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Health Care Bills Clear Final Legislative Hurdles

By Holly West and Rose Hoban

Abortion Restrictions Bill Receives Final Legislative OK

A bill placing tougher regulations on abortion clinics passed the Senate Thursday night, and will now be sent to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature.

SB353, called Health and Safety Law Changes, would require the state Department of Health and Human Services to adopt stricter regulations for clinics and study the resources necessary to properly enforce those regulations.

“We just want these clinics to be clean; we want them to be safe,” said Sen. Buck Newton (R-Wilson) during the debate Thursday.

Those who opposed the bill said it would restrict access to women seeking abortions because clinics would be unable to meet the new standards.

“It will prohibit women from having access to certified clinics where there are people who know what they’re doing, who are trained,” said Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Raleigh). “They will have to go into the streets.”

The bill would also prohibit sex-selective abortions, allow health care providers to refuse to participate in procedures that result in abortion and prevent abortions from being covered under health care plans funded by taxpayer dollars.

Before it becomes law, the legislation must be signed by Gov. Pat McCrory.

Paige Johnson of Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina said she expects him to veto the bill.

“When the governor reads the bill, he will see it restricts women’s access,” she said.

Drug Screening Bill on the Way to Becoming Law

People hoping to receive benefits from North Carolina’s welfare programs may soon have to submit to a drug test and have their criminal history checked for arrest warrants.

HB392 received final approval by both houses of the General Assembly this week and now awaits Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature.

The drug test will only be required for those participating in the Work First program, which provides money and services to help low-income residents become employed and self-sufficient.

UrineTestThe program currently uses a written screening process to check for possible drug or alcohol abuse.

If the bill becomes law, drug tests will be required for any applicant or recipient the state Department of Health and Human Services “reasonably suspects is engaged in the illegal use of controlled substances.”

Sarah Preston, a lobbyist for the ACLU of North Carolina, said this version of the bill is better than an earlier version that required the test for every applicant and participant, but it’s still problematic.

Drug tests would likely be conducted using urine tests, and Preston said the ACLU of North Carolina believes this would violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures.

“We prefer if the government wants to require people to submit a urine test, that they have probable cause,” she said.

Those who fail the drug test would be rejected admission to the Work First program. Individuals who test positive for drugs would be able to reapply after one year or after 30 days if they complete a substance-abuse treatment program.

The bill also requires that people receiving benefits from the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Food and Nutrition Services programs be screened to see if they have outstanding warrants for their arrest.

People with outstanding arrest warrants would receive no benefits.

Bill to Establish Grievance-and-Appeals Process in Mental Health System Passes

People with mental health issues or intellectual or developmental disabilities now have a clearer idea of how to file grievances when they’re denied services or want to contest a decision made by their service provider.

Senate Bill 553, almost a year in the works, passed a final vote in the Senate in the waning hours of this year’s legislative session. It establishes timelines and procedures for filing and hearing appeals that Medicaid beneficiaries may make to the managed care organizations (MCOs) that provide care in the mental health system.

Sen. Ralph Hise

Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Spruce Pine)

On the Senate floor Thursday afternoon, bill sponsor Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Spruce Pine) said the bill was necessary to bring the appeals process in line with a Medicaid system that puts financial decisions about care into the hands of the MCOs rather than with state officials.

Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D-Carrboro) objected to the process by which compromise on the bill had been made between House and Senate members.

“I was named to the conference committee, but as far as I know it didn’t meet,” Kinnaird said. “And now [the bill is] here on the floor for a vote.”

Kinnaird disagreed with provisions in the bill that place a higher burden of proof on beneficiaries to prove that the treatment or service they have been denied is necessary, rather than placing the burden of proof on MCO officials to prove that it is not. House legislators insisted on that language in the bill.

But she also said the bill was necessary, and that she would vote for it.

The bill passed, 40-2, and will go to the House for a final vote on Friday, where it is expected to pass.

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