May 4, 2020
The General Assembly wrapped up a brief session last week, focusing on providing relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They passed two bills, one focusing on policy changes, and the other appropriating money to help with the pandemic. This session saw legislators utilize virtual committee meetings and relaxed voting measures that allowed members more time to vote, or to vote through the majority or minority leader. The legislature also passed an appointments bill during last week’s session.
Speaker of the House, Tim Moore, stated upon adjournment that he planned for the legislature to reconvene the week on May 18, 2020 to hold normal session and pass further COVID-19 relief provisions. The Senate has also indicated that they intend to pass more COVID-19 related legislation, but has not given specific dates. In the time before the legislature returns, the House has said that their Select Committee on COVID-19 will continue having virtual meetings to vet additional needs and concerns.
The State’s stay at home order is still in effect per the Governor’s Executive Orders, but is set to expire May 8, 2020. It is not yet known if the Governor will extend the order, but he has released a rough timeline with three phases on how the State will reopen and return to business-as –usual. 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. The Governor has indicated that the phases will progress according to data on the virus spread and number of cases.
Below are brief summaries of the two COVID-19 bills.
Senate Bill 704, the COVID-19 Recovery Act, focuses on four areas: economic support, education, health, and continuity of state government. The economic support section waives interest on taxes paid after the April 15, 2020 deadline and before July 15, 2020 in response to the IRS moving the deadline to pay federal taxes to July 15, 2020. The bill also takes steps to make unemployment insurance more available and accessible during the pandemic.
The education section grants numerous waivers, extensions, and exemptions for schools and students for the 2019-2020 school year. It also prohibits University of North Carolina System schools from charging interest on student debt during the pandemic.
The health section extends the deadline for providers to connect to the State Health Information Exchange from June 1, 2020 to October 1, 2021. It 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. It also 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. In addition, it grants various health care professionals greater flexibility to respond to the pandemic.
The continuity of state government section contains provisions to ensure that essential businesses and government operations continue to operate during the 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. It provides civil liability immunity to essential businesses for claims brought alleging an individual contracted COVID-19 at their facility. It also temporarily relaxes numerous regulations that cannot be easily complied with during the pandemic.
House Bill 1043, the COVID-19 Recovery Act, appropriates $1.7 billion to help alleviate economic damage from the virus, support the response process, and establish a path to recovery. The bill creates the Coronavirus Relief Fund to receive money from the federal CARES Act, which is where the appropriated funds come from. The bill creates the Local Government Coronavirus Relief Reserve, the COVID 19 Teaching Hospitals Relief Fund, and the General Hospital Relief Fund. The bill also spends $125 million on a small business loan assistance program administered by the Golden LEAF Foundation. It takes steps to allow Medicaid to cover costs for COVID-19 testing and treatment for uninsured individuals and other vulnerable populations. The bill appropriates funds for testing, tracing, and vaccine research. It also appropriates $300 million to the Department of Transportation to help ensure that construction and design projects continue in light of the Department seeing decreased revenue from the gas tax as people stay at home.
The Governor signed both bills into law on Monday, May 4, 2020.
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