Warren's Weekly: Update on problems with NC FAST - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Warren's Weekly: Update on problems with NC FAST

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Rowan County Representative Harry Warren provides WBTV with an update, usually weekly when the North Carolina General Assembly is in session.  Warren provides information on what's happening in Raleigh, with a particular interest on those issues that have an impact in Rowan County.

Here is the latest edition:

Here is the latest update on Interim Committee meetings that have taken place over the last four weeks. I have included links to other stories that you might find of interest and the current schedule for upcoming meetings.

Interim Committee meetings are open to the public, so if you would like to attend one that is focusing on a subject of interest to you, feel welcome to attend. Meeting schedules are subject to change (sometimes at the last minute), so be sure to confirm the schedule on the General Assembly website or by contacting the office of the Committee Chair, before you make the two-hour drive to Raleigh. If you would like to attend a meeting, but can’t make it to Raleigh, you can still “attend” many of the meetings by listening online. 

You must first determine in what room the committee is meeting.  If the committee meets in either room 544 or 643, you can listen online.  To access the audio version of a meeting, go to: www.ncleg.net, click on “audio” on the bar near the top, then select either “Finance Committee Room (Rm 544)” or “Appropriations Committee Room (Rm 643)” to listen.
 
          The Department of Health and Human Services is still plagued with delays and backlogs caused by a variety of reasons. Computer system incompatibility, user errors, systemic issues and program glitches are among the problems that have brought the NC TRACKS and NC FAST technology programs to the forefront of the news for the past several months. Secretary Aldona Wos has appeared before the DHHS Oversight Committee several times to explain the issues with the programs and how the department is addressing them. Committee members, Republican and Democrat alike, have been asking the tough questions and holding the Secretary accountable. DHHS is a behemoth of a department with myriad responsibilities and part of the explanation for its performance issues may have something to do with having five different Secretaries over the last six years. When Secretary Wos accepted the position of leadership, she inherited a couple of technology system upgrades that had been initiated years before, but never fully implemented, to transition the functions of the department (food stamps, healthcare provider payments, etc.). The failure of previous administrations to finalize the installation of the system and begin the migration to the more efficient, less costly system, had been costing the taxpayers millions of dollars. Now that the two systems have been started, operational problems are manifesting, which to some extent, is to be expected. Secretary Wos feels confident that the department will have the programs within normal operational standards by the end of March. 
 
          The most recent news regarding the Department of Health and Human Services is in regards to their frantic efforts to meet a federal deadline. The Department must have all of their SNAP application and recertification backlog brought current by February 10th or face losing federal funding for the program. Although Rowan County is looking very good, the determinant is based on the statewide status. So far, Wake County has the most outstanding challenge but the total is declining quickly and the outstanding number is a very fluid amount. The Department has made tremendous gains over the last four weeks and has been giving members of the General Assembly weekly and daily updates on their progress.
 
          The highlight from the Unemployment Insurance Oversight Committee meeting was a report provided by Assistant Secretary Dale Folwell showing that the State has reduced its $2.8 billion debt to the federal government by .9 billion dollars. Due to changes in the Unemployment Benefits Program, expanding the tax base and raising the tax rate on business and operational changes in the department, made by Secretary Folwell, our State debt is now $1.9 billion.  Only California, New York and Pennsylvania had a FUTA debt greater than North Carolina. The State is on track to have the debt completely repaid by the end of 2015 – at least four years early!  If things continue at the current pace, by January 2016, we will have a surplus of nearly $1 billion in our SUTA surplus fund and the FUTA tax rate on employers will drop to just $42 on each employee’s first $7,000 of income. This will help tremendously on business recruitment and job creation, aiding our slowly recovering economy to speed up!
 
          Today I was appointed by the Speaker of the House to the “Joint Study Committee of the Affordable Care Act and Implementation Issues.”  I am looking forward to this undertaking and appreciate the opportunity to work with 45 other members of the House and Senate to determine the impacts that this federal mandate and its implementation will have on the citizens, employers and insurance industries of North Carolina.
 
 
          The General Assembly has officially completed its business for the 2013 long session.  The 2014 short session will begin on Wednesday, May 14, 2014.  In the meantime, I am reprinting material provided by the MVA Public Affairs Legislative Report on North Carolina (with their permission) which they provide to keep you up to date on the latest legislative issues facing the state during the interim. (Those committees highlighted in red indicate committees of which I serve as a member.)
 
COMMITTEE MEETINGS   (January 7 – January 16)
 
Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy
The Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy met on Tuesday, January 7. Paul Newton, President of Duke Energy North Carolina, gave an overview on Duke Energy and highlighted some emerging issues for the company.  The next portion of the meeting focused on Senate Bill 3 and renewable energy.  Heather Fennell with Research Division staff gave a legislative overview of Senate Bill 3.  Dan Conrad, an attorney with the NC Utilities Commission, and Christopher Ayers, Public Staff Executive Director for the NC Utilities Commission, gave an update on renewable energy in the regulatory process. Ivan Urlaub, Executive Director for the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, gave a presentation on renewable energy providers in North Carolina.
 
After the discussion on SB 3 and renewables, officials from various departments gave updates on a variety of issues.  Neal Robbins, Director of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources gave an update on the North Carolina Alternative Fuels Feasibility Study (S.L.2012-186).  Secretary of Administration Bill Daughtridge and Derek Graham, Section Chief of Transportation Services at DPI, gave a presentation on addition of propone fuel option to State’s schools bus bidding form.  Jennifer Mundt with Research Division gave a presentation on permitting of wind energy facilities in the State and Mitch Gillespie, Assistant Secretary for Environment at DENR, gave the state of the wind permitting process within DENR.  Finally, the last portion of the meeting focused on U.S. EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas emissions (carbon control) standards for new and existing power plants.  Dr. Don Van der Vaart, DENR Chief of Division of Air Quality Permitting Section, gave a briefing on proposed regulations and recently introduced Congressional legislation to repeal rules, and a presentation on testimony given to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power.
 
 
Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee
The Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee met on Tuesday, January 7. Anna Nelson, Project L.I.F.T. co-chair/Spangler Companies, Stick Williams, Project L.I.F.T. co-chair/Duke Energy Foundation and Denise Watts, Project L.I.F.T. Executive Director, gave the Committee an update on Project L.I.F.T.  Dr. Sharon Morrissey, Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer with the North Carolina Community College System and Dr. Suzanne Ortega, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs for the University of North Carolina, gave an overview and background on the comprehensive articulation agreement.  Dr. Lisa Chapman, Executive Vice President for Instruction/Chief Academic Officer for Central Carolina Community College and Dr. Marilyn Sheerer, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, East Carolina University gave an update on the work of the CAA Committee.
 
Dr. Scott Ralls, NC Community College System President, and Dr. Bill Carver, Nash Community College President, then gave a presentation on community college developmental math redesign.
 
Dr. Sharron Morrissey, Dr. Suzanne Ortega and Dr. Rebecca Garland, Chief Academic Officer at the Department of Public Instruction, gave the Committee an update on GPA calculations.
 
Randle Richardson and Angela Whitford-Narine with Accelerated Learning Solutions gave a presentation on ALS.
 
Finally, Dr. Alisa Chapman, Vice President of Academic and University Programs with UNC General Administration gave a presentation on teacher education preparation programs.
 
Joint Legislative Committee on Information Technology
The Joint Legislative Committee on Information Technology met on Tuesday, January 9. Members heard presentations on next generation secure driver’s license, an upcoming tech refresh and the government data analytics center.  Following the meeting, members took a tour of the SAS campus in Cary.  The Committee will hold its next meeting on February 6 at IBM's office in Durham.
 
Revenue Laws Study Committee
The Revenue Laws Study Committee met on Tuesday, January 14.  The Committee first heard a presentation from legislative staff about State business privilege taxes and the corporate franchise tax.  The presentation gave basic information on the structure of the taxes, how they are applied, and the fiscal impact of the taxes.  Next, the Committee heard from Chris McLaughlin with the UNC School of Government.  Mr. McLaughlin gave an overview of local business privilege taxes and specifically addressed recent actions by local governments to impose privilege taxes on operators of internet sweepstakes establishments.  Finally, the Committee heard from the Department of Revenue with respect to collection and compliance efforts and initiatives.  The Department requested authorizing legislation that would allow out-sourcing of in-state cases to private collection agencies, provide an increased budget for locator service contracts, and condition ABC retail permits on having a clean tax compliance record.
 
Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services
The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services met on Tuesday, January 14. The Committee first heard Health and Human Services Department Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos make an address regarding the Department’s recent challenges and successes. She went on to apologize for the error of incorrectly distributing children’s Medicaid cards. She further told the Committee that they are working with the USDA to resolve food stamp application issues. Wos also talked about the IT struggles of the department and blamed the federal health care rollout for problems the state is having with its NC FAST system.
 
Following Wos’ address, the Committee heard budget updates from the Fiscal Research Division, CFO of DHHS Rod Davis, and DHHS Division of Medical Assistance Director Sandy Terrell. They are still waiting on more data as they try to predict whether or not the Medicaid budget will run a deficit this year. Davis told the Committee that so far this year Medicaid is on budget, but there are risk factors that could affect that status before the fiscal year-end in June.
 
Director of the DHHS Division of Social Services Wayne Black gave reports on Child Protective services. Members of the Committee sought answers regarding the investigation of the handcuffing of an 11-year-old boy to the porch of his guardian’s home with a dead chicken around his neck. Legislators urged the DSS leaders to intervene and takeover the county’s investigation operations.
 
The Committee also heard reports regarding Accountable Care Organizations as well as Management of Emergency Closures of Residential Facilities.
 
Environmental Review Commission
The Environmental Review Commission met on Wednesday, January 15.  The Commission began by hearing an update on the work of a task force that is looking at the issue of regulatory review of work performed by professional engineers.  A question has arisen as to whether unlicensed reviewers in State and local government agencies may occasionally engage in the unauthorized practice of engineering when they review plans for compliance with various regulatory programs.  Next, the Commission heard an update on activities at the Bingham Facility at UNC.  The Bingham Facility houses animals used in medical research.  An expansion of the facility in the last part of the last decade resulted in several environmental violations.  The Commission heard an update on remediation efforts, current activities at the facility, and the impact on nearby landowners.  Third, the Commission heard from representatives of local governments and of various industry groups about the impact of local environmental regulations.  Local governments pointed out that some local environmental regulation is necessary to comply with State or federal law and that it may be more efficient to address particular local circumstances.  Industry representatives provided examples where local environmental regulation had a significant impact on commerce.  Next, the Commission heard an update from the chair of the Environmental Management Commission on that entity’s structure and recent activities.  Finally, the Commission heard a report on  the State Water Supply Plan from Tom Reeder with the Division of Water Resources, Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
 
Joint Legislative Emergency Management Oversight Committee
The Joint Legislative Emergency Management Oversight Committee met on Thursday, January 16.  The Committee began by hearing additional reports on the make-up of North Carolina’s emergency management infrastructure.  The Committee heard several presentations on this subject at its initial meeting in November, but heard additional reports from the Division of Emergency Programs at the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Division of Emergency Management at the Department of Public Safety, and the Division of Public Health at the Department of Health and Human Services.  These reports focused on the role of each of these entities in the State’s plan for emergency management.  The Committee also heard from three private organizations that are very active in emergency response in the State – the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and the North Carolina Baptist Men.  A representative of the State Highway Patrol provided an overview of the State’s VIPER system.  VIPER (Voice Interoperability Plan for Emergency Responders) allows federal, State, and local emergency officials to communicate with one another seamlessly.  Finally, the Committee heard a report from the Department of Public Safety on the use of inmate labor in disaster recovery efforts.
 
Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety
The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety met on Thursday, January 16.  The majority of the meeting addressed the issue of the provision of health care to inmates in North Carolina.  The Committee heard from legislative staff on costs associated with inmate health care and recent legislative efforts to contain those costs.  Next, the Committee heard a report from the Department of Public Safety on specific challenges faced with respect to inmate health care, including staffing shortages and the specific needs of an aging prison population.  Next the Committee heard an update on new probation and parole positions.  The update primarily focused on efforts to fill those positions and where the positions had been located.  Finally, the Committee heard from the Governor’s Crime Commission on the work of that Commission, particularly with respect to the administration of grants.
 
COMMITTEE MEETINGS (January 20 – January 31)
 
Market Based Solutions and Elimination of Anti-Competitive Practices in Health Care
On Tuesday, January 21, the Committee on Market Based Solutions and Elimination of Anti-Competitive Practices in Health Care met in Raleigh.  The Committee began by hearing a presentation from legislative staff on the history of health planning and certificate of need (CON) laws.  The presentation focused not only on actions within North Carolina, but also on how this issue has been addressed nationally. Presentations by legislative staff included comparisons to other states’ actions with respect to CON and other actions designed to ensure availability, affordability, and adequacy of health care facilities.  Next, Drexdall Pratt with the Department of Health and Human Services gave the Committee an overview of how the CON process works in North Carolina.  Following these presentations, the Committee heard about specific issues with the CON law as it applies to ambulatory surgical centers.  The Committee heard from several physicians and other operators of ambulatory surgical centers in North Carolina.  This was followed by a presentation that compared the experience of North Carolina operators with those doing business in Georgia, which has a less restrictive CON law with respect to ambulatory surgical centers.  Finally, the Committee heard a summary of the latest version of H 177 from legislative staff.  That bill would loosen CON laws in North Carolina, particularly with respect to ambulatory surgical centers.
 
Committee on Health Care Provider Practice Sustainability and Training/Additional Transparency in Health Care
The Committee on Health Care Provider Practice Sustainability and Training/Additional Transparency in Health Care met on Tuesday, January 21.  The Committee began by hearing about trends in the overall supply and distribution of optometrists in North Carolina and how these trends have been negatively impacted by the lack of a school of optometry in the State or special arrangements to reserve spots in out-of-State schools for North Carolina students.  This presentation was followed by a broader presentation that addressed trends in the supply and distribution of other health care professionals.  North Carolina has fewer health care professionals than the national average for most categories.  For most categories, these professionals also tend to be more heavily concentrated in urban areas of the State.  Following this discussion, the Committee heard several presentations on chiropractic coverage under various health plans, including the State Health Plan, and treatment outcomes associated with chiropractic care.  This was followed by presentations describing some of the difficulties in comparing both cost and quality of care in the health care industry.
 
House Committee on Education Innovation
The House Committee on Education Innovation held its second meeting of the interim on Wednesday, January 22 in Charlotte at the Project L.I.F.T Academy.  Prior to the meeting, members and staff toured Druid Hills Elementary and Ranson Middle School in the Project L.I.F.T. zone to see firsthand the innovative strategies teachers and students are using to help improve education in the region. Following the school tours, members held their regular business meeting where they heard from Project L.I.F.T. Superintendent Denise Watts, Gaston County Superintendent Jeffery Booker and Union County Superintendent Mary Ellis on innovative practices in use in their communities.  The next meeting will be held on February 19 in Raleigh.
 
House Committee on Banking Law Amendments
The House Committee on Banking Law Amendments met on Thursday, January 23.  The Committee began with an overview of the Office of the Commissioner of Banks presented by Commissioner Ray Grace.  The presentation began with a broad overview of the history and responsibilities of the Commission and then more narrowly focused on the history and responsibility of the Commission with respect to regulation of mortgage licensees.  The Committee next heard from representatives of the independent mortgage license industry.  The two areas of specific concern raised during this meeting were whether a representative of this industry should have a dedicated position on the State Banking Commission (a representative of the industry currently serves on the Commission, but in a position designated for a “public member” that need not have particular expertise or experience) and the assessments imposed on mortgage brokers, lenders and services to cover the costs of regulation by the Office of the Commissioner of Banks.
 
LRC Study Committee on Cultural and Natural Resources
The Legislative Research Commission Study Committee on Cultural and Natural Resources held is first meeting of the interim on Thursday, January 23.  The Committee is charged with developing an inventory of natural and cultural resources owned or operated by the State; performing an analysis of assets in other states and the federal level to compare management, operation acquisition and divestiture strategies; and lastly, consider strategies that can lower operational maintenance costs and increase revenues.  After an inventory overview by staff, representatives from Cultural Resources, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Wildlife Resources Commission and the Department of Agriculture discussed the inventories of their respective agencies.  Wrapping up the meeting was a presentation from the Program Evaluation Division on potential operational changes for State attractions that could yield savings of up to $2 million annually.  The Committee will hold its next meeting on Thursday, February 20.
 
Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on HHS - Subcommittee on Mental Health
The Mental Health Subcommittee of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services held their first meeting of the interim on Friday, January 24.  The Committee is tasked with studying progress on mental health reform, continuum of care in the system, capacity in State facilities and existing local supports for community health needs.  After introductions and an overview of the Committee charge by staff, members heard presentations on the Mental Health System of Services, and Issues relating to the State’s public and private psychiatric health facilities.  The Committee will hold its next meeting on Monday, February 24.
 
Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations
The Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations met Tuesday, January 28. The Commission heard first from the Department of Commerce. Secretary Sharon Decker and Interim CEO Richard Lindenmuth updated the commission on the status of the Economic Development Partnership of NC, Inc. In an effort ensure a smooth transition, the Commerce officials reported that they are slowing down the planned transition process and won’t begin moving divisions to the partnership until at least July 2014. As a result, the General Assembly will convene for the Short Session prior to the transition start, giving members another opportunity to weigh in on the move.
 
Dr. June Atkinson, State Superintendent of Public Education, and county superintendents from Beaufort and Davie County schools spoke to the Commission regarding the implementation of the Read to Achieve program. Atkinson said that the new method of assessing third-graders’ reading level puts added pressure on students and teachers and will require a many of those students to attend weeks-long summer reading camps in order to be promoted to the fourth grade. She believes the large number of tests required by the legislation is causing lower morale amongst teachers and too much stress for students who are losing interest in school due to so much testing.
 
The Commission also heard updates about trends in Medicaid spending and data, state revenue, and expenditures from statewide reserves.
 
IN THE NEWS
 
News & Observer: Cooper takes on McCrory, GOP lawmakers in new video
Charlotte Observer: GOP Senate candidates call for limited government
Fayetteville Observer: Lawyer Stokes to seek Franks' Cumberland District Court judge seat
Citizen Times: MacQueen makes bid for Congress
Independent Tribune: Harrisburg businesswoman to challenge Pittman for NC House seat
News & Observer: Lenovo strikes $2.9 billion deal for Google’s Motorola handset unit
WRAL: Commerce slows transition to public-private partnership
WRAL: Tillis: Teacher, state employee raises in budget mix
News & Observer: Amazon’s decision to collect NC sales taxes could mean $20M to $30M for state
Charlotte Observer: Ex-anchor Vince Coakley enters congressional race
Star News: Kure Beach mayor sees backlash for seismic testing support
News & Observer: Governor restarts advisory business council
News & Observer: NC Revenue Department agreed not to disparage company behind $85 million failed tax software system
Star News: Gov. McCrory tours site of future pellet facility
Charlotte Observer: New N.C. jobs plan headed to McCrory's desk
Press Release: Lewis Hannah Announces Candidacy for North Carolina House Run
AP: Hagan to get rival in Democratic primary in NC
News-Record: Davis announces run for 6th Congressional District
News-Record: Jeff Phillips to run for Howard Coble's seat
 
CALENDAR
Tue, February 04, 2014
10:00 AM
Joint Legislative Administrative Procedure Oversight Committee
544 LOB
10:00 AM
Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee
643 LOB
1:00 PM
Joint Legislative Workforce Development System Reform Oversight Committee
544 LOB
1:30 PM
Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy -- CORRECTED
643 LOB

Wed, February 05, 2014
10:00 AM
Task Force Against Fraud in Older Adults
1027/1128 LB
10:00 AM
Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Unemployment Insurance
544 LOB

Thu, February 06, 2014
9:00 AM
Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Information Technology
544 LOB
10:00 AM
Joint Legislative Economic Development and Global Engagement Oversight Committee
643 LOB
2:00 PM
Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Information Technology
IBM Main Campus, 1 Davis Drive, Durham, NC 27709

Fri, February 07, 2014
9:00 AM
Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee
1228/1327 LB

Tue, February 11, 2014
9:30 AM
Revenue Laws Study Committee
544 LOB
10:00 AM
Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services
643 LOB

Wed, February 12, 2014
9:30 AM
Environmental Review Commission
643 LOB
10:00 AM
Perinatal Health Committee
1027/1128 LB
12:00 PM
Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services, Public Guardianship Subcommittee -- CORRECTED
1228/1327 LB
1:00 PM
Purchase and Contract Study Committee (2013)
544 LOB

Thu, February 13, 2014
1:00 PM
Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety
643 LOB

Mon, February 17, 2014
10:00 AM
House Committee on Treasurer Investment Targets and State Employee Retirement Options (LRC)(2013)
1027/1128 LB

Tue, February 18, 2014
9:00 AM
Committee on Market Based Solutions and Elimination of Anti-Competitive Practices in Health Care (LRC)(2013)
643 LOB

Wed, February 19, 2014
9:30 AM
Agriculture and Forestry Awareness Study Commission
Eastern North Carolina
1:00 PM
Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee
544 LOB

Thu, February 20, 2014
9:30 AM
Committee on the Assessment of Regulated and Non-Regulated Industry Utility Fees (LRC)(2013)
544 LOB
10:00 AM
Committee on Common Core State Standards (LRC)(2013)
643 LOB

Mon, February 24, 2014
10:00 AM
Intentional Death Health Committee
1027/1128 LB

Mon, March 10, 2014
10:00 AM
Unintentional Death Committee
1027/1128 LB

Mon, April 07, 2014
10:00 AM
Child Fatality Task Force
1027/1128 LB
 
           I hope you enjoy this newsletter and find it helpful. I will continue to send you updates of the activities of the General Assembly, as they occur.
 
          I would like to take this time to again, thank you for the opportunity to represent District 77 in the State House.

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