April 27, 2020
Members of the General Assembly are returning to Raleigh this week for what is anticipated to be a short session, lasting only a few days. Lawmakers are expected to pass several bills to address immediate concerns due to the COVID-19 crisis, and then recess until later in the summer to address other issues, including passing a Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget.
The Senate has preferred to work behind the scenes in their preparation for the upcoming session, while the House has formed a Select Committee on COVID-19, which has been holding virtual committee meetings and working on draft legislation. The House Select Committee has four subcommittees focusing on continuity of state operations, economic support, education, and health care. The Committee has released the following draft bills:
- COVID-19 Time Sensitive Matters and Amendments
- This bill makes various temporary changes to modify state and local government regulations to ensure that government services and businesses are able to continue operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. It takes steps to set up a regulatory framework to allow certain legal documents to be served, notarized, or witnessed by electronic or modified means. The bill would allow for the extension of expiration dates for identification cards issued by the Division or Motor Vehicles (DMV), and gives an extension on motor vehicle property tax and late vehicle registration renewal penalties. Identification cards would also be allowed to be renewed remotely, and the DMV’s planned headquarters move would be delayed. The bill relaxes certain Register of Deeds requirements related to the Good Funds Settlement Act for commercial real estate closings and for marriage licenses. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) would be allowed to provide law enforcement officers with certain communicable disease information for public health protection under this bill. The bill gives the State Health Plan (SHP) the option to temporarily defer premium payments and debt owed, and would grant the State Insurance Commissioner similar power for health plans under that agency’s purview. The bill takes several steps to allow retired employees to temporarily reenter the workforce, and relaxes the cash requirements for local governments and the Department of Transportation (DOT). It allows public hearings for temporary rules under the State Administrative Procedure Act (APA) to be rescheduled. Chief District Court judges would be given the power to modify an order of confinement or imprisonment during the COVID-19 crisis if certain criteria are meet. Most provisions expire on August 1, 2020.
- Small Business Emergency Loans
- Would appropriate $75 million to the Golden L.E.A.F. Foundation to be used for bridge loans to small businesses adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. State Funds would be matched at a rate of $15 for every $75, bringing the total potential funds to $100 million.
- COVID-19 Response Act - Economic Support
- Would waive the interest on taxes paid after the April 15, 2020 due date until July 15, 2020. The draft affirms several executive orders pertaining to unemployment insurance, and creates a tax credit for employers based on their contributions payable for the April State Unemployment Tax Act (SUTA) report. The draft also contains language to allow individuals claiming unemployment insurance to satisfy the weekly job contacts requirement by attending a reemployment activity, allow employers to initiate claims for employees during declared emergencies, and specifies that a lien for property taxes does not take priority over a previously filed lien for past due contributions.
- Education Omnibus/COVID-19
- The bill grants numerous waivers, extensions, and exemptions for schools and students for the 2019-2020 school year. Some of the waivers included are for testing, school report cards, Innovative School District (ISD) selection, Read to Achieve, teacher effectiveness and evaluation requirements, and principal and school administrator prep. The bill also makes changes to allow virtual learning to count as instruction time, and waives attendance enforcement while schools are closed. Local school boards are given greater budget flexibility under the bill, and teachers are given a one year extension for meeting licensing requirements. The bill prohibits University of North Carolina System schools from charging interest to a student from March 13, 2020 to September 15, 2020.
- COVID-19 Health Care Working Grp Funding Recs.
- This bill creates the Coronavirus Relief Fund to receive money from the federal CARES Act, and makes various appropriations out of that fund, totaling over half a billion dollars. The appropriations include money for the following: increasing public and behavioral health crisis centers; additional Medicaid services; increasing the State’s supply of personal protective equipment (PPE); virus tracking, tracing and trend analysis; food, shelter, and childcare assistance; directed grants for rural hospitals and providers; establishing the Teaching Hospitals Relief Fund and the Large Hospital Relief Fund with $25 million each; and establishes the COVID-19 Response Research Fund with a $110 million appropriation. The bill also makes changes to the Medicaid program to increase provider reimbursements by 5%, allow Medicaid to cover testing of the uninsured as allowed by the Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and directs DHHS to provide Medicaid coverage for individuals with incomes of up to 200% of the poverty level for coronavirus specific treatment.
- COVID-19 Health Care Working Group Policy Rec.
- This bill contains various statutory changes, most temporary, to help health care providers and DHHS respond to the COIVD-19 pandemic. The bill affirms executive action already taken to respond to COVID-19. It directs the Division of Public Health, Division of Health Service Regulation, and Division of Emergency Management to develop a plan to create a state stockpile of PPE and testing supplies. The Board of Dental Examiners would be granted the same power to waive requirements as the Medical Board and Board of Nursing during a disaster, and dentists are given the authority to administer COVID-19 tests. The bill also allows for a process for pharmacists to be approved to administer a COVID-19 vaccine, and relaxes identification requirements for pharmacists during the emergency. The bill would temporarily grant flexibility for physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and certified nurse midwives with their respective licensing boards for quality improvement meetings and licensing fees. The bill directs the North Carolina Area Health Education Center (AHEC) to conduct a pandemic health care workforce study. DHHS is granted increased flexibility during the emergency by waiving certain inspection requirements, child care worker finger printing requirements, and the deadline for providers to connect to the State Health Information Exchange (HIE) is moved from June 1, 2020 to October 1, 2021. The bill allows telehealth to be used for first and second involuntary commitment exams. It also temporarily requires insurers and the State Health Plan (SHP) to cover telehealth services and to reimburse providers at the same rate as in-person services. The bill contains a provision to limit civil and criminal liability to health care providers, facilities, or entities providing health care services in response to or as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic.
In addition to the draft legislation released by the House Select Committee, Governor Cooper has issued several additional Executive Orders in response to COVID-19.
Executive Order No. 133: Extend Transportation Orders – April 17, 2020
- Extends the transportation sections of Executive Order 119 to May 19, 2020. These sections do the following:
- Directs the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Commissioner to limit services to appointment only, close offices where social distancing is not feasible, extend hours at offices that remain open, delay DMV hearings, and suspend driving tests until safe to conduct.
- Waives vehicle registration requirements for vehicles transporting necessary items to assist in the COVID-19 response.
- Extends the maximum hours of service waiver included in Executive Order 116 for drivers transporting necessary items for the COVID-19 response.
- Extends the height and weight restriction waiver included in Executive Order 116 for vehicles transporting necessary items for the COVID-19 response.
Executive Order No. 134: Furloughed Employees Unemployment Change Orders – April 20, 2020
- This Executive Order requires the Division of Employment Security (DES) to treat furloughed employees as unemployed for the purposes of receiving unemployment insurance payments. The Order also allows employers to make voluntary payments to furloughed employees in the form of COVID-19 Support Payments, which have to be submitted by the employer to DES, but not approved. This order became effective April 20, 2020, and remains in effect for the duration of the State of Emergency.
Executive Order No. 135: Executive Order Extensions– April 23, 2020
- This Order extends the expiration of various sections of previous Orders to May 8, 2020 at 5:00 PM. Provisions extended include the stay at home order, restrictions on food and beverage sales to carry-out only, limiting mass gatherings to no more than ten people, restrictions on visitation to long term care facilities, and ordering local governments to continue essential services, but with safety precautions.
Upon issuing Executive Order 135, Governor Cooper laid out a three-phase plan to reopening North Carolina, with a timeline and metrics to each phase. Phase 1 keeps the stay at home order and limitation on mass gatherings. Phase 2 takes place two to three weeks after Phase 1, and lifts the stay at home order, allows restaurants, entertainment venues, and places of worship to operate at reduced capacity, increases the number of people allowable at mass gatherings, and keeps in place restrictions on long term care facilities. Phase 3 takes place four to six weeks after Phase 2, and increases the capacity at restaurants, entertainment venues, and places of worship, increases the number of people allowable at mass gatherings, but still keeps restrictions on long term care facilities. Governor Cooper stressed that this timeline was subject to change based on virus spread, testing, and tracing. The Governor said that seeing a decline in the number of COVID-19 positive cases will be necessary for Phase 1 to take effect.
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