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News & Press: Updates for Members

2019 Legislative Session Wrap Up

Monday, December 16, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Kay Castillo
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It seems strange issuing a legislative wrap up in December when the legislative session started eleven months ago! North Carolina is one of eleven states that does not have limits on how long legislative sessions can last. This means legislators are not bound to having a certain number of days to wrap up their legislative work. The past few years, legislators have been adjourning by the Fourth of July, but a budget stalemate and chamber disagreements meant legislators were in session much longer than usual this year.

 

Despite a few breaks throughout the year, legislators adjourned at the end of October and returned a week and a half later to address redistricting. After this, legislators adjourned for the year with a date to come back on January 14, 2020.

 

What did legislators do and not do this legislative session? Here are highlights of NASW-NC’s two biggest bills that passed:

 

NASW-NC Saved Clinical Social Work Licensure: That’s right! NASW-NC worked to pass legislation that would bring our state into compliance with how the national clinical social work exam is administered. Starting in 2021, you will need to complete your supervision hours as an Associate licensee before sitting for the clinical exam. Without this change, North Carolina would no longer have been able to administer the clinical licensure exam, meaning that social workers in North Carolina would no longer have been able to become fully licensed. In this same legislation, we supported changes to the licensed clinical addiction specialist licensing law that updated their language to substance use disorder (instead of substance abuse). This legislation would not have passed if NASW-NC had not taken the lead in lobbying efforts. PLEASE READ THIS AGAIN. Share the good news that NASW-NC is working hard to protect the social work profession and EVERY social worker should be members of NASW!

 

A one-year deadline extension for providers to connect to the state’s Health Information Exchange Authority was signed into law: NASW-NC’s lobbying was instrumental in pushing the deadline back for providers who receive state funds to connect to North Carolina’s Health Information Exchange Authority (HIEA) by one year. Originally, providers had to be connected to the state’s HIEA by June 1, 2019 and submit client data using an electronic health record. This deadline was delayed to June 1, 2020. Extensions can be granted to December 31, 2022 per the legislation and NASW-NC is working on the extension requirements. We will continue to share news and updates with members about this important practice update.

 

Other bills that passed and were signed into law or vetoed that NASW-NC tracked:

SB 86 Small Business Health Care Act: This legislation sets up small business health care options. These are often referred to as “junk health plans,” as consumers often don’t know what kind of services they are purchasing. While the plans will be directed to offer pre-existing conditions, they do not have to offer essential health benefits like mental health services. The legislation passed and the bill became law without the Governor’s signature due to the bipartisan nature of the bill. NASW-NC and partners will work with the Department of Insurance, who will oversee these plans, to advocate for the inclusion of essential benefits.

 

SB 359 Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act: This bill would impose harsh penalties on any doctor that does not attempt to save the life of a baby that is born alive despite an abortion attempt. Lack of statistics of this happening helped with the opposition throughout the bill’s journey through the legislature. NASW-NC opposed this bill. The bill was vetoed by Governor Cooper and only the Senate was successful in overriding the veto. Therefore, the veto stands, and this bill did not become law.

 

SB 683 Combat Absentee Ballot Fraud: This bill restores the last Saturday of absentee voting, provides pre-paid postage for absentee ballots that are mailed in for elections in 2020, requires requests for absentee ballots be completed and returned by the requestor and with photo identification attached, and it would enhance the penalties for fraud among absentee ballots, as well as create new crimes for selling completed request forms or receiving payment based on the number of forms returned. The bill was signed into law by Governor Cooper in November.

 

HB 474 Death by Distribution: This bill will impose harsher penalties for those who deal drugs to someone that then dies by overdose. Many advocates fear the law would have a negative impact on North Carolina’s Good Samaritan Law. NASW-NC openly opposed this bill as it harms people living with addiction. The bill was signed into law by the Governor in July.

 

What’s left for special sessions and the upcoming short session in May 2020?

First and foremost on everyone’s mind: when will we get a state budget? Budgets are put into place on July 1. Since we did not pass a state budget, North Carolina is operating on last year’s spending levels until a budget is approved. Because of this, and the inability to spend new money, the legislature passed several mini budgets including one to fund Raise the Age which went into effect December 1, 2019, a one-time increase in funding for teachers and support staff to go into effect in January 2020, and one for school safety grants. Click here to view NASW-NC’s budget priorities.

 

What is the bad news of not having a state budget? Medicaid Transformation has been suspended indefinitely. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services had to make this decision in early November to not go live in February. The Department is still committed to transforming Medicaid but will wait until state funds are in place to move forward successfully.

 

With Medicaid Expansion not a full possibility, House members drafted a North Carolina solution to the health insurance coverage gap, House Bill 655. This bill would require insurance premiums, wellness activities and health checks, and work requirements. The bill picked up traction in the House and was heard in committee several times. However, the bill was never taken up for a vote by the House and the Senate continued to express disinterest in passing any sort of Medicaid expanding program. Since the bill is related to funding, it can be taken up in 2020.

 

Other bills awaiting action by the NC Senate

HB 511 North Carolina First Step Act: This bill would allow for a sentencing court to use discretion when sentencing for drug trafficking offenses instead of adhering to present minimum and maximum sentencing mandates. It would also allow for a person sentenced with a trafficking offense to file a motion to have their sentence modified and be released on post-release supervision if they meet certain conditions. The bill passed the House and is awaiting Senate action.   

HB 613 Essential Services for Homeless Youth: The bill allows for unaccompanied homeless youth to receive behavioral health services- as well as optometry and dentistry- without a legal guardian present. North Carolina Public Schools identified 2,650 unaccompanied homeless youth enrolled in school in the 2016-17 school year. The bill allows for documentation of homeless status from a school social worker as well as several others listed in the bill to be acceptable for the youth to receive services. NASW-NC worked with Representative Susan Fisher from Buncombe to get this legislation introduced. The bill passed the House in May and awaits action by the Senate.

 

HB 796 Emotional Support Animals- Rental Units: This legislation requires rental units to make reasonable accommodations for those with a disability who have a medically approved emotional support animal (ESA). Under the bill, LCSWs can verify a person's disability status and need for an ESA so long as they have professional knowledge of the person's condition. They may not charge additional fees for providing a written verification for a person's disability status and need for an ESA. The legislation is an attempt to allow ESAs to be used seriously and established with a provider instead of paying a fee to an online company that anyone has access to. This bill passed the House and awaits action by the Senate.

 

Other Advocacy Work

Banning Conversion Therapy: a trend across the country, NASW-NC worked with partners to introduce several pro-LGBT bills including a ban on conversion therapy for minors. Unfortunately, the bill did not receive a hearing. The Governor later signed Executive Order 97 which prohibits state funding from going to any organization performing conversion therapy. NASW-NC will continue to work with our licensing board and other stakeholders to ban conversion therapy.

 

Redistricting: with the roller coaster of the budget stalemate, redistricting also came into play this legislative session. In September, a three-judge panel ruled that some state legislative districts needed to be redrawn quickly because they were drawn unfairly. Legislators quickly redrew districts and the Court approved them later. In October, another court decision was made that Congressional districts needed to also be redrawn. The Court ruled to allow the use of these newly draw maps to move forward for the 2020 elections. If you’re an NASW-NC member, you can read more about redistricting and why it’s of concern to social workers in the NASW-NC November/December/January 2019-2020 newsletter!

 

NASW-NC works on behalf of the social work profession on a variety of issues. It is a member benefit provided by NASW-NC to have a registered lobbyist advancing and supporting the profession of social work in North Carolina. The North Carolina Chapter works with National NASW on Federal issues such as reimbursement rates, immigration, student loans, and more. Your membership dues help support our advocacy efforts every day on the state and federal levels. Thank YOU for being a member and staying engaged in supporting the social work profession.

 

We need you. If you are a social worker and not a member of your professional association we ask that you to join to support the advocacy efforts on behalf of your profession. Click here to join today!


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