Farmer-Butterfield seeks compromise on Medicaid plans


Oct. 23–Dozens of Wilson business leaders gathered Tuesday for an update on the most recent legislative session and its effects on communities including Wilson.

Guest speakers included state Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, and Brian Lewis of the N.C. Travel Industry Association. Topics included the state budget, Medicaid expansion and North Carolina tourism industry trends.

Tuesday’s event was the fourth and last installment of the Wilson Chamber of Commerce’s Public Policy Series.

“Your issues and concerns are my issues and concerns,” Farmer-Butterfield told the crowd of business leaders.

Farmer-Butterfield provided an update on the state budget, which remains in limbo following Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the Republican-led legislature’s spending plan. In a surprise Sept. 11 vote, House Republicans overrode Cooper’s budget veto, but the Senate has not taken up the issue since.

“Whether or not the Senate will approve of it remains to be seen,” Farmer-Butterfield said. “Because they have not taken a vote on it yet.”

Farmer-Butterfield said she is a primary sponsor of 19 bills and co-sponsor of 129 bills.

“We’re talking about 148 bills I’m advocating for,” she said.

One of those bills Farmer-Butterfield has championed would expand the state’s Medicaid program through the Affordable Care Act. She said residents have indicated to her that it’s an important issue and the hope the expansion occurs.

Farmer-Butterfield said Medicaid expansion would cover 500,000 North Carolinians and create 34,000 jobs.

“We are talking about jobs and economic development,” she said.

Farmer-Butterfield said 90% of Medicaid expansion in North Carolina would be funded by the federal government while the remaining 10% would be funded by hospitals. She said a Republican version of the Medicaid expansion bill includes work requirements and a monthly premium.

She said the Republican version passed the health committee and is expected to receive a floor vote. She’s hopeful that Democrats and Republicans can broker a compromise to expand the state’s federally funded health insurance program for low-income adults.

HEMP, BROADBAND, HISTORIC TAX CREDITS

Farmer-Butterfield said the state’s farm bill has been held up amid concerns from law enforcement groups that allowing the production and sale of smokable hemp will interfere with enforcement of marijuana laws. While hemp is smoked for the legal compound CBD and does not produce a “high” like its cannabis cousin, current police field tests can’t distinguish legal hemp from illegal marijuana.

“It has passed the House and is over in the Senate,” she said. “We are hoping that bill benefits the farmers in the state of North Carolina. It is about hemp. It is about giving them a different opportunity. We are hoping that will be put into place in North Carolina along with law enforcement support.”

Farmer-Butterfield said a component in the farm bill’s current draft would authorize a study of hemp regulations.

Other items discussed included a bill for broadband expansion in rural communities.

“We are very supportive of that,” Farmer-Butterfield said. “It’s passed the House and hopefully it will pass the Senate.”

Several leaders asked questions and discussed issues at the state level including Kimberly Van Dyk, the city of Wilson’s planning and community revitalization director. She said the city has been paying close attention to the historic tax credit bill.

Van Dyk said the bill passed the Senate floor and is headed back to the House for a vote on Thursday. She urged Farmer-Butterfield to get other lawmakers on board. Van Dyk said this bill affects long-term projects, including the Cherry Hotel, which the city has been working to redevelop for several years.

“We have the developers,” she said. “We have the investors, the lenders. They only thing we are waiting for is to hopefully get those historic tax credits renewed again and we will be able to finalize that deal and it will become a 100-room, full-service hotel.

Van Dyk said city officials have been told the developers’ deadline is the end of October.

TOURISM AND FILMING

Lewis, who represents the N.C. Travel Industry Association, discussed the travel industry’s perspective regarding the state budget stalemate.

“We are operating under last year’s budget now,” Lewis said. “We would like the budget passed.”

He said from economic development to capital projects and filming incentives, the group believes government should operate in its current year needs.

“We are a $25 billion industry,” he said. “There is only one bigger than us in North Carolina, and that’s agriculture. Tourism pays $2 billion in taxes every year.”

Lewis said the film industry is beginning to come back to North Carolina.

“In the budget, there is a $31 million recurring line item which is an incentive for films to come into our state and start filming again,” he said. “We need to be able to pay these companies. Companies come here for incentives and we have to recognize that. We want the budget passed.”

Sen. Milton F. “Toby” Fitch, D-Wilson, was slated to be a guest speaker at Tuesday’s event but could not attend due to Senate obligations, officials said.

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