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Proposed state budget includes Medicaid expansion, change to records law

The budget abandons earlier attempts by Senate Republicans to expand the number of casinos in the state. It does include a new provision giving state legislators discretion over their own records — a move that has concerned government transparency advocates.

Note: The report is being reprinted with permission; it originally appeared online at WECT.com here.

A $30 billion state budget proposal has been introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly. Republican House and Senate leaders say the proposal includes expanded access to healthcare for nearly 600,000 residents and does not include a plan to allow more casinos in the state.

Related: NC Senate leader drafts bill that could allow for casino to open in Cape Fear region

House Bill 259, a 625-page document filed in the General Assembly Wednesday, lays out a plan to spend the state’s money across several agencies and departments.

According to the bill, most state employees would receive a 7% raise over the next two years. Republican Senate Leader Phil Berger says the raises are significant.

“It has raises for our state employees, it has additional compensation for our teachers, it has a bonus for our retirees,” said Berger.

Democrat State Representative Deb Butler from New Hanover County disagrees.

“If you don’t keep pace with inflation and then give more money, it’s not a bonus,” said Butler. “And that is simple finance, and teachers understand that state employees understand that state retirees understand it. It doesn’t help them and puts them in a deficit position.”

If the budget bill passes, Medicaid expansion will become law in North Carolina. The expansion passed earlier this year with bipartisan support, but Berger recently proposed making Medicaid expansion contingent on casino expansion instead. Berger announced Tuesday that the gambling proposal would be set aside for the time being.

The budget bill also includes language that, if passed, would change the state’s General Assembly records law.

“The custodian of any General Assembly record shall determine, in the custodian’s discretion, whether a record is a public record and whether to turn over to the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, or retain, destroy, sell, loan, or otherwise dispose of, such records. When requested by the Legislative Services Officer, the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources shall assist in the preparation of an inventory of the records to which the request applies,” the bill states.

The bill also describes that individual legislators will be the keepers of all records they create and receive during their time in office or after leaving office.

“An earlier draft of the budget included a provision that gave legislators discretion over whether their records are public. That was bad enough. The new language creates a total privilege for General Assembly records and exempts an entire branch of government from the public records act. This is a massive rollback of access to public information and a total subversion of the public’s right to know what its government is up to,” said Brooks Fuller with the North Carolina Open Government Coalition.

House Bill 259 has been placed on the House calendar for a vote on Thursday.