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By Jasmin Singh, Hyun Namkoong, Rose Hoban
As lawmakers worked behind closed doors this week to put the finishing touches on this year’s budget revision, health care advocates and lobbyists were walking the halls, holding conversations with key lawmakers where they could. They were hoping to induce movement on a number of bills that have been parked in obscure legislative committees, some for more than a year.
The final budget bill includes some of the measures of concern to health care lobbyists, but some came away disappointed.
School epinephrine pens
A bill passed by the House last year would have provided for schools to supply epinephrine auto-injector devices in every school.
The devices allow for quick treatment of severe allergic responses, whether it be to a peanut or the venom of a bee sting. The most serious kind of reaction is called anaphylaxis, a rapid onset of hives, throat swelling and low blood pressure. Untreated, anaphylaxis can quickly proceed to death.
The budget released late last night includes a provision to have schools obtain epinephrine injection devices and train several staff members in how to use them in case of an emergency. An earlier version of the budget introduced by the House included the same provision.
The original bill was one of many sponsored by Rep. Jim Fulghum (R-Raleigh), a physician who died earlier this month from complications due to cancer.
Youth skin cancer prevention
Another bill co-sponsored by Fulghum last year and passed by the House would restrict teens under 18 years old from using tanning beds – a measure legislators were convinced would reduce the number of premature cases of skin cancer.
Initially, the bill faced stiff resistance from the tanning bed industry, but the industry has since withdrawn opposition to the bill.
This bill is a response to the growing number of skin cancer cases in the country’s youth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2012, 61,061 people in the United States were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin – 35,248 men and 25,813 women. The research also shows that young people who begin tanning before the age of 35 have a 59 percent higher risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Nonetheless, the measure has been languishing for more than a year, and it looks less likely that tanning bed regulation will become law at the end of this legislative session.
Initially, the bill was standalone, but after a year of inaction by the Senate, House budget writers wrote the provision into their version of the budget. That bill stalled, and House lawmakers then rolled the tanning bed bill into a larger regulatory reform bill, SB 493.
In a recent version of the budget, the statutory language banning teen use of tanning beds was included; but in the final version released late Wednesday evening, the language was gone.
“It’s a sad irony that we received the news about the North Carolina tanning bed bill the same week as the U.S. Surgeon General issued a national call to action on skin cancer,” wrote Brent Mizelle, head of the N.C. Dermatology Association, in a statement Thursday morning.
Raise the age
Historic legislation that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to be charged as minors rather than adults in the criminal justice system passed the House in May after failing multiple times in the past decade.
But almost two months after overwhelmingly passing muster in the House, the bill continues to languish in the Senate. Advocates and lawmakers in favor of the bill argue that North Carolina juveniles are unfairly subjected to the negative economic impact of a criminal record.
They also point to findings from the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission that show that 16- and 17-year-olds placed in adult prisons have the highest risk for sexual abuse, more than any other group of incarcerated people.
Advocates worried privately that the troubles resolving the budget would result in the bill remaining stuck in the House. But they said they were determined to return to Raleigh next year to keep pushing for the measure.