Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Voter Owned Elections Pilot

House Bill 1517, signed by the Governor on August 30, 2007, sets up a pilot program for publicly financed races for 3 of the 10 Council of State races. Beginning in 2008, candidates for Commissioner of Insurance, State Auditor, and Superintendent of Public Instruction will have the voluntary option of financing their campaigns using a publicly supported fund, but only if they can demonstrate adequate grassroots support, spelled out in the bill. The law contains rescue fund provisions similar to those in HB 1828. This pilot project, which will be reviewed regularly, is very important given that the candidates for those seats often have to raise money from communities they regulate. It should allow for more interested citizens to run, since the costs associated with a statewide race now exceed $1million. And it will free up the candidates to focus on the issues and to have more time to interact with the voting public. As a participant in two very expensive legislative races, I look forward to an alternative financing system for our legislative races as well.

Please remember that you can visit the General Assembly's website at to look up bills and access other information. Also, please continue to remain in touch regarding issues that affect you and your family, and our community.



Strengthen Judicial Fund

Representatives Luebke, Howard, and I sponsored House Bill 1828 which gives candidates participating in the judicial campaign public financing program more protection from bogus third-party "issue ads." The 2006 experience with exposed the weakness in our public financing system for judicial campaigns that prohibited access to matching funds for participating candidates if certain specific words were not used in the independent expenditure. The law, signed by the Governor on August 30, 2007, fixes the problem by providing wider access to rescue money and it helps improve the integrity of the judicial program. It also provides an important check on 527-financed "independent expenditures" in our state's judicial elections, although we are limited by the constitution in how much we can regulate these types of expenditures.

Electoral College

This session there were two bills introduced that would have reformed how the state allocates its votes in the electoral college. The first bill, Senate Bill 954 , would make North Carolina part of a compact of states that would agree to elect the president by a national popular vote. Each member state would conduct a statewide popular election to produce a national popular vote total. The presidential slate with the largest national popular vote total would be the national popular vote winner and would receive all of the electoral votes from the states that were members of the compact. The bill passed the Senate, but it is still in committee in the House and will be eligible for consideration during next year's session, although it is not likely to be heard.

The second bill, Senate Bill 353, would allow the state to divide its electoral college votes based on the winner of the popular vote in each of the state's 13 congressional districts. The remaining two electoral votes would be given to the winner of the statewide popular vote. The bill passed the Senate and can still be considered in the House during the 2008 session. This bill, too, is unlikely to be heard.

Same Day Registration

We approved a new law, House Bill 91, that allows residents to register and vote right away at one-stop voting sites during the last 2 ½ weeks before an election. Under the old law voters could vote early at one-stop voting sites, but registration ended 25 days before an election. Safeguards are in place to prevent voter fraud. The bill is intended to open up the voting process by eliminating some of the time barriers and by making it easy for people who want to vote to do so quickly and conveniently. This extended registration should help university students in particular, and in increase the number of young people voting.

Election Law Reform

This session the General Assembly made a few changes to election law. We ratified and Governor Easley signed into law a bill that makes it a felony to instruct or coerce non-citizens to vote. The bill, House Bill 1743, also establishes misdemeanor penalties for breaching ballot secrecy or trying to convince a person to select a party affiliation other than one of their own choosing. The bill also allows combined ballots and provides civil penalties for officials who are late reporting campaign contributions and expenditures. Penalties can be as high as three times the amount of funds concealed if the State Board of Elections finds that the officials deliberately concealed contributions or expenditures.

Greetings From Raleigh 09-12-07

This week's newsletter highlights changes made to our elections laws this past session, and begins with a summary of this week's special session.

Governor Mike Easley called the General Assembly back for a historic special session on Monday to consider whether to override his veto of a bill House Bill 1761 that would have provided $40 million in economic incentives to Goodyear to maintain its tire plant in Cumberland County. Legislative leaders and the Governor's office worked hard to devise a compromise that would avoid a first ever veto override. The compromise that was reached House Bill 4 expands available funds to $60 million and widens the pool of those companies that can access the money. In order to qualify, companies must employ at least 2000 in a Tier 1 county, and promise to spend at least $200 million in investments in the company. Governor Easley negotiated some wage and employment level standards tied to the grants, but the compromise otherwise is not much different from the bill he vetoed except that it spends more taxpayer money providing cash grants to existing companies. Recipients can reduce their workforce, although the grant amounts will be proportionately reduced. Rep. Paul Luebke tried to insert a "clawback" amendment that would require repayment of grants for laying off workers, but that failed. This bill sets a dangerous precedent by giving cash to existing companies to maintain jobs, and appears to have opened the floodgates to handouts of taxpayer money to multi billion dollar companies. The bill passed on a party line vote, with 3 Democrats (Reps. Luebke, Weiss, and me) voting no.

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One important goal of the House of Representatives during the recent regular session was to reform election laws to make the elections process more accessible, transparent, and effective. It is imperative that our citizens have every opportunity to participate in government at all levels and the ability to make informed decisions is fundamental. To do this, we tried to make voting simpler and passed laws to improve our electoral college system. In addition, we expanded voter-owned elections to include three Council of State races.

This week, I will review some of the efforts we have made in this area.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Miscellany 09/05/07

We appropriated nine and a half million dollars to buy and house 634,458 flu shots for flu season.

The State public health laboratory will receive $500,000 to test medications for HPV; food and tick borne diseases; and HIV testing for pregnant women. $2 million will go towards HIV prevention. This funding will go to local health departments, historically black universities and colleges, and community organizations to provide HIV counseling, testing, and early medical interventions. In addition, the AIDS Drug Assistance Program and the Health Disparities Initiative will both receive $500,000. I have been a strong advocate for this funding.

We also banned smoking in government owned spaces with House Bill 24 and have made all schools tobacco free, Senate Bill 1086.

The Allied Health Program will receive $5.6 million. The program is course of study emphasized in the community college system to address the shortage of allied health jobs.

You can visit the General Assembly's website at to look up bills, view lawmaker biographies, and access other information to assist in keeping you informed.


Women's Health

Women's Health Services will receive $200,000 to serve women who are uninsured and are not eligible for Medicaid. We have also set aside $2 million for screening and diagnostic services for breast and cervical cancer through the North Carolina Breast and Cervical Caner Control Program.

Parents and guardians of children in grades 5-12 will receive information about cervical cancer, cervical dysplasia, human papillomavirus, and the vaccines. The General Assembly ratified a bill, Senate Bill 260, that requires public schools give parents this information at the beginning of the school year.

Health Centers

Community health centers and groups are on the frontline of the battle to keep our people healthy and strong. This session's budget includes $5 million for rural health centers, free clinics, and school-based clinics. Local health departments will receive $1 million to help them reduce rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, injury, and infant mortality.

Insurance and Prescritptions

We, in the General Assembly, believe that health insurance should be included with employment. We have given a tax credit to small businesses that provide health insurance to their employees. This will help lower the employers' cost of providing health insurance and increase the number of people who have insurance.

NC Health Net, a program that coordinates free care for low income, uninsured patients will receive almost $3 million.

The Medication Access and Review Program will receive more than $500,000 to get free prescription drugs from pharmaceutical companies for the poor.

Children's Insurance

Legislators gave North Carolina's Health Choice (SCHIP) $59 million to provide healthcare to the 246,000 uninsured children in this state. Families who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but cannot afford rising health insurance premiums, can get free or reduced priced comprehensive health care for their children with NC Health Choice. It offers the same coverage provided by the state indemnity health plan for the families of state employees and teachers, plus vision, hearing, and dental benefits. The out of pocket costs for the program cannot exceed five percent of the family's income. Unfortunately the federal funding that supplements our program is at risk. President Bush has threatened to veto the federal legislation which is still being negotiated.

NC Kids' Care will receive $7 million to expand health coverage to children between 200-300% of the federal poverty level. This expansion of health insurance means that thousands more children who are not covered by SCHIP or other programs will become eligible for affordable health coverage. NC Kids' Care, which begins on July 1, 2008, will make available affordable health insurance coverage to 38,000 currently uninsured children Families would pay deductibles, co-payments, and monthly premiums subsidized on a sliding scale based on income.

Legislators also appropriated $250,000 for pediatric diabetes prevention and education.

The Smart Start program will receive nearly one and a half million dollars. Smart Start is an early childhood education program that makes sure children in all counties are healthy and ready for school. Smart Start funds are used to improve the quality of child care, make child care more affordable and accessible, provide access to health services, and offer family support. I had sponsored legislation for such funding, House Bill 365, with Rep. Alexander.

High Risk Insurance Pool

This session the General Assembly also ratified a bill, House Bill 265, that will create a high risk insurance pool to help those who suffer from serious or terminal illnesses. These people are often considered uninsurable or are forced to pay expensive premiums because of their illness. This pool will make sure they get the affordable insurance they deserve and ultimately receive the preventative care they need to stay healthy. Rep. Verla Insko has been the champion on this and was able to overcome the objections of the insurance industry in pushing for the high risk pool.

Mental Health Parity

This session the General Assembly passed, and Gov. Easley signed, a law that provides insurance parity to people who receive mental health services. The new law, House Bill 973, requires insurance companies to cover bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and three other mental illnesses the same way that they treat and cover physical illnesses.

The bill started out with broader coverage, but the insurance lobbyists successfully narrowed the field to the above illnesses. All other mental health conditions will be covered for up to 30 inpatient/outpatient days and 30 office visits. Representative Martha Alexander has been pushing this legislation for over 15 years and deserves most of the credit for its passage.


Medicaid costs - an estimated $500 million this fiscal year- are a huge burden for counties to bear. The state will take over the counties' share of Medicaid costs in a three -year phase out. This will help ensure the long-term viability of the program and protects our small and rural counties with a large number of people on Medicaid. The members of the House of Representatives are very proud of this resolution to the Medicaid burden which had been placed on counties. Every county will end up with at least $500 thousand more than they would have had otherwise. This is going to free up money in the counties for school construction and other needs which might keep taxes from being raised and contribute to a better standard of living for all of the citizens of North Carolina.

Our citizens who receive this service can expect the same standard of care they have always received. Additionally, Legislators reason that shifting the entire cost to the state means that the long-term financial stability of the program will not be threatened.

Greetings From Raleigh 09-05-07

This week's newsletter focuses on health care related legislation. But the news this past week has been dominated by the Governor's veto of a House Bill 1761, which gives Goodyear Tires $40 million over the next ten years to maintain its manufacturing plant in Fayetteville. This moves the incentives issue into a new era of giving multibillion dollar companies taxpayer's money to stay. It sets a dangerous precedent and I was one of just a few members to vote against this bill. It is anticipated that we will have a historic first time ever session to override the veto early next week.

This session we were determined to make health care in North Carolina more accessible and affordable and we made great strides. We approved landmark legislation on a range of health issues including the Medicaid swap, mental health parity, and insurance reform, described in more detail below.