Legislative Update March 15, 2021

03.15.2021

This legislative week saw a breakthrough in bipartisanship as legislative leaders and Governor Cooper reached an agreement on the process for returning to in-person instruction for K-12 schools.

The appropriations process has continued, with committees still receiving updates and topic overviews in advance of the Senate beginning drafting their proposal. By tradition, the chambers alternate in which one drafts the initial appropriations bill. Following the Senate's consideration of their appropriations bill, the House of Representatives will have a chance to make their updates. Due to optimistic revenue forecasts showing a roughly $4.1 billion surplus over previous estimates and more federal money expected, legislators will be able to non-recurring expenditures or growth of the State's savings reserves (i.e., "Rainy Day" fund).

The General Assembly recently approved its' second COVID-19 relief bill of 2021, totaling $1.7 billion in appropriations, many of which were made possible by federal funds. Lawmakers are expected to begin work on a third COVID-19 bill in the coming weeks as President Biden this week signed the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion relief bill, which will pass another block of money down to the states.

Vaccine Distribution Update

Last week, individuals in Group 3 became eligible for vaccination for COVID-19 vaccines. This group includes essentials workers, such as health care, government, manufacturing, food supply/ agriculture, education, food and medicine retail, auto repair, and community services.

This week, Governor Cooper announced that individuals in Group 4 would be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine starting March 17. Group 4 includes all adults (16-64) who have an underlying health condition that puts them at risk of COVID-19 complications. Some have criticized the vaccine priority list for not these individuals higher. People in Group 4 were originally slated to become eligible on March 24. 

WRAL: People with health conditions can get coronavirus vaccination starting next week

Bill Action Dates

  • March 11: Senate local bill filing deadline
  • March 25: House local bill filing deadline
  • April 6: Senate public bill filing deadline (does not apply to constitutional amendments, elections bills, or appointments)
  • April 20: House filing deadline for non-budget bills
  • April 27: House filing deadline for budget bills
  • May 13: Crossover deadline for both the House and Senate in which bills must have passed at least one chamber to remain eligible for consideration

In-person Education Compromise

Governor Cooper recently vetoed Senate Bill 37: In-Person Learning Choice for Families. The legislation would have required school districts to offer in-person instruction to students of parents who requested it. The Senate attempted to override the veto but fell one vote short. In his veto message, the Governor cited objections over the lack of flexibility to respond to spikes in COVID-19 cases. Still, he mentioned that he would support similar legislation if concessions were made.

This week, Governor Cooper joined with Senate President Pro Tem Berger, House Speaker Moore, and other legislative leaders to announce a bipartisan compromise bill to return students to the classroom. As was proposed in Senate Bill 37, this legislation would require all K-5 classes to return to full in-person learning, while middle and high schools would be given the option between full-time in-person learning or a blended structure.

The new legislation gives the Governor the power to issue executive orders to close or restrict individual school districts' operations if health and safety concerns warranted it. He would not, though, have the ability to issue a statewide executive order restricting school operations. Parents would not be required to send their children back to in-person instruction.

The bill passed both chambers unanimously and will go into effect on the first school day twenty-one days after the bill becomes law.

WRAL: Governor, lawmakers reach deal to reopen NC schools amid pandemic

Emergency Powers Accountability Act

House leadership unveiled a bill this week to limit the Governor's executive authority when responding to emergencies. The bill amends the Emergency Management Act to require the Governor to receive Council of State approval for statewide emergency orders. The bill defines statewide orders as those affecting more than two-thirds of the State.

Under the bill, the Governor would be allowed to issue emergency orders for the entire State but would be required to receive a majority vote of the Council of State within seven days. The Council of State would be required to reapprove those orders every 30 days. The Current Council of State consists of four Democrats and six Republicans.

Bill sponsors filed the bill on the first anniversary of the State's initial COVID-19 restrictions.

Lawmakers have previously passed legislation to limit the Governor's authority in responding to emergencies, but they have all been vetoed. It is doubtful that a governor would sign legislation to limit their authority. The bill has not yet been heard in committee.

WRAL: Lawmakers: Governor shouldn't have unilateral power to shut down NC

COVID-19 Relief Bill

Last week, the General Assembly passed another round of COVID-19 relief. House Bill 196 appropriates around $1.7 billion in federal funds and extends the dates for many COVID-19 special provisions. Unlike the COVID-19 relief bill passed earlier this year that focused mainly on education, this bill is aimed at broader areas of government.

WRAL: NC lawmakers unanimously pass $1.7B pandemic relief package in 4 days

List of All Filed Bills: https://www.ncleg.gov/Legislation/Bills/WithAction/2021/10

2020 Summary of Substantive Legislation

The Legislative Analysis Division has published the 2020 Summary of Substantive Legislation, which breaks down new laws by subject matter. Below is a link to the document: https://www.ncleg.gov/Legislation/SummariesPublication/Subjects/2020/

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