North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

November 13, 2020

Pardon Our Dust

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Over a week after Election Day, the final election results of races across North Carolina will soon be in.  A Supreme Court ruling required local boards of elections to continue collecting mail ballots through Thursday, November 12 at 5:00PM, so long as they were postmarked by November 3, leaving the winner of several close races up in the air. Throughout the week, local boards of elections have met to begin the process of counting the remaining ballots and updating the results on the State Board of Election’s dashboard. Several close races that left the winner unclear on election night have since been called, including North Carolina’s presidential and senatorial races.

As of Thursday morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 303,454 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 4,486,524 completed tests, 4,706 deaths, and 1,279 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.

Reopening Pause

With coronavirus cases on the rise throughout North Carolina, and across the country, Governor Roy Cooper (D) announced that the state will remained paused in Phase 3 of reopening for another three weeks, through Friday, December 4 at 5:00PM. Governor Cooper signed Executive Order 176 Tuesday, which extends restrictions outlined in Executive Order 170 that were set to expire at 5:00PM Friday, with a few exceptions. Much of the same will continue in the Phase 3 extension announced this week, including outdoor mass gathering limit of 50 people, fitness centers, exercise facilities, restaurants, bars, and personal care businesses can remain open, subject to the same capacity limits under the previous executive order, and alcohol sales are still prohibited after 11 PM. Under the new Phase 3 extension, indoor mass gatherings will be reduced from 25 to 10 people. The Phase 3 extension goes into effect Friday, November 13 at 5:00PM.

PED Reports

Members of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee met this week to discuss several reports recently released by the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division (PED). PED was directed to look at the state’s efforts to increase diversity among the teacher workforce.

The report found that while North Carolina may not have a statewide approach to recruit and retain a diverse teaching workforce, many local education agencies, charter schools, and professional programs have developed and implemented efforts of their own.

Based on PED’s findings, staff brought before the committee a bill draft that took into account the recommendations included within the report requiring the State Board of Education, in partnership with the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC), to develop alternative plans and consider alternative qualifications for teachers applying for a continuing professional license. PED did not recommend specific alternative options and left that discretion up to DPI and the State Board of Education. The proposed language would also require North Carolina’s Teaching Fellows Program to select at least one minority-serving institution to participate in the program.

Committee members also received an overview of two Department of Public Safety (DPS) related reports: one report reviewing options for reorganizing the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, and the other report outlining a step pay plan option to increase pay for the division’s staff. Last year, lawmakers directed PED to look into restructuring options within the department, all of which would involve portions or all of the division to become more independent. DPS Secretary Erik Hooks spoke on the agency’s response to the report, noting that he would support the option separating the administration of juvenile justice from adult corrections within the department. ED’s report outlined one option that would make the juvenile justice division a separate agency from DPS and therefore create a new statewide cabinet position. However, Hooks and PED acknowledged that this option of creating a completely new state agency would come with a hefty price tag.

Secretary Hooks was clear that while he would support some form of separation between the adult corrections and juvenile justice divisions, he would be opposed to the option included in the report that would move community corrections out from under DPS. As Secretary Hooks concluded his remarks, he emphasized the ongoing need to improve on structural issues in things like inmate healthcare, as well as his commitment to increase pay for corrections officers and providing them with overtime pay.

The committee also voted to recommend the PED/DOT Internal Audit bill draft become legislation next session. The bill draft would direct the State Board of Transportation Audit Committee to include a list of completed reports from the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General annual audit plan and a list of pending reports with their expected completion date at each of the Board’s monthly meetings. The bill draft also directs the Council of Internal Auditing to establish minimum performance standards for all state agency internal audit units and monitor their compliance.

Oversight Updates

The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on General Government met this week to hear an overview of the state hiring process, an update on the state real estate information system, a follow up to the state motor fleet audit, and an overview of the volunteer fire department fund.

Lawmakers received an update on 2016 legislation, SB 747: State-Owned Property Management/PED, that directed the Department of Administration (DOA) to update North Carolina’s state-owned property database and the $1 million lawmakers appropriated to the agency in 2018 to fund the purchase of a new real estate information system. The legislation required the database to include location, a description of the operations supported by the building, agencies that occupy the building, ownership information, size of the building, a condition assessment, operating and maintenance costs, among a handful of other specifications and relevant information requested by the department. The agency is currently halfway through their estimated project timeline and is expecting to go live with the database at the end of the year.

North Carolina’s Office of State Human Resources (OSHR) spoke to members about some of the challenges they are facing when it comes to recruiting and retaining state employees. OSHR found that on average, it takes 190 days for the state hire candidates to fill vacant positions. OSHR is looking to streamline the state hiring process, but has faced an uphill battle as the unemployment rate has remained low, drawing more and more potential candidates to the private sector. The private sector also has a leg up on state jobs when it comes to benefits like onsite childcare and continuing professional development opportunities. OSHR also noted that the state health plan tends to be more expensive for younger families in comparison to other private options.

OSHR recommended expanding partnerships with University of North Carolina (UNC) System schools, increasing the use of social media for targeted recruiting efforts, and participating in more STEM events to promote state jobs in the field, as ways to improve and expedite the state recruitment and hiring process.

The committee also heard from the DOA’s Motor Fleet Management agency in response to changes they have made since an audit was conducted last year. The agency is responsible for keeping track of the state-owned vehicles issued to all state agencies. However, state Auditor Beth Wood found that there was no oversight to ensure compliance with state vehicle assignment and use policies, no oversight to prevent underutilization of state vehicles, and no oversight to ensure use of consistent commuting reimbursement rates to employees.

In response to the audit’s findings, the agency reported that they have boosted their communication efforts both internally and externally, begun issuing quarterly underutilization and minimum mileage exemption reports, and have outlined clear commuting rules on their website. While the agency awaits another audit to see if their efforts have been successful, lawmakers are considering drafting legislation for next session that would establish penalties, such as fines or budget cuts, for agency noncompliance.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Wednesday, November 18

10:00AM House: Select Committee on Community Relations, Law Enforcement and Justice