May Council of State news roundup

The North Carolina state seal in front of the General Assembly on March 20,2023. North State Journal

RALEIGH — The N.C. Council of State’s activity for May includes Forever Farms, National Business Week, transparency in medical billing, awards and a robocalls lawsuit, as well as an update on the state auditor’s legal woes. 

The North Carolina Council of State (COS) is an administrative body of ten elected officials who are heads of their departments. Council members include the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, commissioner of agriculture, commissioner of insurance, commissioner of labor, secretary of state, state auditor, state treasurer and superintendent of public instruction. 

The Secretary of State celebrated National Small Business Week, with Secretary Elaine Marshall reporting new business filings for 2023 at “near-record levels” creating 60,000 new businesses between January and April.  

“The North Carolina’s entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well as new business creation filings remain historically high compared to pre-Covid creations,” Marshall said in a statement.  

Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey issued a statement expressing concern over House Bill 346, which would allow Blue Cross Blue Shield NC to put policyholder money into investments without the current regulatory oversight currently in place for the healthcare giant. 

“Passing this bill is a sure way to raise health insurance premiums for Blue Cross NC policyholders.”
“Blue Cross NC has said this is a good bill, but I disagree,” Causey said in a statement. “If it is such a good bill today, it will still be in two weeks’ time. There has been a large public outcry. The department and I have received hundreds of emails, calls and letters from the public from across the state, and not one person has stated that they disagree with our position. I’m very concerned that consumers’ concerns are falling on deaf ears.” 

The Department of Labor gave out annual safety awards for outstanding achievements in 2022 to employers and businesses in both Lenoir and Stanly Counties this month. 

“North Carolina’s employers and employees show us the true importance of a strong commitment to safety and health each and every day,” Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson said. “North Carolina’s injury and illness rate remains at a historic low. These businesses’ dedication to safety is the reason why North Carolina is one of the safest states in which to work and they deserve this distinguished recognition.”  

State Treasurer Dale Folwell praised the NC Senate for the passage of Senate Bill 321, the Medical Deweaponization Act.  The bill offers greater transparency in pricing while helping citizens with aggressive medical debt collections. 

“I want to thank the members of the North Carolina Senate who unanimously passed this bipartisan bill,” Folwell said in a statement. “It could be a significant accomplishment by the General Assembly making a generational difference in the lives of so many families faced with financial ruin due to medical debt.”   

Throughout his tenure, Folwell has been active in reducing medical costs for State Health Plan enrollees as well as expenses for North Carolinians in general through calls for increased transparency in pricing by health care providers.  

Folwell also signaled good news for the State Health Plan with the announcement an additional $47 million had been saved due to enrollment in Humana Medicare Advantage Plans (HMAP). 

Attorney General Josh Stein turned his attention once again to robocalls by entering North Carolina into a 49-state effort to sue Michael D. Lansky, LLC, which does business under the name Avid Telecom.  

The lawsuit includes the owner, Michael Lansky, and its vice president Stacey S. Reeves, alleging they initiated and facilitated “billions of illegal robocalls to millions of people and violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and other federal and state telemarketing and consumer laws,” per Stein’s press statement. 

Robocalls have been one of Stein’s top priorities during his two terms, issuing around 30 press releases on the topic since 2018. 

Now a candidate for governor, Stein also issued a “public safety” package that focuses on gun restrictions and hiring of more law enforcement officers. This appears to be the first package of its kind issued by Stein in his seven years as the state’s attorney general. 

“The package includes measures to combat drugs, support law enforcement officers, protect kids, test sexual assault kits, improve public safety, and fight fraud,” a press release from Stein’s office said.   

The Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) announced Donna L. Bledsoe, principal of Cedar Ridge Elementary School in Surry County, as the 2023 Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year at an awards luncheon on May 19. 

Purple Star Awards, which recognize schools with military family-friendly policies and activities were also given out to 336 K-12 schools across the state, per NCDPI. 

State Auditor Beth Wood was speeding prior to her car accident in downtown Raleigh last December of which she had fled the scene. Downtown Raleigh streets have a posted speed limit of 25 miles per hour and Wood was doing at least 32 miles per hour according to the tracker data on her state vehicle recently released by the N.C. Department of Administration. 

A statewide audit from Wood’s office found “inadequate monitoring” of various funds, including COVID relief money, Medicaid, and student financial aid funding.  A different audit released in May has Carteret County officials asking the county sheriff’s office to pursue a criminal investigation after an investigative audit found almost $60,000 in questionable purchases by a now-defunct EMS station. 

North Carolina’s agriculture industry received big news on May 19 when an economic impact report confirmed agriculture and agribusiness in the state has risen from $92.9 billion last year to over $103.2 billion. 

Agriculture is North Carolina’s top industry and accounts for one fifth of the state’s workforce. The department also announced the “NC Forever Farms Program” on May 19. The program recognizes “family farms that have taken the ultimate step in protecting precious working lands that are vital to the future of agriculture in North Carolina.” 

About A.P. Dillon 1071 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_