RALEIGH — Vetoes overridden, auto insurance increases and the state superintendent reporting big literacy gains in grades K-3 were just some of the Council of State activities in August.
The North Carolina Council of State (COS) is an administrative body of 10 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.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper had another six of his vetoes overridden by both chambers of the General Assembly on Aug. 17. The overrides taken included House Bill 574 (Fairness in Women’s Sports), House Bill 808 (Gender Transitions/Minors), House Bill 488 (Code Council Reorg & Var. Code Amend.), House Bill 618 (Charter School Review Board), House Bill 219 (Charter School Omnibus) and Senate Bill 49 (Parents’ Bill of Rights).
He vetoed two more bills on Aug. 24, bringing his overall veto total since taking office to a new state record of 91. The two bills vetoed were Senate Bill 747 — Elections Law Changes and Senate Bill 512 — Greater Accountability for Boards/Commissions. Leadership from both chambers of the General Assembly made statements that override votes would be taken.
Mid-month, Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson visited the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in his hometown of Greensboro. He also presided over the Senate’s overrides of six of the governor’s vetoes on Aug. 17.
Later in the month, Robinson toured Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery in Spring Lake with the secretary of Military & Veterans Affairs and legislators from the House and Senate.
Edgecombe County officials pushed back on a recent audit published by the office of State Auditor Beth Wood. The published audit was conducted in response to 13 allegations received by the state auditor’s office. Findings included more than $167,000 in fees and penalties for late federal withholding submissions, questioned catering services of $$5,669 and improper payment of $100,088 for insurance for former employees. In its seven-page response, Edgecombe County Commissioners acknowledged most of the findings but added context to some and “emphatically” denied the audit’s findings related to budget amendments.
Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey announced on Aug. 8 that a settlement has been made with the North Carolina Rate Bureau over its auto insurance rate increase request. The settlement negotiated is an average statewide auto rate increase of 9%, which will be implemented with a 4.5% hike in 2023 and 4.5% more in 2024. Per the agreement, motorcycle liability will increase by 4.6% over the same time frame.
According to Causey, the settlement is “about two-thirds less than the insurance companies had requested.” At the start of February, the N.C. Rate Bureau had requested a statewide increase of 28.4% for personal auto rates as well as a 4.7% increase in motorcycle liability rates.
State Treasurer Dale Folwell announced the State Health Plan premiums will remain frozen for the sixth straight year. He and the Board of Trustees voted on July 27 to maintain active State Health Plan members’ premiums at current rates into the 2024 benefit year that starts on Jan. 1. Premiums for Medicare-eligible members on the Humana Group Medicare Advantage Plans will also be frozen.
Folwell’s office also released a report detailing lawsuits by state hospitals over medical debt involving more than 5,517 patients. The report covers lawsuits spanning from January 2017 through June 2022 that won $57.3 million in judgments — an average of $16,623 per judgment. The data behind the report comes from a study conducted by Duke University School of Law researchers and Folwell’s office. The study says that interest charges and other additional fees totaled “an estimated $20.3 million, or 35.4% of the judgments awarded” and that 463 families owed “more than $10,000 in interest alone.”
At the Aug. 3 meeting of the State Board of Education, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt reported ”incredible gains” in literacy scores by the state’s K-3 students. She credited the gains to the phonics-based “the science of reading” and teacher training in Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS).
“Our kindergarteners from the beginning of this year to the end of this year saw a 46% increase statewide in their percentage of students who are on track or [are] ready for core instruction,” said Truitt during her presentation, and she also noted that K-3 students in North Carolina outperformed the nation.
Prior to the announcement of K-3 literacy gains, Truitt described some successes the state has had when dealing with learning loss and educational pandemic recovery in testimony given before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education on July 26. Truitt was part of a panel on “Generational Learning Loss: How pandemic school closures hurt students.”
Carowinds Amusement Park’s Fury 325 rollercoaster was given the green light to return to operations by the North Carolina Department of Labor’s Elevator and Amusement Device Bureau after a video showing a massive crack in the track’s support structure went viral. The park’s website describes the Fury 325 as “the tallest, fastest, longest giga coaster in North America,” reaching speeds of up to 95 mph. Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson was in no rush to recertify the coaster, stating in a July interview that “until we’re 100% comfortable issuing that new certificate of operation, we will not do so.”
The N.C. Department of Agriculture announced tickets for the upcoming 2023 NC State Fair are now available for purchase through Oct. 12. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for youth ages 6-12.
One-day unlimited ride wristbands are also available for purchase online for $30 each. Ride ticket credits will be $10 for 18 ticket credits during the advance sale timeframe.
Per a press release, ride ticket credits for this year’s fair will be on a “chipped card” that will automatically debit the ticket count for that ride. Additionally, hang on to those cards because ride credits will now carry over from year to year.
Advance tickets are also on sale for the N.C. Mountain State Fair. The 2023 N.C. Mountain State Fair runs Sept. 8-17 at the WNC Agricultural Center in Fletcher.
Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler also officially recommended to the governor that agricultural transportation waivers be implemented for the movement of livestock and agricultural products in order for farmers to work ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Idalia.
“I’ve talked with the Governor about the potential impact to farmers and he concurs and understands the challenging spot they are in because it is peak harvest time for a number of crops,” Troxler said in a statement. “We in agriculture appreciate the opportunity to get a head start on what could potentially be an economically damaging storm.”
Attorney General Josh Stein announced that North Carolinians can view how their local governments plan to spend the approximately $1.2 billion being disbursed to counties and municipalities to fight the opioid overdose crisis. The information is available on the Community Opioid Resources Engine for North Carolina (CORE-NC).
Stein, who is running for governor in 2024, also received a campaign endorsement from the governor.
Secretary of State Elaine Marshall’s office had no reportable activities or news releases in August.