North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

May 21, 2021

Pardon Our Dust

We recently launched this new site and are still in the process of updating some of our archived content. Some details of this article may be incomplete, links may be broken, and other elements may not display properly yet. We appreciate your patience and understanding.

With crossover behind us, the legislature was a bit slower this week. While calendars were not jam packed with back-to-back committee meetings, lawmakers were still in town to discuss and approve several important pieces of legislation. We will focus on some of those bills in this week’s newsletter.

As of Thursday morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 1,187 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 793 individuals hospitalized, and sadly, 12,950 confirmed deaths. There have been 7,989,892 doses of the vaccine distributed in NC, which is about 52% of the total adult population.

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.

ARP Funds

After President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) into law in March, North Carolina was allocated more than $16 billion to assist with the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. According to the US Treasury, states can use the dollars to address revenue loss, cover costs incurred, and provide support for recovery. Senate Bill 172: Additional COVID-19 Response & Relief was introduced as the first allocation of the ARP dollars, and would spend $9.7 billion, providing more than $6.4 billion in pass-through federal grants for education, housing and utility assistance, child care, public health, emergency management, vaccine outreach, long-term care, the arts, and food benefits. Another $3.4 billion is earmarked for specific counties or local government regions to administer Emergency Rental Assistance Funds. The House amended the bill to add a few federal nondiscretionary pass-through funds to the Senate bill, such as $23 million to assist with getting homeless children and youth off the streets. The House also increased the second round of individual grants through the YMCA and clarified how an organization could receive the grants. Lastly, the House added clarifications for how the state can oversee the spending of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds on a per-pupil basis.

The bill moved quickly through the legislature Thursday. It already had passed the Senate earlier this month, but the House Appropriations Committee introduced and approved their amended version Thursday morning, and by 1:00PM the bill had already made it back through the Senate for concurrence. It now awaits the Governor’s signature.

Governor’s ARP Recommendations

On Wednesday, Governor Roy Cooper (D) shared his recommendations for how North Carolina should utilize the remaining $5.7 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds from the federal government. Cooper said the funds “have brought us a one-in-a-generation opportunity.” Here are the toplines of the Governor’s recommendations.

  • $1.2 billion in broadband access,
  • $350 million to the NC Guarantee Scholarship for students of families making $60,000 or less,
  • $800 million for water, sewer and storm water projects,
  • $25 million for initiatives to increase access to workforce education and training,
  • $575 million for housing affordability, including assistance to first time homebuyers,
  • $350 million for businesses in the hospitality industry,
  • $300 million to build an educator pipeline and expand Pre-K,
  • $250 million for Extra Credit grants to hard-hit low income families

To view the Governor’s full recommendation, click here.

Unemployment Revisions

As North Carolina businesses recover from the coronavirus pandemic, Senators in North Carolina assert there is a new issue standing in their way: labor shortages. Sen Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson) has introduced a bill to address the shortage of employees, which, according to Edwards and other Republican Senators, is being exacerbated by too many able bodied workers in the state opting to receive state and federal unemployment benefits. H128: An Act to Reemploy NC’s Workforce is a freshly written bill that rewrites a former unrelated House Bill that met the crossover deadline last week.

The new bill would direct the Division of Employment Security (DES) to seek approval from the US Department of Labor to use the $300 per week supplement authorized under the federal FPUC program as a signing bonus for unemployed claimants who accept a job. There is a timetable to the bonus. $1500 would be given to individuals who re-enter the workforce by June 1, and $800 would be given to individuals who accept reemployment by July 1. The bonuses would be paid in two installments, 50% after 20 days of employment and the rest after 60 days of employment.

The bill also changes the current unemployment reporting system. Claimants receiving unemployment insurance would have to make three job contacts per week, and claimants who receive an interview request would be required to follow up with the employer within 48 hours. The bill would permit employers to report to DES that a claimant has not responded to interview requested or failed to appear for an interview. If a claimant fails to meet any of these requirements three or more times, without good cause, within a benefit year, DES would be obligated to disqualify the claimant from remaining unemployment benefits.

The Senate Commerce and Insurance committee heard the bill Thursday morning, but it was only for discussion. Sen Edwards agreed to work with members who had concerns about certain parts of the bill, such as claimants who fail to meet requirements over good cause, before it receives a vote.

Municipal Elections

The coronavirus pandemic affected most parts of government, including the US Census Bureau’s timeline for processing redistricting data. Normally, the apportionment results are delivered to states in the spring, but because of COVID-19 related delays, the Census announced in February that they would not be delivering the data until September 30. The announcement prompted many municipalities in North Carolina, who mostly oversee their own redistricting process for districted elections, to begin seeking legal guidance on what they could do. Cities and the state rely on Census apportionment data to redraw lines, and many municipalities are slated to conduct elections this fall.

To provide clarity, Sen. Warren Daniel has filed S722: Revise Municipal Redistricting/Census. His bill would clarify that in cases like this year when some municipalities have to do redistricting, they have the authority to reschedule their elections and filing dates as necessary. Cities with population-based district elections would be required to evaluate existing electoral district boundaries and determine if revision of the district boundaries is necessary to comply with State and federal law. If the city council adopts revisions to the district maps before the third business day before the opening of the filing period for the municipal election, the election will continue as scheduled. If not, the city council would have the option of adopting a resolution to delay the municipal election and to set a new filing period for candidates for the rescheduled municipal election.  

The bill received favorable reviews in committee Wednesday. An associate general legal counsel for the NC Board of Elections spoke in favor of the bill and recommended a few minor changes to streamline voter registration for the affected elections. S722 passed the Senate Redistricting and Senate Rules committees this week, and was placed on the Senate’s floor calendar for next week.

Senate Energy Hearing

On Tuesday, lawmakers on the Senate Agriculture, Energy and Environment Committee convened a hearing to discuss the Colonial Pipeline hack last week that caused disruptions for commuters across the state. Committee Chair Sen. Brent Jackson (R-Sampson) opened the meeting saying, “The Colonial Pipeline hack could have been much worse, and it’s foolish to think we won’t deal with an energy supply issue sooner or later.”

Senators invited four experts in the energy sector to testify. Ed Finley, former Chair of the NC Utilities Commission; Nelson Peeler, Senior VP for Duke Energy; Rusty Harris, VP of Dominion Energy; and David McGowan, Southeast Regional Director for the American Petroleum Institute.

The hearing lasted for nearly two hours, with each expert answering questions and explaining what they thought were the major challenges for North Carolina’s gas and electricity future. Although they represented different specialties, all four experts agreed that the major issue for North Carolina is not the supply of gas, but the reliability and availability of that gas. Mr. Harris of Dominion stated that the most pressing vulnerability is North Carolina’s single interstate provider of gas. The Transco pipeline, which travels from the Gulf to the Northeast, is the main pipeline in the state, and every bit of capacity is owned by someone moving gas, according to Harris.

The presenters also noted that most of the rulemaking of new pipelines fall under federal regulators, but Senators in North Carolina made it clear that energy independence in the Tar Heel State is a growing priority.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Monday, May 24

4:00PM Senate Session

4:00PM House Session

Tuesday, May 25

10:00AM House: Health