In a meeting on state boards and commissions slated for reduction or elimination, several boards that advise health care policy-makers were restored.

By Rose Hoban

In a standing-room-only committee chamber, members of the state Senate met Tuesday to discuss a bill that would have eliminated dozens of state boards and commissions, and reduced the number of state experts on dozens of others.

In a meeting to consider the fates of dozens of state boards and commissions, lobbyists and advocates formed a standing-room-only crowd in the committee room
In a meeting to consider the fates of dozens of state boards and commissions, lobbyists and advocates formed a standing-room-only crowd in the committee room Credit: Rose Hoban

Lobbyists from organizations representing everyone from electrical contractors to North Carolina’s dentists packed the room to hear legislators debate and amend the bill. The lobbyists were present to make the case that their boards and commissions needed preservation.

Most of the councils are comprised of experts from around the state who donate time and receive compensation only for things such as travel or meals. The bill proposed trimming more than 900 people from boards and commissions that  “have not met recently, are duplicative or are not deemed critical.”  Total savings realized by the bill has been tallied at a little less than a million dollars per year.

“(We were) trying to get rid of those where there was perceived to be a significant level duplication, or they were just irrelevant,” explained David Rouzer (R-Benson), one of the bill’s sponsors. “Every decision in this body is a judgement, one way or the other.”

in a two-part meeting that took a total of several hours, Senators restored several state boards, added sunset dates on others and deleted reductions to still other boards.

But some legislators raised concerns about the seemingly arbitrary nature of the cuts to many of the boards in question.

“What was process and criteria to eliminate some boards and not others,” asked Sen. Eric Mansfield (D-Fayetteville) an ear, nose and throat doctor. “Is there a criteria written down that you said these committees are now gone, or was this arbitrary? is there something concrete that we can look at?”

Mansfield wondered aloud why the bill eliminated a member from the Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing who was required to have expertise in performing cochlear implants, a therapy increasingly used to restore hearing loss.

Sen. Rouzer responded that staff for the Senate leadership largely put together the bill, compiling information from many legislators.

“There were judgement calls made,” Rouzer said. “There was no specific recipe.  And as we move forward, those that are deemed to be highly important and necessary… we feel confident those would come to light.”

“A lot of these committees save the state money, a lot of federal dollars come to the state to pay for them” argued Sen. Bill Purcell (D-Laurinburg), who asked for a fiscal review of how much money would be saved by the bill.

After more than 15 proposed amendments, several health-related boards that had been slated for elimination were restored:

  • Child Fatality Task Force – new sunset date of 2019
  • Justus Warren Heart Disease and Stroke Task Force – new sunset date of 2019
  • Brain Injury Advisory Council – new sunset date of 2019
  • Governor’s Advisory Council on Aging – restored
  • North Carolina Center for Nursing – UNC Chapel Hill will be required to provide the General Assembly with annual information about availability of nurses in the state

Health care advocates expressed relief at the outcome.

“It’s perplexing that two groups who have made such important contributions to the safety and health of North Caroline would be targeted for elimination at any time,” said Peg O’Connell, an advocate for stroke awareness. “But at least this 2019 date gives up room to breathe and continue to do important work.”

Committee chairman Sen. Fletcher Hartsell (R-Concord) sent the bill to the Senate finance committee for fiscal review. The move could delay the bill’s movement to the Senate floor for long enough that the legislation could die before the end of the short session.

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Rose Hoban

Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees...