For the past month at the General Assembly, we’ve worked to wrap up the recommendations of the interim study committees before the start of the new legislative session just a few weeks away. The House is also in the process of selecting a new speaker and the House Democrats will be meeting on January 10, 2007 to make that decision.
Among the new laws we passed last session, I am proud of the decisions we made with regard to education, health care, our economy, protecting our environment, and reducing crime. Several of the new laws we approved during this year’s session will go into effect January 1, 2007. They are detailed below.
The Legislature will reconvene on Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at noon. During the interim, you can contact me via email at email@example.com or by calling my
NC Seniors: Sign Up for Prescription Drug Assistance Before Dec. 31st
Seniors can call the hotline or visit www.ncrx.gov to get information on the federal prescription drug plans and state assistance. The staff at the toll-free phone line are available to answer questions and help seniors navigate the federal Medicare Part D prescription drug plans offered and assist in filling out the paperwork. These plans cost from $17.80 to $85.90 per month, and seniors must have signed up by Dec. 31, 2006 for their coverage to begin on Jan. 1, 2007.
North Carolina Rx helps low-income
Updates from the Interim Legislative Study Committees…
Over two dozen different study and legislative oversight committees have been meeting since the General Assembly adjourned in July. These committees, which have looked at issues ranging from high school graduation rates, improving access to quality health care, toughening our state’s sex offender laws regarding the Internet, improving the economies of rural areas, and updating our state’s tax structure, are now in the process of wrapping up their work in order to make legislative recommendations to the entire House beginning on January 24. I have been serving on Environmental Review Commission, the Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change, the House Select Study Committee on Capital Punishment, the Joint Legislative Commission on Land and Water Conservation and the House Select Committee on Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
The House Select Committee on Health Care, which is one of the largest study committees, recently announced its recommendations, which included calling on the General Assembly to appropriate $15 million to various community health clinics that provide primary and preventative medical services to uninsured or medically indigent patients; implementing a high-risk insurance pool, which will provide coverage to many of the 1.3 million uninsured North Carolinians; enacting legislation that would ensure health insurance coverage for all children birth to age 18; providing additional assistance to counties with high Medicaid expenses; increasing the number of school nurses; and addressing the shortage of mental health professionals and nurses across the state.
Below is a list of new laws that take effect on January 1, 2007, which will increase our state’s minimum wage by $1; better protect our children and families and make our neighborhoods safer; help parents save for their children’s college education; reform our state’s ethics, campaign finance, and lobbying laws; and provide tax relief to our valuable small businesses.
For more details on these new laws and many others, go to the General Assembly’s website at www.ncleg.net or click on the link to the following document created by the legislative research staff: Summaries of Substantive Ratified Legislation
Minimum Wage Increase: Approximately 139,000
College Savings Tax Credit: Taxpayers will now receive a tax deduction when saving for a child’s college education if they invest in
Assistance for Small Businesses:
Verification of Legal Work Status of Government Employees: This measure requires all state agencies, departments, universities, community colleges, and public school systems to use a federal database, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to verify the legal status of all new employees or authorization to work in the
Increasing Cable Competition, Lowering Bills for Consumers: In an effort to increase new cable programming choices and lower rates, legislators approved the Video Service Competition Act, which deregulates cable television service by replacing the current regulation of cable television service by local franchise agreements with a statewide system. Beginning Jan. 1, 2007, the measure will phase out local franchise agreements between cable providers and city and county governments and open up service areas to competing companies that apply to the state for coverage areas. Any company that wants to provide pay television service over phone lines or broadband Internet can register with the Secretary of State’s Office.
Supporters of the legislation say that it will help consumers by increasing competition among various cable providers, although the final legislation regrettably did not include several measures designed to protect the consumer. The new law also ensures municipalities at least two public access channels to air local or government programming, and money to help with operating costs. The state Attorney General’s Office will investigate complaints about video programming under the statewide franchise bill. Telephone companies have been pushing for such legislation around the country, and several states are considering it, with a few, including
Protecting Children from Sex Offenders: Sex offenders in
All offenders must comply with tougher registration requirements, which will give authorities more chances to update addresses and photographs. The new law also prohibits a sex offender from living within 1,000 feet of a school or daycare center and bars offenders from working or volunteering in a position where they would interact with minors.
Legislators also included $1.5 million in the budget to upgrade the state’s sex offender registry, which will be unveiled in early 2007, implement the global positioning system (GPS), and establish an email notification program so citizens can be notified when a registered sex offender moves into their neighborhood. (S.L. 2006-247, HB 1896)
8-Year Driver’s License Renewal: Drivers who are at least 18 years old and younger than 54 years old will now be able to renew their driver’s license every eight years. Licenses issued to those 54 and older will expire five years after the date of issuance. Full provisional licenses issued to drivers younger than 18 will expire on the individual’s 21st birthday. A driver’s license issued to a person who holds a visa of limited duration will be issued for the duration of the visa only. The new law will not only be more convenient and efficient for drivers, but will also centralize license production and improve the security of the state’s driver’s licenses by giving DMV officials more time to verify applicants’ identification information.
Starting July 1, 2008, the Division of Motor Vehicles will issue a driving certificate, valid for 20 days, to driver’s license renewal applicants instead of a new driver’s license right away. The temporary driving certificate is not valid for identification purposes. The new license will be mailed to allow officials more time to verify identification information. Those in the military service and stationed outside the state or those who are living outside
New Crime Fighting Positions: This year’s budget included much-needed funding to reduce crime in our communities and hire additional staff for our courts system. Starting in January, our state’s 41 prosecutorial districts will have additional full-time assistant district attorneys, including three here in
New Campaign Finance and Election Laws: Legislators passed numerous campaign finance and election law reforms during this year’s session, which take effect on January 1, 2007. Candidates will now be required to report all contributions over $50 (previously $100) and will only be allowed to receive $50 or less in cash contributions (previously $100), contribution checks must be completely filled out, and all campaign treasurers will now have to go through more frequent training. (S.L. 2006-195, HB 1846)
Several election law changes are also taking effect, including: allowing county boards of elections to begin, but not complete, the process of counting mailed absentee ballots before Election Day; a voter needing to change their voter registration because of a move is not required to provide the date of the move, but only attest that the move occurred at least 30 days before the next election; and except for the envelop, provisional ballots shall not be marked to be identifiable to a voter. (S.L. 2006-262, HB 128)
Third party candidates in
Instant Runoffs Coming to
Second primaries will now be held seven weeks, instead of four, after the first primary. The new law also establishes procedures for candidates in plurality elections to participate in the NC Public Campaign Fund, and clarifies that if the Fund is insufficient to fully fund all certified candidates, a candidate may make up the difference through private contributions in an amount up to the candidate’s Fund eligibility amount. (S.L. 2006-192, HB 1024)
Stronger Lobbying and Ethics Laws: During the last two years, legislators have reformed and strengthened our state’s lobbying and ethics laws in an effort to require greater disclosure of lobbying activities, ban gifts and campaign contributions from lobbyists, and establish the State Ethics Act and State Ethics Commission. During the 2005 session, lawmakers passed SB 612 (S.L. 2005-456), which requires lobbyists to file monthly disclosure reports during sessions of the General Assembly and quarterly during the interim periods, beginning on January 1, 2007.
In 2006, lawmakers passed additional reform measures as part of the State Government Ethics Act (S.L. 2006-201, HB 1843), which was the largest, most comprehensive lobbying and ethics bill passed by the N.C. General Assembly in 30 years and one of the toughest in the nation. The new law strengthens ethics regulations and establishes high ethical standards for elected and appointed officials in the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government, along with boards and commissions. In addition to the new ban on gifts and campaign contributions given by a lobbyist, there is a new six month “cooling off” period, which was instituted for legislators, members of the Council of State, and State department heads who want to become a lobbyist after leaving office.
A new independent, eight-member State Ethics Commission was established on October 1, 2006 and will officially begin its work on January 1, 2007. The group will receive and evaluate financial disclosure forms, investigate complaints, provide advisory opinions, and make recommendations of sanctions to appropriate authorities. The commission has the authority to investigate complaints regarding legislators and may issue advisory opinions, and when appropriate, will refer the matters to the Legislative Ethics Committee for final action. Similarly, the commission has the authority to receive complaints regarding judges and can begin initial investigations, and where probable cause exists refer the matter to the Judicial Standards Commission.
Best wishes for a Happy New Year!