March 27, 2015 Legislative Update
In This Issue…
- Busy Week on Jones Street Concludes with Senate Bill Deadline
- PENC-Requested Bills to Require Duty-Free Time to be Heard March 31
- Agreement Reached on Gas Tax Changes/Restoration of Teacher Tax Deduction
- State Health Plan Fix for Rehired Retired Workers OK’d by Senate
The week of March 23 saw a flurry of activity, culminating with more than 200 Senate bills filed in one day. The General Assembly imposes deadlines at certain points during the legislative session to create a structure and manage the scores of bills lawmakers introduce. While hundreds of bills are filed each legislative session, a much smaller percentage of those are actually heard, even less are enacted into law. March 26 was the first such deadline for Senators. In order for their bills to be considered during the two year session, they must have been introduced by the 3:00 PM March 26 deadline.
Among the hundreds of Senate bills filed the day of the deadline are:
- A bill that would restrict political speech at schools (S468)
- A bill that would require repayment for academic remediation at community colleges (S523)
- A bill that would designate the Linville Caverns Spider as the State’s Official Spider (S559)
PENC tracks bills that affect teachers, retired teachers, education matters and bills that address the state spending. And, PENC monitors amendments closely because they are a way to circumvent whatever deadlines appear in the Senate and House rules.
The House Education/K-12 Committee is slated to hear two PENC-supported bills at its meeting on March 31.
H238, Duty Free Time/Lunch for Teachers, was introduced at PENC’s request by Representatives Jeffrey Elmore (R-Wilkes), Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland) and Bryan Holloway (R-Stokes). The bill requires that educators be provided daily duty-free planning time and lunch time during regular school hours. The bill provides an exception to the provision of daily duty-free time in the event of emergency situations that affect student safety.
Opponents, including the NC School Boards Association and the NC Association of School Administrators, argue that a law is already in effect with such requirements. The bill aims to strengthen the current law, which PENC members report is often ignored. The current law is much less prescriptive and provides more liberal exceptions that prevent teachers from receiving adequate duty-free time. This bill would narrow the exceptions and remove a loophole that would allow lack of funding to be a reason that teachers would not receive duty-free planning time. PENC supports H238 and encourages PENC members to contact their House members to respectfully encourage support for the bill.
H358, School Performance Grade Scale, was introduced on March 25 by Representatives Linda Johnson (R-Cabarrus), Bryan Holloway (R-Stokes) and Craig Horn (R-Union.) The bill would extend the current 15-point school grade scale for two more school years. Although the bill does not address the weighting of schools’ 80 per cent performance and 20 per cent growth by imposing what PENC believes is a better balance, the bill does extend a more reasonable grading scale. Extending the scale for two more years provides time to work on a grading scale that is more accurately reflective of how a school serves its students and community. PENC supports H358, which is clearly on a “fast track” for passage before the expiration of the current scale.
A plan that would address road funding by amending North Carolina’s tax on gas has apparently been agreed upon by the Senate and House – S20, IRC Update/Motor Fuels Tax Changes. Other than affecting what PENC members pay at the gas pump; the bill is relevant to PENC members because the measure contains a provision to restore the $250 tax deduction for teachers’ out of pocket expenses on classroom supplies.
The tax exemption was eliminated when state lawmakers revised North Carolina’s state tax code, but was effectively retained as a part of federal tax policy. With this change, teachers may use the deduction during the 2014 tax year because S20 will tie North Carolina’s policy for the deduction with the federal tax policy, maintaining the deduction for teachers’ out of pocket expenses for classroom supplies. Moving forward, however; unless the federal tax deduction is maintained by an act of Congress, it will expire in the future.
The agreement is slated to be voted upon by the Senate and House on March 30 and would then go to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature.
The North Carolina Senate approved S6, State Health Plan/Rehired Retiree Eligibility on March 25. The bill would require retired-rehired employees to be covered by the State Health Plan under the regular Plan options (Traditional 70/30, Enhanced 80/20, or Consumer Directed Health Plan), with the employer paying the employee premium. The change was triggered when retired-rehired employees who returned to work for 30 hours or more per week were faced with changing their health coverage due to federal conditions set by Medicare and/or the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The General Assembly’s fiscal staff summary states the conditions below:
Two federal laws impact the coverage that the State must offer its employees:
- The Affordable Care Act imposes a penalty on any employer that does not offer affordable minimum essential coverage to its full-time employees. The law generally defines full-time as working 30 or more hours per week, but the regulations allow some flexibility in how an employer determines full-time status for those whose hours vary.
- Medicare secondary-payer law, in place since 1980, forbids employers from refusing to cover, offering different coverage, restricting coverage, or in other ways discriminating against employees who are on Medicare. It also requires the employer’s plan to be primary (pay first) if the employee elects to be covered in the employer’s plan. These requirements do not apply to someone whose only relationship to the employer is as a retiree.
S6 would allow retired-rehired employees to work and move to the appropriate State Health Plan offering, with the employing entity absorbing the cost for the benefit. When the retired-rehired employee retired again, they would revert back to their retiree benefit under the State Health Plan and/or Medicare. The bill awaits consideration by the House.
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Submitted by Evelyn Hawthorne
For information about specific issues, please contact PENC government relations consultant Evelyn Hawthorne at email@example.com.