The General Assembly passed legislation this year that allows families to install accessory housing on their property to care for older and ailing family members. The legislation, House Bill 625, received unanimous votes in both the House and Senate and was signed into law by Governor McCrory in August.
These housing units, called “Temporary Family Health Care Structures,” are self-contained tiny homes that provide elderly parents privacy, independence, comfort, and health security while allowing family members to provide on-site care-giving. They have a standard bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom — all the features of both a small apartment and a well-equipped hospital room. The prefab cottages are designed to be placed temporarily on a relative’s property and can be connected to the utilities and plumbing of the primary residence, much like a recreational vehicle.
“Older adults have their own living space and privacy, which has the potential to reduce much of the stress associated with caring for aging parents,” said Bernard A. Steinman, senior research associate at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts.1
According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), 23 million families care for their elderly parents in America, and many of them have to choose between moving them into a nursing home or letting aging parents live alone. “One of the greatest fears we have when we age is being isolated from our families,” said Rev. Kenneth J. Dupin, founder and CEO of N2Care, a company that manufactures prefab cottages.
Temporary family health care structures are defined in the law as a residence that can be placed only on the properties of single-family homes and occupied only by a relative who is physically or mentally impaired, as certified by a physician.
“This bipartisan legislation will provide an alternative for families to care for loved ones on their own property, instead of placing them in hospitals or other state facilities,” said Governor McCrory. “I’m proud to sign this bill that will make it easier for people with disabilities to live or reside with their families while receiving the care they need.”
HB625 requires that a city or county issue a permit for temporary family health care structures in districts zoned for single-family housing as long as the dwelling meets state structural standards and certain other zoning regulations. Subject to existing deed restrictions or neighborhood covenants, the structures must also be less than 300 square feet and conform to local regulations governing setbacks. Only one structure is allowed per lot, no signage is allowed, and the structure must be removed within 60 days after the occupant passes away, moves, or no longer requires care.
Localities may charge up to $100 for the permit and up to $50 to renew annually and may make periodic inspections at the caregiver’s convenience to ensure ongoing compliance. The structure is exempted from the strict health and sanitation regulations regarding establishments which provide food and lodging, nor are they required to comply with the social service licensing and regulatory provisions related to adult care homes.2 The structure will be treated as real property for zoning and building code purposes, but it is treated as personal property for tax purposes.3
The following is a guest post by Sarah Curry of the John Locke Foundation:
It is an election year, and that means our televisions and radio are littered with campaign ads. Advertisements try to persuade you to vote for candidates based upon their morals, past experience, community involvement, and ability to influence or pass legislation. Or they attack with a sensational fact designed to make you think poorly of an opponent as a candidate. I am not here to tell you who to vote for, but I do want to shed some light on an ad that I’ve seen that doesn’t get the facts right regarding the North Carolina budget.
If you watch the commercials, they are both focused around elementary school teachers and students, so naturally you think the budget figure they are referring to is a cut in K-12 education. That is incorrect; they are talking about ALL education spending in the state, which includes K-12 education as well as the University System and the Community College System.
Another thing to remember, they are only looking at the state’s General Fund, so that does not include any spending on education from the federal government, local governments, lottery dollars, grants, or any of the other multiple revenue sources that fund education in North Carolina.
So where does the $500 million figure come from? Each year the state budget writers create a continuation budget, but it is not a real spending figure. Rather, it is simply a calculated amount based upon prior year actual spending, requested increases from state agencies, adjustments for inflation, mandatory rate increases, and expected operation costs of new facilities. The $500 million figure is the continuation budget minus the enacted budget voted on in the legislature.
The problem with this calculation is that these two budget figures do not measure the same thing. The State’s budget law mandates a transfer of funds to occur after the budget is signed into law, and this transferred money pays for salary increases, retirement benefits, and health care benefits for state employees. The enacted budget at the agency level does not include the whole amount spent, because it doesn’t include those elements. Since the continuation budget includes the previous year’s actual spending amount, it does include all of those pieces. This causes the continuation budget figure to be inflated by the reserve transfer amount when compared to the enacted budget. A historical evaluation shows that the continuation budget has been higher than actual spending for all three areas of education (K-12, UNC System, and Community Colleges) during the last four years.
The simple explanation is that the $500 million figure is essentially an apples-to-oranges comparison. I have collected the enacted budget figures from the last seven years. I chose this timeframe to include data from the last recession. The state budget had to be cut during this time to reflect a decrease in tax revenue to the state, so I thought this would give a truer picture of what has happened with education spending in North Carolina. The commercials say, “Speaker Thom Tillis cut almost $500 million from education.” Thom Tillis has been speaker since the 2011-2012 fiscal year, when the first budget was passed under his leadership, until the most recent budget that was passed in the 2014-2015 fiscal year. If we look at all the budgets under his leadership, total education spending increased by nearly $1 billion, if we look at the most recent budget cycle, it increased by a little over $700 million.
The enacted budgets show a clear cut during the recession, which occurred across the country for many states in response to considerable unemployment and lack of state revenue. Since the Republicans took control of the legislature, overall spending in education has increased every year.
There are many arguments one might make about this finding, such as that spending had to increase due to the cuts that took place during the recession or that the spending increases that did take place were not used in the most effective way. Those arguments may be valid, but I am not trying to open new arguments, only to present the facts. When you use the same type of budget data year-after-year and compare spending levels, it is clear that there were no cuts to education spending in North Carolina.
So, did Thom Tillis cut education spending by $500 million? No, that is false. These advertisements are misleading voters, and in the information age we live in today, it is unacceptable to be promoting a fact about a candidate that is false when the data is so easily accessible.
The preceding article, written by Sarah Curry, and was first published by the John Locke Foundation on September 18, 2014 and reappears here with permission. Ms. Curry is Director of Fiscal Policy Studies at the John Locke Foundation.
House Bill 1220 is named in honor of 6 year-old Haley Ward from Carteret County, who suffers from CDLK-5, a disorder which causes dozens of intractable daily seizures. After being prescribed over ten medications with little progress, the Ward family began seeking alternative treatments that might allow Haley to improve her cognitive and physical development. The most promising alternative treatment discovered to-date is known as CBD oil, a substance extracted from cannabis that has minimal levels of THC and causes no psychotropic effects. This substance is engineered to maximize therapeutic qualities and negate the psychotropic qualities associated with recreational drug use. Extremely promising results have been reported in other states and Haley’s parents have seen dramatic improvements through the use of CBD oil.
Prior to the passage of this law, the use of CBD oil to treat seizure disorders was illegal in North Carolina. This legislation, through cutting edge research and careful use by approved medical facilities, allows families to pursue treatment through CBD oil. This legislation allows for the innovative research and use of CBD oil in children suffering from uncontrollable seizures. Through cutting-edge research and development, this law allows desperately needed relief for children with these disorders so that they don’t have to travel to other states for treatment.
CBD oil is hemp extract engineered for maximum therapeutic qualities and minimal levels of THC, which causes no psychotropic effects. It is scientifically not possible for patients to get “high” from consuming CBD oil.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently granted orphan drug designation to GW Pharmaceutical’s cannabis-based drug, Epidiolex. While this is not FDA approval, orphan drug status is granted to drugs that are intended to treat rare disorders.
This law directs DHHS, in conjunction with Department of Public Safety, to develop an Intractable Epilepsy Alternative Treatment Pilot Study database registry to document pilot studies, neurologist, caregivers and patient programs using hemp extract to treat these disorders.
Participation in the registry would exempt neurologists, caregivers, and patients from State criminal liability for the possession, use, and administration of hemp extract for the limited purpose of treating intractable epilepsy.
The recently passed Regulatory Reform Act of 2014 (SB734) will give community college students an opportunity to get a more complete education in the art, science and business of brewing beer — including sell their product on campus.
Beer brewing programs have been started at several of North Carolina’s community colleges to “meet a demand as the craft beer industry has grown to almost 100 craft brewers in this state,” said Keith Elliott, Department Chair of the Rockingham Community College Center for Brewing Sciences in the town of Wentworth, North Carolina. “These companies were needing the technicians trained in brewing technology and so this program was designed to meet that demand.”
The change in the law was driven by a dilemma at App State — students there were churning out hundreds of gallons of fine brew in their brewing and fermentation programs, but until this new law was passed, our state’s alcohol laws forbade its sale. Brewing the beer on campus was legal as long as it was used for research and educational purposes by a university. But selling that beer was a different matter.1
SB734 now allows our colleges to obtain a license to sell their delicious malt beverages (at retail and wholesale), with the proceeds going to support the school’s brewing, distillation, and fermentation programs. The bill also lets students offer on-campus tastings and hold up to six special events featuring their beer. They can also market their products to the public by selling it at local festivals as well as to one retailer in their county.2
Trent Mohrbutter, Nash County Community College chief academic officer says, “If a group of students produce a brew and have people sample or even a group of individuals could purchase what they’ve produced, I don’t know that we can put a dollar figure on that, in terms of what that means to students, their success, their ability to move forward with their dreams and their passions.”3
North Carolina has unofficially become the craft beer capital of the South and is home to more than 50 craft breweries — more than any other Southern state. For four years in a row (2009-2012), the city of Asheville was voted “Beer City USA” by the website examiner.com and is considered one of the top craft-beer cities in the nation, with some 50 local varieties of brews offered by nine craft breweries.
According to the Brewers Association, a national craft brew advocacy group, the number of U.S. craft breweries grew by more than 15 percent from 2012 and 2013—with the current total at 2,768.
Quick action on the part of the General Assembly at the end of the “short session” has resulted in the saving of over 1,000 jobs at Evergreen Packaging paper mill, a centuries-old manufacturing plant. The Canton, North Carolina facility — the largest manufacturer west of Charlotte — was facing closure due to costly new federal environmental regulations.
In a single day, the legislature resurrected and passed a piece of a defeated bill that would make available $12 million for Evergreen Packaging to help the troubled plant replace its coal-fired boilers. The money came just in time to meet a looming deadline set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for compliance with stricter pollution control standards. The EPA had demanded that Evergreen convert its old boilers as part of a 2012 set of rules placing the tougher limits on toxic pollutant emissions. The plant was at risk of permanently closing due to the mandated conformance with stricter environmental standards, which must be completed by next year. Closing a critical operation of this type can prove devastating to a small town.
After the defeat of a bill (House Bill 1224) which contained other provisions — including the money for Evergreen — legislators maneuvered to get a different bill passed that would have the same effect of saving the plant. And it was too late, in the closing days of the session, to begin crafting a new bill for full consideration by both chambers.
Legislators pressed on, and resurrected an older “bill number” (Senate Bill 3) which had already passed in the Senate, but in a completely different form. When SB3 came to the House, it was re-written to insert the language needed help the embattled paper mill. The House passed the re-written version and handed it right back to the Senate — where it was abruptly killed.
But legislative rules allow for a bill number that’s been passed in the Senate to be resurrected by the House in another form and then be voted on to complete the bicameral process — if the move is approved by a majority vote. A motion was made to reconsider the stalled “bill number” (SB3) that had actually been passed earlier in the Senate, and on a proper vote to reconsider the re-written bill number, her colleagues allowed it.
Punching through, legislators took the Evergreen-friendly bill on a last-minute whirlwind tour through the Rules Committee, where it initially stumbled but was eventually given the green light. The measure was brought back to the House floor for a vote, where it passed with near-unanimous support in the final hours of the final day of the short session.
The day would be saved. The paper mill would get its funding and the short session would end on a happy note.
The Evergreen plant had submitted an application for an economic development grant to help with the $50 million needed to convert the plant’s aging coal-fired boilers to newer and cleaner natural gas-fired boilers, including the installation of needed supply lines. Add to that the $330 million that the company has already spent on environmental improvements since 1990 and the price tag for continually upgrading to meet modern environmental standards becomes formidable.
The language of SB3 modifies the criteria for participating in the Job Maintenance and Capital Development (JMAC) program, making the company eligible for receiving special grant money. JMAC is designed to encourage retention of significant numbers of high-paying, high-quality jobs and large-scale capital investment in modernizing equipment intended to assist companies in transitioning to new markets.1
SB3 makes JMAC funding available for Evergreen in the amount of $12 million over 6 years. The $12 million grant would come on top of a $2.8 million grant already pledged to help Evergreen — with $2.1 million coming from the North Carolina Department Commerce and a $700,000 match from by Haywood County.2
The manufacturing plant employs over 1,000 people who make an average $78,300 in salary and benefits.3
“I think there’s a lot of regulation there, and I’d like to back off on that,” said Representative Michele Presnell, who represents Haywood County. “This is a lot of jobs, and they are good, high-paying jobs. That’s my number one. That’s what we’ve got to keep.”4
It has recently come to our attention that in a handful of stories which have appeared on this website, we were not thorough enough in providing proper attribution to original sources of information.
Our very small staff, including some volunteer writers, works hard to provide informative, balanced, and timely content on a wide variety of subjects. These topics, which are written for wide appeal to a general audience, typically concern complex legislative policy and involve many sources of information.
In the hundreds of articles we have produced, we have tried our very best to be thorough and provide proper attribution to original sources wherever appropriate. But in a handful of cases, we were not thorough enough in providing proper citations to primary sources, including Wikipedia and the General Assembly’s own website. We have corrected those omissions by way of footnotes on the articles in question and we very much regret the oversight.
While we regret the situation, we sincerely appreciate the constructive criticism. In the end, it will improve our product and better protect the integrity of our work.
We value your readership and look forward to continuing to serve you.
Professor Jeff Welty put up a nice blog piece the other day that’s certainly worth a read. In it, he talks about a proposed constitutional amendment that’s up for a vote this November — and which you probably haven’t heard much about. He and his colleague, law clerk Komal K. Patel, have also prepared a very comprehensive and balanced report that not only explains the proposed amendment (and gives the arguments both for and against it), but provides a fascinating history of the constitutional amendment process itself in North Carolina. Read their entire informative report here.
Stealth Constitutional Amendment Could Bring Big Changes
This fall, North Carolina voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution. The proposed amendment would allow, for the first time, bench trials for felonies in superior court. Neither the media nor advocacy groups have paid much attention to the amendment, so almost no one seems to know that it is on the table. For that reason, I think of it as the stealth constitutional amendment. Despite the amendment’s low profile, allowing felony bench trials would be a major change.
The change could be for the better. For example, bench trials might save money, and some defendants — those with technical defenses, or those who are unpopular in the community — might prefer a judge to a jury. The 49 other states allow bench trials, so the amendment would bring us in line with the national norm.
But the change could also be for the worse. Once waiver is possible, defendants might be pressured to waive their right to a jury trial. Defendants with prominent and well-connected lawyers might get unfairly favorable treatment. Also, contrary to the majority rule in other states, the amendment doesn’t give the prosecution the right to insist on a jury trial if it believes that a bench trial would be inappropriate.
In an effort to draw some attention to the amendment and to provide some information about its possible benefits and costs, I worked with School of Government law clerk Komal Patel to prepare a report about it. The report is available here as a free PDF. In typical School of Government fashion, it doesn’t take a position on the amendment but it contains quite a bit of information about its potential impact and the practice in other jurisdictions. It’s written to be accessible to voters who aren’t very familiar with the criminal justice system, so please pass the link along to anyone who may be interested. As always, feedback and comments of all kinds are welcome.
Jeff Welty joined the faculty of University of North Carolina’s School of Government in 2008 as an Albert and Gladys Hall Coates Associate Professor of Public Law and Government. Prior to that, Professor Welty completed a federal judicial clerkship, spent eight years in private practice, and served as a Lecturing Fellow at Duke Law School. Professor Welty holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a master’s degree in economics and a JD, with highest honors, from Duke University, where he was executive editor of the Duke Law Journal.
For many years, state education and political leaders promised increasing our “investment” in public schools was the key to raising student achievement for disadvantaged students. And invest we did, increasing inflation-adjusted per pupil spending by nearly 25 percent in the last 20 years alone.
Yet, two decades later, disadvantaged children in North Carolina public schools continue to struggle. Last year, only 28 percent of low-income students in grades 3-8 were proficient in math. Around 29 percent were proficient in reading. That means that about seven out of 10 students in public elementary and middle schools are not proficient in math and reading as measured by state standardized tests.
Acknowledging that the “throw money at the problem” approach was a failure, Republican leaders in the N.C. General Assembly decided to change course. In 2013, legislators championed a research-based approach to raising student performance — a private school voucher program for families who, unlike the wealthy, do not have the means to provide educational options for their children.
The program was new, but the idea wasn’t. Even when Democrats were in charge of state government, North Carolina had long relied on private and religious institutions to provide schooling and educational services for toddlers, college students, and those in between. State agencies continue to direct taxpayer money to private (often sectarian) preschools, universities, and facilities for special-needs children. Faith-based organizations, churches, and private entities annually receive millions in grant money to provide educational services for at-risk elementary and secondary school students, among others.
On the last day of the 2014 “short session,” the General Assembly reached overwhelming, bipartisan agreement on coal ash mitigation that will give North Carolina the strictest regulations on coal ash in the nation — and make it the first state to force the closure of all coal ash ponds. The legislation passed the Senate 38 to 2 and passed the House 84 to 13.
“Since day one, the House and Senate have agreed that fixing coal ash is a top priority, and I am proud of my colleagues for following through to deliver the most comprehensive, aggressive and science-driven mitigation plan in the entire country,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger. “As a resident of the community most severely impacted by the recent Dan River coal ash spill, I am personally grateful to Senator Tom Apodaca, who has spent hundreds of hours working on this bill, along with all House and Senate conferees for persevering to get this done.”
“This collaborative coal ash legislation between the House, Senate and Administration to clean up North Carolina’s decades-old coal ash problem will be the first in the nation to address this issue,” said Speaker Tillis. “This comprehensive plan we have developed for North Carolina will be the foundation of coal ash management across the nation and help safeguard our water for future generations. I want to thank Representative Chuck McGrady, who is a past president of the Sierra Club, and our other House and Senate conferees for their hard work on this plan.”
Senate Bill 729 sets a firm 15-year timetable for dewatering and closing all unlined coal ash ponds in North Carolina and eliminates the practice of wet ash disposal. The plan requires the Dan River, Asheville, Riverbend and Sutton coal ash ponds to be excavated and closed as quickly as practicable – and no later than 2019.
The remaining ponds will be classified into three categories of risk. Sites determined to be high-risk must be closed within five years (by no later than 2019), intermediate-risk sites by no later than 2024 and low-risk sites by no later than 2029. High and intermediate-risk ponds may not be capped in place – instead, coal ash from those facilities must be stored in lined landfills or recycled toward a beneficial use such as concrete production or roadway construction. And low-risk ponds can only be capped in place if both DENR and an independent coal ash commission agree that this closure method is appropriate and long-term monitoring requirements are met.
Following several days of productive dialogue, lawmakers agreed to further strengthen the environmental protections related to low-risk sites. The conference report directs that proposed closure plans to cap a pond in place must be designed to prevent future groundwater contamination.
In addition, the bill mandates that all future coal ash disposal must be managed in new or existing lined landfills with extensive groundwater monitoring. It also requires pond owners to divert stormwater away from ash ponds and phase out the disposal of wet ash – the sludge that spilled into the Dan River – within five years. And it immediately makes it illegal to construct or expand wet coal ash ponds statewide.
The bill also:
Forms a new, independent and specialized Coal Ash Management Commission to review and approve risk classifications and closure plans proposed by owners of coal ash ponds and DENR. The commission will make policy recommendations to the General Assembly to ensure efficient and safe coal ash management statewide. It will consist of nine people with experience in areas such as public health, waste management and conservation.
Creates up to 30 new positions for the regulation, mitigation and oversight of coal ash management operations – 25 at DENR and 5 staff for the commission. These regulatory positions, along with the commission’s operating expenses, will be funded by utilities with coal ash ponds and cannot be passed on to consumers.
Keeps and expands on many of the governor’s recommendations, including:
Strengthening regulations on the use of coal ash as structural fill.
Requiring utilities to assess and correct existing and future contamination of ground, surface and drinking water, with oversight through DENR.
Strengthening dam inspection laws, by requiring more frequent inspections and creation of Emergency Action Plans.
Bans utility companies from recovering costs for the damage caused by coal ash spills, including associated civil or criminal fines.
Requires utilities to look at markets for innovative commercial uses of coal ash and study technology that could be used to more effectively manage coal ash. And it directs the commission, DOT and other agencies to study ways to recycle coal ash through beneficial use projects.
Critics of the Republican-led General Assembly allege that the teacher-pay raise included in this year’s state budget could have been implemented in a much simpler fashion: by giving across-the-board hikes to all public school teachers across North Carolina, rather than giving large raises to early-career teachers and relatively small raises to some experienced ones.
The critics are correct. Across-the-board raises would have been simpler. They would have been easier to explain both to teachers and to the general public. But that doesn’t mean they would have been the best policy. You see, North Carolina’s system for compensating teachers didn’t just need an influx of money. It needed wholesale restructuring.
Until last year, North Carolina used an archaic and counterproductive system for compensating teachers. The pay scale had 37 steps. Teachers began at a relatively low salary ($30,800 in 2013-14) and then, after receiving tenure, received small but steady annual bumps. For most teachers, it took 15 years for their salaries to reach $40,000. There were a couple of ways to speed up the process, however. One was to obtain a graduate degree, typically in education. The other was to achieve national board certification.
The pay scale was, in other words, weighted heavily towards years of experience and credentials. Unfortunately,teacher experience and credentials do not strongly correlate with teacher effectiveness. Among 132 studies on the subject, published in peer-reviewed journals over the past 25 years, 59 percent found no consistent relationship between teacher experience and student performance (after adjusting for student characteristics and other variables). The research on graduate degrees was clearer still. More than 80 percent of 114 academic studies found that teachers with advanced degrees were no better at teaching students than those without them. Board certification fared better. Slightly more than half of the few studies on the subject found positive effects.
Given these insights, derived from the work of scholars across the ideological spectrum, North Carolina lawmakers decided to change the pay scale. Junking the 37 post-tenure steps, they created a flatter schedule consisting of six broad bands. The starting salary jumps by more than 7 percent, to $33,000, and will rise another 7 percent in 2015-16. The next band, for those with five to nine years of experience, offers a base pay of $36,500. Teachers in this category will receive double-digit hikes this year. The third band starts at year 10 and offers a base salary of $40,000. (Remember that it previously took 15 years to get to that point.)
While retaining the bonus for board certification, lawmakers allowed the graduate-degree bonus to lapse, except for teachers who were already in the process of earning one. What will replace it? Legislative leaders and the McCrory administration envision a system in which teachers will receive pay bumps for taking on tough jobs — such as working in high-poverty schools or teaching difficult courses — and for performance in the classroom as identified by principal evaluations, value-added test scores, or both.
This strategy for reforming teacher compensation is based on solid empirical evidence and focused squarely on the goal of maximizing student success. In their 2012 study for the journal Educational Policy, Jason Grissom of Vanderbilt and Katharine Strunk of UCLA found that school systems with “front-loaded” pay scales like North Carolina just adopted tend to achieve superior student outcomes. “Relative to a back-loaded salary structure,” they write, “a front-loaded schedule should allow for a more efficient allocation of district budgets by saving funds that might otherwise yield little return when allocated to veteran teachers’ salaries and putting those dollars to more productive, student achievement-enhancing uses.”
But the strategy does have adversaries. Teacher unions detest pay differentials based on subject matter or individual performance. Schools of education thrived on the artificial demand for graduate degrees created by the previous teacher bonuses.
Until these reform opponents can come up with more persuasive arguments than “we’ve always done it this way” or “shut up and do what we want,” my sense is that most members of the General Assembly are committed to the teacher-pay reforms begun in 2014 and welcome the chance to explain them to voters this fall.