Pardon Our Dust
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Lawmakers have spent the week debating the second COVID-19 relief bill which allocates over a billion dollars in federal relief. The bill passed both chambers unanimously. The week has not ended without dispute, though, as the Senate was unsuccessful in their effort to override Governor Cooper’s veto of their bill to reopen all public schools at either limited or full capacity. Education has remained at the top of mind for both lawmakers and members of the Council of State. On Wednesday, Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Catherine Truitt shared test results with lawmakers that showed a majority of high school students did not pass end-of-course exams. Shortly after Truitt’s presentation, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) released updated guidance that removes the option for school districts and charter schools to continue providing remote-only instruction. Expect more updates in the following days on the status of public school reopening.
Fortunately, the state is on a positive trajectory with combating the coronavirus. The seven-day rolling average of positive cases has continued to drop every week since February 3, and hospitalizations are at an all-time low in 2021, with 1,486 fewer people hospitalized today than on January 31.
As of Thursday morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 2,502 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 1,303 individuals hospitalized, and sadly, 11,399 confirmed deaths. There have been 2,644,085 doses of the vaccine distributed in NC.
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.
On Tuesday, Governor Roy Cooper (D) and NC DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen gave a news conference about the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Cooper spoke with optimism about North Carolina’s vaccine rollout, stating that the state’s vaccine response is being noticed by the federal government. Cooper announced that his administration has worked closely with President Biden and the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and said that the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management has worked closely with FEMA to set up a mass vaccination clinic in Guilford County at the Four Seasons Town Centre in Greensboro. The clinic will open on March 10 and will operate seven days a week with the capacity to administer an estimated 3,000 vaccinations per day.
Governor Cooper also announced a change in the vaccine distribution schedule. Beginning on March 3rd, all frontline essential workers in Group 3 can sign up to receive a vaccine. This group includes police, firefighters, postal workers, grocery store workers, government workers, clergy, workers in manufacturing, and others. Cooper also announced an expected timeline for members in Group 4 to begin receiving their shots on March 24, with individuals with underlying medical conditions and individuals in certain congregate-living settings being able to receive it first. For more information about who is eligible to receive a vaccine, click here for the DHHS guide sheet.
While Governor Cooper reiterated that North Carolina still does not have enough vaccines to inoculate everyone, he stressed that our state is on the right path. Already since January 20, the amount of vaccine received by the state has increased by 135%. Cooper also announced that the new one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine is being sent to North Carolina this week, beginning with the arrival of 80,000 doses. The new vaccine will be distributed across the state to centers that have demonstrated an ability to receive more vaccines. Secretary Cohen said she planned to get the Johnson and Johnson shot, and Cooper himself received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot on Wednesday.
H196: Coronavirus Response & Relief Bill
The North Carolina General Assembly has worked hard this week to quickly pass legislation to distribute federal coronavirus relief dollars. Former President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) on December 27, which directed nearly $1.1 billion to North Carolina. Many of the federal dollars are slated to go towards public education to support various programs and entities to mitigate learning loss and reopen schools. The bill, H196: COVID-19 Response and Relief, calls for up to $10 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief II (ESSER II) Fund to be distributed to every public school unit in the state to appropriate at least $180.00 per pupil. The bill allocates roughly $70 million to public schools to provide additional mental health support services, school nutrition services, literacy training programs, services for at-risk children, and security. In addition to these programs, the bill also directs another $66 million to be held in reserve for schools to address learning loss during the summer.
H196 also allocates a significant amount of funds to infrastructure in the state to fund projects that were otherwise delayed as a result of the pandemic. This includes nearly $260 million to Highway Infrastructure Programs to assist the Department of Transportation with hindered interstate maintenance and bridge replacement projects. A recent topic of concern in the legislature has been litter on roadways. Accordingly, H196 allocates $30 million to the Department of Transportation’s Roadside Environmental Fund for litter removal. This week, DOT announced the rollout of a new app for citizens to report litter in real-time.
This bill also addressed some non-budgetary concerns of legislators, including borrowing authority for PPP loans, extending repayment of interest charges for UNC system students, extending enrollment in the two virtual charter school pilot programs through the 2021-22 school year, and a provision allowing pharmacists to administer long-acting injectable medication or vaccines.
The bill passed the House of Representatives in a unanimous vote Wednesday and passed the Senate Thursday. For more information, you can view the bill and a summary here.
Additional Legislation of Note
While the COVID-19 Response and Relief bill has consumed much of the attention coming out of the legislature this week, there have been several consequential bills making their way through the chambers.
H128 – Increase Access to Sporting Venues in Schools: With spring and warmer weather approaching, many legislators are attempting to allow parents and spectators to attend sporting events and commencement ceremonies at public and nonpublic schools, including community colleges and the UNC system schools. The bill has stirred controversy because it rescinds parts of Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 195 which placed a 30% limit on capacity at these events; the bill would increase that capacity to 50%.
S93 – Assisting NC Families in Crisis: For years, legislators have grappled with how to improve the state’s foster care program, and this bill is perceived as one piece to solving that puzzle. Currently, under NC law, a parent whose children are removed from their custody due to neglect or substance abuse also loses Medicaid eligibility. This bill permits the parent to continue receiving Medicaid benefits as long as they qualify for and maintain mental health or substance abuse treatment.
H91 – Reduce Regulation to Help Children with Autism: North Carolina is currently the only state which prohibits behavior analysts – which are health care providers who offer therapy to patients with autism – from practicing independently. This bill would provide a path for behavior analysts to obtain licensure and practice on their own. If it passes, this bill would mean that parents of children with autism, especially those in rural areas, would no longer have to drive hours to find a behavior analyst working under the supervision of a psychiatrist.
H76 – Modernize Debt Settlement Prohibition: During the COVID-19 pandemic, private, non-accredited companies claiming to assist individuals with debt settlement have become pervasive and have targeted struggling individuals. This bill would prohibit non-accredited debt adjusting in North Carolina, and permit the Attorney General to bring a civil action to stop debt adjusting.
H27 – In-Service Training/Magistrates: Currently in North Carolina, a magistrate is one of the only individuals in a county court system who is not required to be trained on the civil and criminal duties of their office. This bill would require a new magistrate to take a basic training course of at least 40 hours as administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Upcoming Legislative Meetings
Monday, March 8
4:00PM Senate: Session Convenes
5:00PM House: Session Convenes
Tuesday, March 9
8:30AM House: Appropriations, General Government (Joint)
8:30AM House: Appropriations, Justice and Public Safety (Joint)
8:30AM Senate: Joint Appropriations on Justice and Public Safety
8:30AM Senate: Joint Appropriations on General Government and Information Technology
8:45AM House: Appropriations, Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources (Joint)
10:00AM House: Health
10:00AM Senate: Agriculture, Energy and Environment
11:00AM House: Judiciary 1
1:00PM House: Local Government
1:00PM House: Education – K-12
2:00PM House: Homeland Security, Military and Veterans
3:00PM House: Energy and Public Utilities
Wednesday, March 10
11:00AM House: State Government
1:00PM House: Alcoholic Beverage Control