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Sept. 4, 2015

Budget leaders to labor over holiday weekend

With two weeks left until the expiration of the latest continuing resolution, budget leaders in the House and Senate continued working this week and will remain in Raleigh over the long weekend to negotiate a compromise biennial budget. While the two chambers agreed to a spending target of $21.74 billion two weeks ago, they are still working out the details including education and health and human services funding. On Monday, the Senate offered a plan that would continue last year’s driver’s education and teacher assistant funding, but would eliminate local flexibility to direct TA money to other needs like supplies and teachers. The House has traditionally supported this flexibility. House leadership has not indicated if they will accept this plan.

Late this week budget leaders floated a proposal to increase dredging funds and build more terminal groin erosion control structures. Included in this proposal would be a set-aside from the gas tax for dredging and inlet maintenance that would raise about $11 million. This would align with NCACC General Government Goal 3 to support new or expanded state funding streams for infrastructure, including inlet management. In addition to the budget, the House and Senate are still working out differences on a finance package, Medicaid reform and a bond proposal, all of which will likely extend the session beyond the conclusion of the budget negotiations.

House, Senate to consider combining primary elections


On Wednesday, the House failed to concur with H373 (2016 Presidential Primary) as approved by the Senate earlier this session. In its current form, H373 provides for two primary elections to be held in the spring of 2016. The presidential primary would take place on March 15, and the other statewide primaries would take place in May. The bill also requires the respective parties to vote as a block at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions for the candidate receiving the most votes in that party’s primary. 

The House voted not to concur in order for lawmakers to address a technical matter regarding early voting and to consider whether to move all primaries to the March 15 date to save money. The State Board of Elections reports that the additional estimated cost to counties of conducting a separate presidential primary is approximately $9.5 million. H373 now goes to a conference committee to work through these issues.  
 

Court of Appeals finds misdemeanant jail funding unconstitutional

The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the way the state is funding the Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Program (SMCP) violates the state constitution.

Prior to the Justice Reinvestment Act in 2011, people convicted of misdemeanors with sentences of 91-180 days served their sentences in state prisons. The legislation set up the SMCP, a program that allows counties with extra space to voluntarily house these prisoners and be reimbursed by the state for their expenses. The SMCP was funded by two new court costs, an $18 court cost for all district court convictions and a $50 cost for all improper equipment convictions.

The Richmond County Board of Education sued over the $50 surcharge on improper equipment violations being put into the jail fund, arguing that the North Carolina constitution requires that "the clear proceeds of all penalties and forfeitures and of all fines collected ... for any breach of the penal laws" are to be "used exclusively for maintaining free public schools."

A Superior Court judge sided with the school board last year. The state appealed the decision, but a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the surcharge is punitive in nature, so it is essentially a fine. The judges also ordered that the money collected from the surcharge be paid to the Richmond County Clerk of Superior Court, which would then forward the proceeds to the school district.

It appears that both chambers of the General Assembly anticipated that the NC Court of Appeals may uphold the lower court’s decision of unconstitutionality in this case. Both the House and Senate appropriated $22.5 million to the Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Fund in their budgets stating that, “This fund was previously supported by court costs that were transferred directly to the fund.”

According to the latest SMCP annual report provided to the legislature by the N.C. Sheriff's Association, 56 counties were housing prisoners under the SMCP as of July 1, 2014, and those counties received more than $9.6 million in payments during the 2013-14 fiscal year.

In an article in the Richmond Daily Journal, Rep. John Faircloth said that Richmond County courts had contributed more than $260,000 to the fund since its inception and that the statewide total is close to $43 million.

This Week at the General Assembly

This Week at the General Assembly is produced regularly while the General Assembly in in session. Visit our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/ncacc1908 or our website to view the latest episode of This Week at the General Assembly.

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