Pardon Our Dust
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This week, over a hundred demonstrators surrounded a stage on the Halifax Mall, in front of the legislative complex, to hear from speakers. In committee rooms, social distancing measures for the public have been relaxed. It is a sign of business returning to normal as public health restrictions continue to be eased.
Wednesday, Governor Roy Cooper (D) announced that he anticipates restrictions to be significantly scaled back in the coming weeks as the number of vaccinations has increased. He noted that while hospitalizations have inched up in recent weeks, the rate of deaths has dropped dramatically and the rate of vaccinations is stable.
As of Thursday morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 2,236 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 1,149 individuals hospitalized, and sadly, 12,505 confirmed deaths. There have been 6,711,907 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.
State of the State
Governor Roy Cooper (D) will address a joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate on Monday to give his annual “State of the State” speech. House Rules Chairman Destin Hall (R-Caldwell) filed a resolution earlier this week formally inviting Cooper to the House chamber. It will mark the third State of the State address for Cooper since he was first elected. Cooper did not deliver an address in 2020 due to safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to media interviews with House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), the legislative members and other government dignitaries, including state Supreme Court justices and the Council of State, will sit in the chamber safely and with proper social distancing.
Governor Cooper and NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen gave a press conference with updates on COVID-19 public health restrictions. Cooper said that he anticipates that the state should be able to lift all mandatory social distancing, capacity and mass gathering restrictions by June 1. He said he plans to issue an Executive Order next week with new safety guidelines for the month of May. While restrictions are likely to be lifted by June 1, Cooper reiterated that safety recommendations would still be provided to at-risk venues, including restaurants and large event locations.
Cooper says that the good news about laxed restrictions comes as more adults in North Carolina than ever are getting vaccinated. One restriction that likely will not be eased on June 1 is the mask mandate. Cooper says the state wants to see at least two-thirds of all NC adults vaccinated with at least the first of two shots before the mask mandate is lifted. He stressed that the state has an adequate vaccine supply, and getting vaccinated is the fastest way for the state to return to normal. In fact, DHHS is issuing a new public safety video asking people to get vaccinated to “Bring Summer Back.” Sec. Cohen said, “If we work together to get everyone vaccinated, we can bring back a normal summer.”
When restrictions are relaxed, businesses will still have the right to keep protocols in place, such as cashier plastic shields or social distancing floor markers. Currently, restaurants are limited to 75% capacity inside, but social distancing requirements have kept some restaurants from actually reaching three-fourths capacity. Bars, concert venues and sports arenas are currently limited to 50% capacity.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed how many businesses and organizations operate, and as a result, online video conferencing platforms have scaled up their capabilities and enhanced their security features. This year the legislature is advancing bills that would modernize our laws by formally authorizing the use of remote participation by a corporation’s shareholder or board meeting and creating a permanent process for online notarizations.
House Rules Chair Destin Hall (R-Caldwell) is the first primary sponsor on H320: Modernize Remote Business Access which would formally authorize corporations, boards of directors, nonprofits, and insurance policy holders to conduct meetings electronically. In 2013, the law was changed to establish the ability of shareholders to attend meetings by electronic means, but statute in place still requires that annual and special meetings of shareholders be held “at a place” which, according to the bill’s summary, could be viewed as requiring attendees to meet at a physical location. The bill is currently in the Senate Rules Committee after it passed the House unanimously.
This week, a similar bill, S410: Nonprofit Electronic Business/Remote Meetings, sponsored by Senator Amy Galey (R-Alamance), passed the Senate without opposition. A proposed committee substitute that passed the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday contained language from H320 including provisions about processes for electronic ballots. Unlike H320, the Senate would only affect nonprofit meetings, not corporate shareholder meetings.
Another bill, S680: Remote Notarization Act, would also modernize a part of the state’s recordation statutes. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Danny Britt (R-Robeson), would amend the Notary Public Act of 1991 to create a formal process for online remote notarizations. Qualified notary publics would still be required to possess a valid commission from the Secretary of State. The bill is currently in the Senate Rules Committee.
After the murder of George Floyd, House Speaker Tim Moore created a House Select Committee on Community Relations, Law Enforcement, and Justice to “examine North Carolina’s criminal justice systems to propose methods of improving police training and relations between law enforcement and its communities.” The committee brought together legislators, community activists and law enforcement professionals. In December 2020, the Committee submitted their recommendations to the General Assembly. Among the recommendations was the ban of the use of chokeholds, a requirement for law enforcement to report use of force incidents, psychological evaluations of all public safety officers, and mandatory “duty to report” of misconduct.
This session, House members are following up on those recommendations with a series of bills aimed at reforming the state’s criminal justice system.
H436: Support Law Enforcement Mental Health has wide bi-partisan sponsorship and would require psychological screenings of all law enforcement officers prior to employment, including an in-person interview conducted by a licensed clinical psychologist.
H536: Law Enforcement Duty to Intervene sponsored by Rep John Szoka (R-Cumberland) would establish a duty to intervene for law enforcement officers who observe another officer use force against a person that is unauthorized. Officers would also be required to report to their superiors a record of the excessive use of force.
H547: Use Law Enforcement Decert Index/Clarify APA is another bill sponsored by Rep. Szoka which would require organizations that certify law enforcement officers to utilize national indexes that track de-certifications. The bill would also require certifying organizations to utilize any record of a criminal conviction in deciding to certify or disqualify the officer.
H548: Duty to Report Giglio Information, also by Rep. Szoka, would make public Giglio or Brady letters from prosecutors who file letters to defense attorneys with complaints of law enforcement officers they distrust to testify.
In addition to the House bills, the Senate is also working on a comprehensive package of criminal justice reforms. According to the News & Observer, most of the bills are supported by policing groups and have had buy-in from those groups, including the NC Sheriffs Association and the NC Association of Chiefs of Police.
Upcoming Legislative Meetings
Monday, April 26
6:00PM House: Session Convenes
6:00PM Senate: Session Convenes
Tuesday, April 27
10:00AM Senate: Agriculture, Energy and Environment
10:00AM House: Health
1:00PM House: Local Government
1:00PM Senate: Agriculture, Energy and Environment
2:00PM House: Pensions and Retirement
2:00PM House: Commerce
3:00PM House: Judiciary 1
3:00PM House: Federal Relations and American Indian Affairs
Wednesday, April 28
11:00AM House: Judiciary 2
12:00PM House: Judiciary 3
Thursday, April 29
11:00AM House: Education – Community Colleges