North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review – Spotlight on Public Health and Transportation

July 10, 2020

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Lawmakers were briefly back in Raleigh this week for what was a quick session to handle some last minute legislative matters and veto override attempts. Both the House and Senate wrapped up their work for the week on Wednesday and plan to hold skeletal, nonvoting sessions Saturday, July 11. Neither chamber will hold votes again until Wednesday, September 2 at noon. Per the adjournment resolution passed two weeks ago, SJR 870: Adjourn to Date Certain then Sine Die, when legislators return in September, bills that will be up for consideration include appropriating additional COVID-19 funds from the federal government, or take action on appointments by the General Assembly or governor.

As of Thursday morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 79,349 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 1,121,811 completed tests, 1,461 deaths, and 1,034 current hospitalizations. As we all continue to feel the effects of the global pandemic and adjust to a new normal, we want to highlight a few ways our clients across North Carolina have worked to support residents and make this time a little easier for those throughout the state. Read more about what our clients are doing to help by clicking here.

For more information on COVID-19 in North Carolina, click here to visit the Department of Health and Human Services website, and be sure to stay up to date on the latest federal guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by clicking here.

Session Updates 

While members of the General Assembly were in town this week, legislators moved forward with several bills that tie up many of the loose ends left unfinished when they adjourned shortly before the July 4 holiday. At the start of the COVID-19 emergency, lawmakers temporarily lifted the state’s ban on wearing a facemask in public through August 1. But with the General Assembly heading home until September and coronavirus cases growing throughout the state and country, some legislators were concerned that it would soon become illegal for people to wear masks in public. A provision in SB 232: Repeal Death Invest Conf/Masks/Health&Safety addresses those concerns, indefinitely allowing facemasks to be worn for public health purposes. The bill also repeals a controversial confidentiality of death investigation information provision included in SB 168 and was the reason behind Governor Cooper’s veto of the bill earlier in the week. The bill sparked a series of protests across the state this week.

SB 226: Delay Certain ABC Permit Renewal Payments provides an extension for ABC permittees that have not been able to conduct business due to the governor’s Executive Order closing bars and other facilities to pay their renewal fee. The bill would give permittees 90 days after the governor rescinds the Executive Order that closed those businesses to pay the fee to renew their ABC permit. Permittees that have already paid their permit renewal fee would be eligible for a refund to be repaid by the end of the extension. Both the House and Senate unanimously supported the bill, sending it over to the Governor for his signature.

House lawmakers also took up SB 374: COVID-19/2020-2021 School Calendar Start which would allow local boards of education to use remote learning during the first five days of their school calendar, if approved by the State Board of Education, in order to protect the health and safety of students and staff. The bill passed unanimously through the House but was never taken up by the Senate. Another bill that made its way through the House this week but received no action from the Senate was SB 474: Obsolete Bds/Judicial and Admin. Changes.The bill would abolish obsolete boards and commissions that are no longer in operation, allow retired superior court judges to serve as emergency district court judges, transfer the Boxing Commission from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Public Safety, and extend the sunset of the waiver for health care powers of attorney and advanced directives for natural deaths.

Vetoed Bills 

Last Friday, Governor Roy Cooper vetoed eight bills passed by the General Assembly shortly before they adjourned. This week, lawmakers reconsidered five of those vetoed bills, hoping to override any one of the Governor’s vetoes. In the House, legislators considered HB 652: 2nd Amendment Protection Act which would have allowed concealed carry permit holders to carry guns at schools on religious property. The House voted 66-48, failing to get the 3/5 majority needed to the override the Governor’s veto. Even though the holiday had already passed, the House took up HB 686: Freedom to Celebrate the Fourth of July which would have prohibited an Executive Order or any county or municipality from banning parades and firework displays and would protect an individual from being charged with a misdemeanor for violating an Executive Order. The bill also contains a provision that limits civil liability for the contraction of COVID-19 at any 4th of July event, which was the reason some lawmakers believed the veto override was needed. Ultimately, members voted 58-54, sustaining the Governor’s veto. The last bill considered by the House, HB 806: Open Exercise and Fitness Facilities, which would have allowed indoor or outdoor exercise and fitness facilities, gyms, health clubs, and fitness centers to reopen, failed to get the votes needed to override the veto, 63-51.

Over in the Senate, SB 105: Clarify Emergency Powers would have required the governor to receive concurrence by the majority of members on the Council of State prior to issuing executive orders or taking certain actions, like closing restaurants, bars, and gyms, under the powers given to the executive branch through the Emergency Management Act. Members voted 26-21, failing to get the 3/5 majority needed for a veto override. The Senate also tried to override the veto of SB 599: Open Skating Rinks/Bowling Alleys which would have allowed skating rinks and bowling alleys to reopen, so long as they meet specific safety and precautionary requirements. Once more, members voted 26-21, sustaining the governor’s veto of the bill.  

HB 258: Open Amusement Parks/Arcades/Venues, HB 918: Expedite Permanency/DHHS Report SNAP/TANF, and HB 612: DSS Review of Procedures/Criminal History/OAH were the remaining three bills vetoed by the governor but were not taken up for reconsidered by members of the General Assembly. SB 168: DHHS & Other Revisions was also vetoed by the governor earlier in the week, but its controversial provision that prompted the governor to veto the legislation was addressed and corrected through SB 232.

Transportation Legislation 

There was no shortage of transportation-related discussion during this summer’s short session, especially as the Department of Transportation (DOT) continues to struggle with their financial situation, only exacerbated by the COVID-19 emergency. While members of the General Assembly were in Raleigh, a handful of bills were proposed, and passed, dealing with the Department of Transportation, transportation funding, and related regulations. Some of the most notable bills from the short session include:

HB 77: DOT 2020-2021 FY Budget/Governance

  • Modifies the General Assembly’s appropriations to the Department for fiscal year 2019-2021.
  • Directs the Department to create a five-year revenue forecast that will be used to develop cash flow estimates included in the biennial budgets, develop a Strategic Transportation Improvement Program, and for the Department of the State Treasurer to compute transportation debt capacity.
  • Allows the State Treasurer to issue $700M in Build NC Bonds to be used for currently existing projects.
  • Extends the date by which DOT must spend CARES Act funds, should federal guidance change.
  • Provides $1.5M to DMV to fund their headquarters move and make technology upgrades.
  • HB 77 increases the membership size of the Board of Transportation to 20 members. The Governor would appoint 14 members to the board, three would be recommended by the President Pro Tem and three by the Speaker of the House. Currently, the Governor appoints all Board members. The bill also outlines the powers and duties of the Board to clarify that their focus should be on the solvency of the Highway Fund and Highway Trust Fund.
  • Establishes additional reporting requirements for the Department, creates a definition for a Spend Plan, and requires the State Auditor to conduct an annual performance audit of the Department.
  • Passed the Senate in a 41-0 vote and the House in a 99-17 vote. The Governor allowed the bill to become law without his signature on 7/6/2020.

HB 158: COVID-19 New Driver Response

  • Waives the requirement for a driver to pass a road test in order to obtain a Level 2 limited provisional license but requires the driver to pass a road test in order to obtain a Level 3 full provisional license.
  • Allows students who have finished at least 15 hours of classroom drivers education instruction prior to March 16 of this year to be considered complete and can begin the behind-the-wheel portion of instruction.
  • Passed the House in a 107-12 vote and the Senate unanimously. The Governor signed the bill into law 6/19/2020.

HB 694: Designate Legacy Airports

  • Requires the Department of Transportation to name an airport as a legacy airport if it (1) is owned and operated by a county or airport authority, (2) was an established airport or military facility before 1945, (3) has a terminal or runway built before 1945, (4) has an active runway at least 6,500 feet long, and (5) has provided significant contributions to aviation development in the state.
  • Both the House and Senate unanimously passed the bill and was signed into law by the Governor 7/1/2020.

HB 1225: Education & Transportation Bond Act of 2020

  • Would allow for two questions to be added to the November election ballot. One question would be about the issuance of $1.6B in education bonds and the other would be about the issuance of $1.5B in transportation bonds.
  • If the bonds were to pass, $800M would go towards public schools to complete outlay projects, repairs, and renovations. All bond projects would be subject to the approval of the State Board of Education and would require a local match.
  • Institutions of higher education would also receive funds from the bond. $600M would go to institutions apart of the UNC System to fund new construction or facilitate facility repairs and renovations. $200M would go to community colleges for the same project purposes but would require a local match.
  • $1.5B would be used to fund transportation projects throughout the state.
  • Passed the House in a 113-5 vote but has not received any action by the Senate.

HB 1023: Coronavirus Relief Fund/Additions & Revisions

  • If federal guidance on the use of CARES Act funds changes, this bill would appropriate $300M to the Department of Transportation to help replace lost revenues from the COVID-19 emergency.
  • Passed through both chambers of the General Assembly unanimously and was signed into law by the Governor on 7/1/2020.