Trio of bills left undone in legislative session

FILE - In this April 26, 2021, file photo, House Speaker Tim Moore, left, talks with Senator Phil Berger in Raleigh, N.C. The North Carolina House on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, approved a two-year budget with enough support to thwart a potential veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP, File)

RALEIGH — Three of the most-watched bills during the General Assembly’s short session failed to advance to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk: sports wagering, medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion. 

Sports wagering 

A pair of sports wagering bills that won approval through several committees failed to pass in the N.C. House of Representatives on June 22; both by votes of 51-50. The bills had backing from top leaders in both chambers, including Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) and House Appropriations Chair Jason Saine (R-Lincoln). 

The first bill is Senate Bill 688, which deals mainly with regulations. It passed the Senate by a narrow margin of 26 to 19 with the majority of Democrats voting in favor of the measure. The second bill is Senate Bill 38, and has granular details on the legalization requirements. 

Similar bills on sports wagering in the neighboring states of Kentucky and Georgia have also failed in the past few months while Tennessee and Virginia both have legalized online sports betting. In North Carolina, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bill passed by the legislature in 2019 to allow sports and horse wagering for two tribal-owned casinos. 

Senate Bill 688 would have authorized and regulated sports wagering in the state and includes a tax of 8% on the adjusted gross revenue of each interactive sports wagering operator on top of any corporate income taxes paid by the licensee. The Fiscal Research Division of the General Assembly estimated the taxes will generate between $1 to $3 million annually per percentage point of tax on gross gaming revenue. 

Licenses and regulations for sports wagering in the bill would be issued by the North Carolina Lottery Commission and the bill establishes the North Carolina Major Events, Games, and Attractions Fund to be administered by the N.C. Department of Commerce. The bill had a cap of 12 interactive sports wagering operator licenses. 

While the two bills address the same topic and share much of the same language, Senate Bill 38 ups the five-year licensing fees from $500,000 to $1 million. Senate Bill 38 also changes the taxation language, taking Senate Bill 688’s sports wagering tax on adjusted gross income from 8% to a privilege tax of 14%. That shift, according to the bill sponsors, would almost triple the revenue on mobile sports betting from around $8 million to upwards of $24 million. 

Medical cannabis legalization 

Senate Bill 711, the Compassionate Care Act, would have permitted doctors to recommend medical marijuana products for certain “debilitating” conditions and registry identification cards would have been issued to patients 18 and up. Those under the age of 18 would have had a more detailed process both for treatment and approval for use of medical marijuana. 

The measure also would have created stringent rules and definitions for licensed vendors including operations between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. 

Senate Bill 711 passed with a large majority of 36-7 in the third reading in the Senate but hit a roadblock in the House where it passed the first reading and was sent to the House Rules Committee from which it never emerged. 

In 2015, a similar bill was introduced attempting to make marijuana legal for patients with a “chronic, debilitating medical condition.” House Bill 78, the Enact Medical Cannabis Act, passed a first vote in the House but died after receiving an unfavorable report from the House Appropriations Committee. 

Sources on the House side of the General Assembly have indicated Senate Bill 711 might be revisited after the midterms.  

Nationally, the U.S. Senate’s Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act on July 21. 

Medicaid expansion 

After decade of opposition, the Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) and his colleagues introduced a Medicaid Expansion bill to be taken up during the short session. 

Currently, about 2.7 million North Carolina residents are enrolled in Medicaid.  

The initial summary of Senate Bill 408 proposed an expansion to cover adults making up to 38% above federal poverty guidelines, but a later version increased it to 133% of the federal poverty level. 

Included in the Senate proposal were Certificate of Need (CON) reforms. CON laws require state health regulators to sign off on any expansion plans by hospitals and other medical providers.  

In addition, work requirements were included, and the state’s 10% share of expansion expenses would be paid through a new assessment on hospitals and expansion would end if Congress increased the state’s share.  

The House also produced its own bill expanding Medicaid, however, neither bill made it out of each chambers’ respective Rules and Operations committees. House Bill 49, which included a requirement the governor first had to negotiate with the federal government, was the result of the House refusing to take up the Senate’s version. 

“It is not the approach the Senate will take, and we’ll have some conversations with the Speaker,” Berger said at the time the House rolled out its bill. “I don’t see that being the pathway to make progress on this issue.”  

Moore disagreed and said the House approach was “the best” he had seen. 

Cooper pressed both leaders to include Medicaid expansion in the state budget bill. That didn’t happen, but he signed the budget anyway. 

In a press statement on the signing of the budget, Cooper acknowledged the budget lacked Medicaid expansion but said, “the leadership in both the House and Senate now support it and both chambers have passed it.”  

It remains unclear if Medicaid expansion will see further debate this year. 

About A.P. Dillon 714 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_