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Health insurance agents support Perdue exchange choice

State health insurance agents and brokers say they support Gov. Bev Perdue's decision to opt for a health exchange set up as a state-federal partnership.

The Affordable Care Act requires states have internet shopping centers where people without health insurance can search for plans.

“We support the Governor’s choice to give North Carolina citizens a voice in managing their own health insurance marketplace,” says Teri Gutierrez, president of the N.C. Association of Health Underwriters. “It is critical that we make decisions that best fit the needs of both individual consumers and employers in North Carolina. We also agree with the Governor’s intent to move North Carolina towards a full state-based exchange as quickly as possible.”

States have the choice of setting up their own exchange, having the federal government run it, or working with the feds.

Perdue said she chose the middle course so imcoming governor Pat McCrory can choose to have a state-run exchange or a federally-operated exchange.

Morning Roundup: Less trees along roads, car insurance changes possible

This edition of the Morning Roundup is all about travel -- particularly the roads and cars on them:

From Craig Jarvis: Not only will billboard companies be able to cut down many more trees than they could before a new law loosened restrictions, under newly approved rules taking effect in March they won't have to replace them, either.

Environmentalists and others fear thousands of roadside trees that are decades old will be lost as a result. The General Assembly approved a bill expanding the clear-cutting zone around billboards in June. The state Rules Review Commission approved temporary rules last week. Read more here.

From Lynn Bonner: Legislators are taking another look at limiting regulation of car insurance rates with proposals that companies say would get rid of a surcharge most drivers pay. The problem is, there's no agreement on how to do it, or even that anything should change.

State Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin argues that none of the ideas legislators are considering would be better for the state's drivers and would just give insurance companies ways to make more money. Read more here.

Speeding bill motors through House committee

A House committee narrowly approved a bill that would give speeders an extra 5-miles-per-hour cushion before facing higher insurance premiums.

The House Insurance Committee, in a 6-5 vote, approved a measure that would allow speeders to drive up to  15-miles-per hour faster than the posted limit before getting insurance points on their licenses. Now, the limit is 10 miles or less before insurance points are assessed.

Rep. Tim Spear, the Washington County Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the higher speed would help clear courts on traffic days because drivers would no longer be lining up to convince district attorneys to reduce their tickets so they can avoid higher insurance charges.

Speeders now miss work to stand in long lines to try to get their 68-in-a-55 tickets reduced to 64 miles per hour, Spear said.

Opponents, including insurance companies and some committee members, said the insurance points are a deterent, and that it was a bad time talk about going easier on speeders the same week Wake three teenagers died in an high-speed accident.

"I think this spreads the wrong message," said Rep. Darren Jackson, a Wake County Democrat.

AAA Carolinas and insurance company representatives said the insurance surcharges help discourage speeding.

David Stoller, a State Farm lobbyist and a father of three, said forcing a young driver to go to court and stand in line teaches a lesson about the consequences of risky behavior.

Spear disagreed. "I have a hard time understanding how (license points) relate to safety," he said.

Senators roll up their sleeves on auto insurance

The state Senate's insurance committee this morning heard a presentation on two competing bills that would signficiantly rewrite the auto insurance laws in North Carolina, including limiting the insurance commissioner's ability to regulate premiums. It's a complicated issue with different insurance industry interests lining up behind different bills.

So, the committee voted to send the matter to a study committee to work through the details. Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin opposes both bills, pointing out the state's low insurance rates as indication that the system doesn't need fixing. He called the proposals "the most dramatic change (to the auto insurance structure) in 35 years."

The bills would also phase out a surcharge that insured motorists pay to subsidize liability coverage for some drivers. The surcharge is currently 4.2 percent.

Sen. Bob Rucho, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, acknowledged it's a complex issue that deserved a closer look. "Not to look at reform and modernization would be wrong," he said.

This evening, one of the insurance companies, Nationwide, issued a statement praising the senators for studying the bills more closely. Nationwide opposes one of the bills, SB 490 sponsored by Rucho, which would bypass Goodwin and allow companies to raise their own rates substantially.

Nationwide’s statement: “We agree that lawmakers should carefully consider the impacts on consumers and the possible unintended consequences of dismantling North Carolina’s robust, competitive, stable, and low-cost auto insurance system, which Senate Bill 490 threatens to do. There is no good reason to abolish the current system, and plenty of reasons not to.”

Workers' comp debate heats up

Hundreds of injured workers, union members, AARP members and others descended upon the General Assembly this morning to voice their support of the state's workers' compensation system.

They also overflowed a House Insurance Committee meeting this afternoon that featured a workers' comp expert who testified that the cost of workers' comp claims for North Carolina employers is well above average.

The demonstration of support and the expert testimony are the opening salvos of what undoubtedly will be a bruising battle over workers' comp.  A bill to overhaul the system and reduce worker benefits is expected to be introduced Wednesday by Rep. Dale Folwell, the Winston-Salem Republican who is speaker pro tem.

The lobbying by workers, who sported stickers that declared "VOW now/Value Our Workers," was designed to get in front of the issue, said Victor Farah, a Raleigh attorney who represents injured workers. Organizers included the N.C. Advocates for Justice, a trial lawyers' group, the AFL-CIO and the AARP.

A Congresswoman's salary only goes so far

Say What?
"People need to understand out there it costs a lot of money to be here in Congress. "

U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, the Republican from Dunn, explaining to a caller on WPTF's radio show why she signed up for the Blue Cross, Blue Shield federal employees insurance plan offered to members of Congress. Ellmers recently voted to repeal the health care law passed by Congress.


Fairness czar

Say What?
"I believe we have to create some fairness. "
Senate Leader Marc Basnight, in explaining why he wants to strip Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin of his ability to set insurance rates for the state's coastal counties.

Basnight aims at coastal insurance rates

RATE WAR: A budget provision that would have hamstrung Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin came from Senate Leader Marc Basnight, a Democrat from the coast, who says Goodwin is responsible for setting unfairly high homeowners rates for the coastal counties. (N&O)

SPECTER LOOMS: The primaries in three states strongly suggest that incumbents are heading toward a bad year. (AP)

DIVERSITY OVER: The Wake County school board ended the system's diversity policy, beginning a politically bruising slog toward creating community school zones. (N&O)

Group calls Burr an "insurance puppet"

A Washington-based campaign finance group has named U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a Winston-Salem Republican, an "insurance puppet" for the political contributions he has taken from insurance companies.

The Public Campaign Action Fund has an ad on the website fivethirtyeight.com depicting the North Carolina Republican on puppet strings, reports Lynn Bonner. The group connects Burr's opposition to the federal health insurance legislation to the insurance donations.

The Public Campaign Action Fund describes itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes public financing of campaigns.

Perdue has six bills left

Gov. Beverly Perdue signed another batch of bills Friday afternoon leaving five remaining unsigned bills on her desk.

The six remaining are:

HB 104: Clarifies which documents produced by lawmakers are exempt from the public records law. Would make requests by lawmakers sent to state agencies exempt from the public records law.

HB 945: The Studies Act of 2009 catalogues a host of items and issues to be studied while the legislature is out of session.

HB 1166: Insurance Law Changes. Makes several changes including a new requirement that to get a license, insurance agents must submit fingerprints for a criminal background check.

SB 947: Provides more opportunity for a homeowner to halt foreclosure if he or she can demonstrate they can pay what is owed.

HB 836: Makes technical corrections to the state budget.

HB 1329: Consolidates various state stautes regulating criminal record expunctions. 

Among the 40-plus Perdue signed Friday are:

SB 167: Prohibits tobacco products and cell phones in prisons. Makes it a crime to provide tobacco or cell phones to inmates.

HB 667: Allows wineries to sell wine during business hours.

SB 138: Bans the recreational use of salvia divinorum, an hallucinogenic herb. Still allows the mint-like plant to be used in landscaping.

SB 786: Authorizes capital projects on University of North Carolina system campuses. The projects have a funding stream to repay debt for the projects. List includes $21.8 million for a parking deck at N.C. State University, a $10 million renovation of the Carolina Inn at UNC-Chapel Hill, $35 million for a Partnership, Outreach and Research for Accelerated Learning Building at UNC-Charlotte.

SB 464: Requires statistics on race to be kept to help identify and prevent racial profiling by law enforcement. Also requires that a law enforcement officer ensure a child is in safe hands if the child's parent gets arrested. The last provision would have prevented a case last year in which three children were stranded on Interstate 85 in the middle of the night for eight hours when a sheriff's deputy arrested the children's mother, an illegal immigrant.

Correction: Perdue had six bills to sign, not five as we previously reported. Dome regrets the oversight. 

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