North Carolina NOW Legislative Update—29 June 2020
They’ve gone home! Both houses have passed an adjournment resolution that sets July 11 as the date of adjournment. Between now and then there will be skeleton sessions, but no further legislative action is anticipated. The date for reconvening is set for September 2.
The short session is primarily a budget session, and the major landmarks of this session are House Bill 1023, which appropriates federal COVID-19 funds for various purposes, including funds to cover additional expenses for the 2020 elections, and Senate Bill 818, a mini-budget bill covering adjustments to pay for teachers. When he signed the bill, Governor Cooper slammed its inadequacy: “I signed this bill because it funds step increases for teachers that have already been promised, but it falls outrageously short on raises we need to give teachers and all school personnel like bus drivers and cafeteria workers.” As expected, there was no action on expanding Medicaid or improving unemployment compensation.
An astonishing amount of time and energy was expended trying to thwart Governor Cooper’s power to contain the COVID-19 virus, to block measures he ordered using his emergency powers. The attacks took two approaches.
The first was to pass bills to open named businesses that have been closed, especially bars and gyms. Some of these bills also contained language to limit the governor’s emergency powers. One such bill would re-open amusement parks and fairs. On the last day, an expanded version of this bill, without the language limiting the governor’s powers (House Bill 795) would have re-opened amusement parks, arcades, public playgrounds, and “gaming establishments ” with video games. This bill easily passed both houses, but House members suddenly realized that the wording would also re-open gambling parlors. The bill was quickly sent back to committee to change the language and it never re-emerged.
The second approach was used in Senate Bill 105, which would limit the governor’s emergency powers across the board. This bill also passed both houses and became the sixth bill of this type to pass. The governor has vetoed all such bills, and efforts to override his veto have all been unsuccessful. He is expected to veto all bills restricting his emergency powers that are headed to his desk.
So far courts have been friendly to the governor: Ace Speedway, which stayed open in defiance of the governor’s order, lost its case in court. Finally, Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, who will challenge Governor Cooper in the 2020 governor’s race, sent an email to the governor threatening to sue him over his use of emergency powers to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. We can expect to hear a lot about the governor’s response to the COVID-19 crisis as the election heats up, but we should not hear anything from the General Assembly until it reconvenes on September 2.
See full summary and bills we are tracking at NC NOW Legislative Report.29_June_2020