains my office, the Legislative Office Building (LOB) has no security at the main entrance, and has one guard at the street entrance. The LOB entrances are in the process of being hardened. One member took an opportunity last week to speak from the House floor about her concerns over our security. I agree with her concerns. She and others, including myself, have received threats. We usually dismiss them, but in these troubled times they must be taken more seriously. We do have measures to take if we feel threatened to summon security to our offices. I appreciate the efforts to protect our security, while still allowing the public free access to their representatives. It is sad that these measures are necessary.
The override vote on the state budget, House Bill 966, has still not been taken. We are getting some good work done on other bills while we wait for the override, but most of us would rather be back home in our districts discussing more local issues with our citizens.