Politics & Government

New laws in the New Year: March primaries, new judicial districts, no more soy ‘milk’

NC Senate team gulps its way to milk-chugging win

From left, Sen. Danny Britt, Sen. Rick Gunn, and Michael Poehler, an aide to Sen. Ralph Hise, were victorious in the legislature's annual milk chugging contest.
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From left, Sen. Danny Britt, Sen. Rick Gunn, and Michael Poehler, an aide to Sen. Ralph Hise, were victorious in the legislature's annual milk chugging contest.

With the New Year come new laws.

Legislation that takes effect Jan. 1 in North Carolina touches on issues ranging from the dates and boundaries affecting elections to the labeling of plant-based “milk” products.

Here are some highlights from the 11 new state laws taking effect New Year’s Day.

Soy milk to soy drink

Jan. 1 sets the clock ticking on the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to come up with an enforcement plan “to prohibit the sale of plant-based products mislabeled as milk, such as soy milk and almond milk.”

But don’t expect immediate action. The legislation gives the agriculture department a 90-day window to put its plan in motion, but that deadline will be triggered once 11 states — out of a list of 14 — pass similar laws.

Republican lawmakers said the provision, part of the 2018 Farm Bill, was an effort to enforce longstanding federal law and ensure that consumers are not confused by product labeling, The News & Observer has reported. Lawmakers also noted that dairy farmers recently have been forced to sell milk at below-production costs.

Earlier primaries

Even-year primaries will be earlier, moved up from May to March.

The idea behind the change was to make North Carolina more relevant to the presidential nomination process, The News & Observer has reported.

But critics have said the move could burden candidates in state-level or local races, who will now have to mount a longer general election campaign.

The legislation also moved the deadline for political candidates to file their notice of candidacy from February to December.

A joint committee of the N.C. House and Senate meet over proposed judicial districts at the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh on Jan. 23, 2018.

Judicial redistricting

Lawmakers redrew boundaries for superior court, district court and prosecutorial districts.

Proponents said the new lines would better reflect population, geography and workloads, The News & Observer has reported. But Democrats argued that the outcomes favored Republicans.

In a veto message, Gov. Roy Cooper said: “Legislative attempts to rig the courts by reducing the people’s voice hurts justice. Piecemeal attempts to target judges create unnecessary confusion and show contempt for North Carolina’s judiciary.”

The legislature overrode Cooper’s vetoes in June.

Hospital charges

In addition to those new state laws, there’s also a new federal rule that could help you estimate medical costs.

Starting Jan. 1, hospitals are required to post their standard charges for medical procedures, supplies, tests and other services. The purpose of the requirement, which comes from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is to bring transparency to the health care system.

However, hospital officials say that the hospital price list (called a “chargemaster”) posted online is not the amount that hospitals receive, because each hospital negotiates prices with health insurers and pays a set discounted rates to Medicare and Medicaid.

Nor are the prices necessarily what an uninsured patient might pay, according to WakeMed Health & Hospitals on its website.

“In situations where a patient does not have insurance, our hospital has financial assistance policies that apply discounts to the amounts charged,” WakeMed states.

According to UNC Health Care, all hospitals in the United States will have to post their charges for the following services: “hospital-based procedures, services, supplies, prescription drugs, diagnostic tests, plus any fees charged for equipment or facilities used during a patient’s stay.”

The charges can vary by length of stay in the hospital and by other factors. And the hospital charges do not include additional fees charged by doctors, anesthesiologists and other specialists.

Carli Brosseau is a reporter at The News & Observer who often analyzes databases as part of her work. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.