Friday, February 6, 2009

Friday Wrap Up: Two Weeks Into Session

North Carolina Weekly Wrap Up:

This week the following bills were filed:

This is a technical corrections bill. It removes language relating to the General Assembly and clarifies that the Senate President Pro Tempore and the Speaker of the House are each able to appoint three members to the state CFAC.

SB56: Assistance to Voters-Soles

This bill would bring our state voter assistance statute into line with the federal voter assistance statute. It would permit any voter to request assistance from any person of the voter’s choice with the exception of the voter’s employer or agent of that employer or an officer or agent of the voter’s union. The current voter statute permitted a voter to receive assistance only from a family member. The current statute did permit people with disabilities to receive assistance from anyone of their choice however; there were multiple reports of confusion during early voting and on Election Day regarding the interpretation of North Carolina’s statue. This bill will remove the confusion surrounding voter assistance by bringing our statue in line with the federal statute.

HB15: Military Family Assistance Centers/Funds
. – Tarleton
An Act appropriating funds for the creation of additional family assistance centers to benefit military personnel and their families.
These centers would provide counseling to families of deployed military personnel.
Appropriation request is $600,000.00

HB20: Compensate Eugenics Sterilization Survivors.- Womble
An Act to provide monetary compensation to persons sterilized by the eugenics sterilization program.
The appropriation for this bill is as follows: $18,480,000 for fiscal year 2009-2010 and $165,000 for administration of the program for the fiscal year 2009-2010. Each qualified recipient of this compensation would receive a one-time payment of $20,000.00

HB21: Eugenics Program- Support and Education – Womble
An act to provide counseling benefits to eugenics survivors, to direct the Department of Health and Human services to establish a database of eugenics program participants and verify the status of persons contacting the state to determine their participation in the state program, to erect a historical marker about the program, to direct the State Board of Education to include information about the program in its K-12 history curriculum, to recommend creation of an ethics training module for state, county, and local government employees, and to direct the department of cultural resources to digitize existing records for preservation and study purposes, as recommended by the House select committee.
This bill is the recommendation of the House select committee and includes the remainder of the recommendations made by the committee. The recommendation of the committee was based on testimony of survivors of the eugenics program in North Carolina and the testimony of researchers of our state’s program. In the whereas language of this legislation it is made clear that people with developmental/intellectual disabilities and people with mental illness were among the first victims of this program.

S8: Funds for CAP/MR-DD Slots. – Boseman
An act to appropriate funds to the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services, to provide a state/federal match for additional CAP/MR-DD Slots.
Appropriation request is $10 million to fund additional CAP slots.

Committee Assignments:
The Senate announced its committee assignments this week signaling the start of business at the General Assembly.  Here are the assignments.

North Carolina Budget:
The Senate held two informational meetings this week. The first was to inform and educate House and Senate members on the current state of North Carolina’s budget. The second meeting was to inform the members of the current condition of the State Employee Health Plan. The news was grim on both fronts.
First the budget, currently we are looking at a $2 billion dollar deficit in for the 2008-2009 fiscal year or a short fall of 10%. The General Fund of North Carolina is directly tied to our revenue/tax collection. Revenue and tax collection is directly tied to our economy. As the economic downturn continues we are seeing increases in unemployment claims and sagging consumer spending. During the first half of the fiscal year we were $625 million dollars below the $9.5 billion dollar target in collections. The Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act will help some but overall we are still looking at a slow rebound in our state revenue collection.

Second the State Employee Health Plan, before the quarter ending March 2009 gets here the General Assembly will need to find $300 million dollars to appropriate to the health plan to keep the plan solvent. The plan will then require another substantial appropriation of $1.2 billion dollars by 2011.

Federal Weekly Wrap Up:

This week President Barack Obama signed the SCHIP Reauthorization Act. The passage of this legislation means that 4 million previously uninsured children will receive access to affordable health care. In North Carolina the passage of this legislation means that our state can expand North Carolina Health Choice and can begin to implement NC Kids Care.

Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act:

This week the Senate continued its debate on the economic stimulus package. A vote was originally scheduled for Thursday, February 5th. During the late evening hours it became clear to Senator Harry Reid (D) that he did not have the votes to pass the bill. The vote was then rescheduled tentatively for Friday, February 6th. The stimulus package is a long way from being signed by President Obama. The current Senate bill contains the following provisions for people with disabilities:

* Medicaid - $87 billion for an increase for the federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP)
* Education - $13 billion for IDEA Part B State Grants and $500 million for Early Intervention - Part C of IDEA
* Social Security - $17 billion total for a one-time payment ($300) to all SSI and Social Security recipients, veterans, and others and $890 million to improve the National Computer Center and information technology.
* Jobs - $500 million for Vocational Rehabilitation programs.

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