The Senate committees working on the budget (House Bill 200) have completed their work and the budget on the calendar for floor action on Tuesday of this week. By Wednesday it may be finished in the Senate and sent back to the House for concurrence. The Senate version of the budget has been on the General Assembly website over the weekend. In its different versions, the budget has been on line for several weeks now, the most open process in history. Many people have looked at it, as evident by the variety of questions that have come to our legislative offices.
While the Senate continued their work on the state budget, the House was busy in committees and on the House floor getting our bills through the system. With the dreaded “crossover” looming in early June, we must vote our bills out to the other chamber or risk them dying in committee.
House Bill 139 – Limit Contributions by State Vendors passed on a strong bi-partisan vote of 114 – 2 and was sent to the Senate. This bill limits any person or member of a company with a contract of $25,000 or more with the state from contributing more than $500 to the campaign of a statewide candidate for an office that may control that contract. This involves statewide offices for council of state and department heads. The regular personal contribution limit is $4000. This is part of the effort to eliminate “pay-to-play” politics in North Carolina.
Another bill involving a department head is House Bill 823 – Governance of the Dept. of Public Instruction. Most people who vote for the Superintendent of Public Instruction think they are voting for the person to run the public schools in the state. However, the Governor, through the State Board of Education, appoints the Chairman of that board and exerts direct control. This bill gives the elected Superintendent more of a voice on the board and more power to carry out the duties the people think they are voting for. After several amendments HB 823 passed on a bi-partisan vote of 111 – 8 on Wednesday and 106 – 10 on Thursday.
House Bill 115 – North Carolina Health Benefit Exchange was very controversial. This legislation sets up a health insurance exchange that can be accessed by more people on the internet, and offer more choices of insurance. Some of the controversy comes when you know that this is called for by the new federal healthcare act, known as “Obamacare”. However, if the state doesn’t set up some type of exchange, the federal government will come in and set up one for the state that may not be as desirable. If the federal act is finally ruled unconstitutional, the exchange may not be used, but many of us believe we must take this action in defense. It passed 83 – 34 with all Republicans and 18 Democrats voting for it.
House Joint Resolution 930 – Honor Veterans, was a unanimous vote to express gratitude to members of the military for their service and honor those killed in the line of duty. There were many veterans on hand Wednesday for the floor speeches and vote.