Coastal resource board reorganization bill concerns local House members

by Michelle Saxton
Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Staff photo by Emmy Errante 

New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Beth Dawson and District Chair of the Republican Party, Rhonda Amoroso, attend the Face to Face with your Elected Officials event on Saturday, Feb. 16, at the New Hanover County Northeast Regional Library.

Local North Carolina House members were concerned about a Senate bill that would replace members of the Coastal Resources Commission and remove fishing, conservation, marine ecology and other areas of experience from position descriptions.

Senate Bill 10, the Government Reorganization and Efficiency Act, targets several state boards and commissions — including also the Environmental Management Commission — for reorganization or for elimination if they “have not met recently, are duplicative, or are not deemed critical to government operations.”

“I have concerns about the loss of institutional knowledge by completely reconstituting these boards,” Rep. Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover, said Saturday, Feb. 16, during a League of Women Voters of the Lower Cape Fear event with elected officials at the Northeast Regional Library in Wilmington.

Under SB 10, the Coastal Resources Commission would include seven governor-appointed members — one at-large and the others with experience that includes coastal property ownership or land development, coastal-related business, coastal engineering or a marine-related science and local government in a coastal area, as well as four at-large members appointed by the General Assembly upon recommendations by House and Senate leadership.

State code currently designates the commission as having 15 governor-appointed members, three of whom are at-large. Experience designations that would be removed for the other members include: commercial fishing, wildlife or sports fishing, marine ecology, conservation, coastal agriculture and coastal forestry. 

“It eliminates any semblance of balance of power within the state,” Rep. Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, said during a telephone interview Monday, Feb. 18, later adding, “I thought we were all about job creation, not job elimination.”

Senate Bill 10 also aims to abolish special superior court judge seats other than those of three business court judges.

“Can you go in with a judge that’s sitting now before his term expires and say, ‘You’re no longer there?’” questioned Rep. Ted Davis Jr., R-New Hanover. “There are a lot of questions that are being floated around. … It needs to be given some more thought.”

Performance evaluations of boards is a good idea, as concerns include people who may not be doing their jobs or attending meetings and still have years left on their terms, said Catlin, who has served on the North Carolina Commission of Public Health. 

“I never knew who was of what party,” Catlin said. “They were all working very hard to do their job.”

The bill passed the Senate this month and was referred to the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development.

The Cape Fear Sierra Club and North Carolina League of Conservation Voters were among bill critics.

“The majority party wants to allow corporate special interests to write their own rules without public input,” Dan Crawford, the league’s governmental relations director, stated in a Feb. 5 news release.

Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Bladen, Brunswick, Pender and New Hanover, a primary sponsor of SB 10, was unavailable for comment Tuesday, Feb. 19. 

Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, a co-sponsor, spoke with Lumina News about several bills on Feb. 16, but could not immediately be reached for a follow-up interview to address SB 10. 

Medicaid expansion

Goolsby also co-sponsored Senate Bill 4, which would reject the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s optional Medicaid expansion and clarify North Carolina’s intent against operating a state-run or “partnership” health benefit exchange.

“The state creating its own exchange that costs us more money, that subjects us to immediate federal regulations and imperils our health care system — there’s nothing good about getting into this,” Goolsby said. “I’m in support of what we’re doing to fight it.”

The bill passed the Senate and House this month but failed concurrence Feb. 19, and bill conferees were appointed. 

Medicaid expansion participation could mean health coverage for about 500,000 state residents, the North Carolina Institute of Medicine has estimated.

Expansion supporters have said costs would be 100 percent paid for with federal money during the 2014-2016 fiscal years, but Davis raised concerns about that.

“The federal government doesn’t have money,” Davis said. “That’s money we’re borrowing from China and from other places. So really we’re increasing the national debt by going along with this increased Medicaid expansion.” 

Others argue taxpayers will be affected by rejecting the expansion.

“We really are hurting hospitals who still have to provide free care for people, and everybody has to pay for it,” North Carolina Justice Center health policy analyst Adam Linker said in a Feb. 19 phone interview. “The cost gets shifted to people with private insurance.”

Hamilton voted against rejecting the expansion and said blocking it could be a deterrent to job recruitment.

“Why would you want to come to a state that has a higher percentage of uninsured?” Hamilton said. “Sick people can’t work. You want a healthy, productive work force.”

Both Catlin and Davis, who voted for the bill, said problems with Medicaid in North Carolina should be addressed before adding more people.

“We can opt in next year or the year after that, into the Medicaid expansion — if it makes sense,” Catlin said. “But right now if your boat is sinking you don’t put more weight on it.”

A recent audit of North Carolina’s Medicaid program will help with reform, state Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Julie Henry said Feb. 19.


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