February 2023 Council of State Roundup 

RALEIGH — Unannounced travel, policy-breaking driving and a request for a fentanyl task force are some of the highlights for the Council of State in February. 

According to a fundraising email, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper apparently slipped out of the state on or around Feb. 10 and landed in Washington, D.C.   The governor gave no public notice of the travel and his published calendar for Feb. 10 simply states, “Throughout the day, Gov. Cooper will be holding meetings and conducting other business.” 

Cooper, along with over two dozen other governors, met with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Feb. 10, according to a readout of the meeting posted on WhiteHouse.gov.  

The governors were in D.C. as part of the National Governors Association Winter meeting. Biden and Harris used the meeting to urge governors to find ways to implement legislation favored by the administration using the billions in federal dollars sent to the states.   

The governor also met virtually with N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley, UNC System President Peter Hans, and the chancellors and leaders from the 17 UNC System campuses on Feb. 17 to discuss ongoing mental health support for college students in the state. Cooper had previously announced $7.7 million in funds to support mental health in the UNC System.  

State Auditor Beth Wood has found herself in the hot seat again over the use of another state vehicle following her hit-and-run incident that occurred last December after she departed a Christmas party in Raleigh. Wood was also charged with leaving the scene and causing certain property damage. 

Wood’s office has conducted multiple audits over the years that cited “inadequate oversight” by various agencies when it came to state fleet vehicles could lead to misuse going undetected, including those vehicles being used by employees for personal purposes.  Now it seems she may have done the same thing her agency reprimanded others for. 

Following the hit-and-run, she apparently checked out another state vehicle on Dec. 12. 

In early February, Motor Fleet Management Director Tom Riddle sent Wood a letter about her use of a state-assigned vehicle to commute while her permanently assigned vehicle had been suspended or temporarily terminated due to her Class 2 hit-and-run incident. He also wrote that “it appears that you may be using a state-owned vehicle for personal use. If this is the case, this constitutes misuse of a state-owned vehicle.” 

Attorney General Josh Stein is looking to create a Fentanyl Control Unit within the North Carolina Department of Justice’s Special Prosecutions and Law Enforcement Section to deal with the rising number of related cases. According to Stein’s press release, the unit would aid local district attorneys with “large-scale fentanyl trafficking, wiretap, and overdose cases.” 

The unit would need funding, which means asking lawmakers for help. Stein wants legislators to add more prosecutors to his office that would work with local prosecutors specifically on fentanyl cases. If approved, Stein says his office will offer fentanyl, wiretap and overdose prosecution resources to all district attorney offices in the state beyond our current capacity.  

State Treasurer Dale Folwell released a report detailing excessive pay for executives at nonprofit hospitals in the state. The report says that compensation has more than doubled in less than five years. Nonprofit hospitals paid $1.75 billion to their top executives from 2010 to 2021. 

The Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI)  announced that the state continues to lead when it comes to the number of national board-certified teachers. According to an NCDPI press release, the state has a total of 23,858 national board-certified teachers and ranks first nationally percentage-wise, with 23% of all teachers in North Carolina holding the certification. 

According to Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, new business creations this year started with “a bang.” Per Marshall, the 174,000 new business creation filings in 2022 ranked as the second-highest year
on record and the almost 16,000 creation filings for January set an all-time record. 

Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey and the Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program raised awareness for Medicare and Medicaid recipients about a federal data breach, warning recipients to scrutinize correspondence they may receive from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 

Causey’s press release directs recipients to follow the instructions of the official letters sent to them, which include destroying their old cards and informing their health providers of their new number. 

The insurance commissioner also announced that the N.C. Rate Bureau is requesting a 28.4 percent rate increase for auto insurance policies that if approved would become effective Oct. 1, 2023. If the department review finds the increase unwarranted, settlement negotiations may ensue or a hearing may be called.  

The New Emerging Crops Program has awarded $500,000 for seven research projects aiming at increasing state crop production and farm income, according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture. The awards will go to various projects conducted at N.C. State University’s Department of Horticultural Science and the schools’ Department of Crop and Soil Sciences 

Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said the research “will help farmers explore the viability of certain crops in the state, with the goal of boosting the overall ag economy.” 

The North Carolina Council of State (COS) is an administrative body of ten elected officials who are heads of their departments. Council members include the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, State Auditor, Treasurer, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Attorney General, Commissioner of Agriculture, Commissioner of Labor and Commissioner of Insurance. 

The next COS meeting is set for Mar. 7 at 10:00 a.m.  The meeting will be held in Raleigh at 1 South Wilmington Street at Transportation Building DOT Boardroom #150.