Now that state lawmakers and lobbyists alike have had time to catch up on some Z’s following the late night/early morning quasi-adjournment of the 2020 short session, it’s about time to take a look back at all that happened during the bulk of the N.C. General Assembly’s short session. And don’t forget, the NCGA only adjourned until a date certain– Wednesday, Sept. 2 at noon– so the fun is not entirely over yet.
Short Session Part II
The NCGA covered a lot of ground during what could be considered Part II of its legislative short session. (If you forgot that there even was a Part I, don’t worry– you’re not alone and we have this handy, in-depth recap for you here.) As a brief reminder, short session officially convened April 28 following nearly a month of remote COVID-19 working groups and behind-the-scenes policy discussions spurred by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. After a historic, whirlwind five days of turning these working group findings into bills and running them through the legislative process, short session Part I culminated in the passage of a coronavirus relief package that was signed into law May 4. At that time the NCGA adjourned to reconvene May 18, and that’s where Part II begins.
While Part I offered a quick and concerted effort to address urgent pandemic-related needs, Part II included a focus on additional coronavirus relief measures as well as several other state funding and policy priorities. The NCGA passed a number of spending bills— some allocating federal dollars, some state and some both— for various purposes over the last several weeks.
The biggest all-around funding bills passed were H1023 Coronavirus Relief Fund/Additions & Revisions and S168 DHHS & Other Revisions. Together they total roughly $3.3 billion in federal funds appropriated by the NCGA.
H1023 allocates roughly $2.1 billion in federal CARES Act dollars to a variety of needs across the state, and looks and acts much like a budget. S168 allocates roughly $1.2 billion in federal block grant dollars to NCDHHS, and, as of right now, remains the only major funding bill yet to be signed (or vetoed) by Gov. Cooper.
S808 Medicaid Funding Act also appropriated a substantial chunk of money, and used some state funds as well as roughly $170 million of the federal CARES Act dollars. It takes roughly $41.4 million from various state reserves for a handful of state priority programs, including Medicaid as the name suggests. From the CARES dollars it appropriates $50 million to DHHS, Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services (DMH/DD/SAS), for LME/MCOs; $20 million to DHHS, Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE); and $100 million for COVID-19 contact tracing, testing and tracking initiatives.
S816 CC Funds/CIHS Funds/CR Funds and Offsets also appropriates a mix of CARES dollars and state funds. It allocates roughly $689.9 million in CARES Act funds for enrollment growth at community colleges and to offset General Fund appropriations across state government “for allowable expenditures of funds from the Coronavirus Relief Fund”. It also allocates $1.88 million in state funds to DPI.
A number of bills funding various parts and projects of the UNC System were passed, and all use state funds exclusively. The state dollars appropriated across these bills total roughly $136.4 million. One of these bills, S212 Capital Appropriations/R&R/DIT/Cybersecurity, also funds a couple other initiatives, including broadband grant program.
Several smaller, very specific funding bills were signed into law by Gov. Cooper in the waning weeks of session. These include the following:
- S818 Compensation of Certain School Employees appropriates state funds (total spend unclear) to offer pay increases to teachers and certain other school personnel.
- H1208 Funding for Workforce Housing Loan Program appropriates $20 million in state funds to the Housing Finance Agency.
- S836 State Operations/Increase Federal Funds Use appropriates roughly $1.7 billion in CARES dollars to OSBM and specifies $370 million to OBSM for continuity of operation needs across state government. The bill (now law) directs OSBM to work with eligible state agencies to determine what expenditures may be offset with remaining funds.
- S806 Capital Appropriation- Western Carolina Univ. appropriates state funds (unspecified amount in statue language) for a WCU steam plant project.
- S801 Military Presence Stabilization Fund/Funding appropriates $2 million in state funds to sustain and maintain military programs and activities.
- H1071 Funds to DPI for ADM Growth appropriates roughly $78.9 million in state funds plus $22 million in CARES Act dollars to DPI for an increase in the average daily membership (ADM) in public schools.
- H1136 Funds for NCSSM-Morganton Campus appropriates roughly $3.3 million in state funds (plus additional funds earmarked for fiscal years 2021-22, 2022-23 and 2023-24) for the establishment of the NC School of Science and Mathematics’ Morganton campus.
- H472 NCSU/NC A&T Matching Funds/Umstead Act appropriates $2 million in state funds to NC State and $3 million in state funds to NC A&T for various academic items and their federal match.
- S814 NC Promise Tuition Plan Funds appropriates $15 million in state funds for the NC Promise Tuition Plan.
- S812 Agricultural Sciences Center Funds appropriates roughly $10.1 million to the NC Dept. of Agriculture’s Agricultural Sciences Center.
- S750 Capital Projects-Elizabeth City State Univ. appropriates $6 million in state dollars to fund improvements at Elizabeth City State University.
This short session, while not quite over yet, has already seemed to exceed its quota in terms of unprecedented, historical events. Members were allowed proxy votes on the House floor and, in some committees, allowed to participate remotely through session’s final days. Temperature checks were administered and wristbands given to lobbyists and members of the public entering the legislative building– once they were eventually allowed inside. From the early days of the COVID-19 working groups through the late-night sessions that rounded out Part II, most, if not all, legislative meetings were video-streamed live via the legislature’s website.
The very nature of the legislature’s work over the past couple months was historic in its own right as well. Lawmakers focused on addressing a multitude of problems arising from a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic amid a worsening economic crisis that severely affects the state’s revenues and spending abilities. Nearly three months since the coronavirus took foothold in North Carolina and neither the virus nor the economic impacts appear to be slowing down.
To compound an already difficult and unprecedented situation, major civil unrest erupted across the country and the world, including right here in our own state capital, toward the waning weeks of session. Protestors filled the streets of downtown Raleigh for days and rioters took their place after dark– prompting a citywide curfew and subsequent early closures of the legislative building during the peak of unrest. In response to the systemic issues highlighted by these demonstrations and other current events, the N.C. House announced a bipartisan task force on Justice, Law Enforcement, and Community Relations. Gov. Cooper also announced the commission of a task force shortly after.
And, to add another layer to the complexity of the backdrop for short session, as well as further politicize the monumental public health and civil rights issues facing the country, the 2020 general election looms closer with each passing week. Of course the race with all eyes on it is that between former V.P. Joe Biden and incumbent Pres. Donald Trump. This race will also affect N.C.’s other big races, including a face-off between current Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest and incumbent Gov. Roy Cooper as well as a contentious Senate race between incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis and challenger Cal Cunningham. Not to mention a handful of other big statewide and local races that will shape the makeup of our state government for years to come.
Up next: Short Session Part III and beyond
The legislature is set to reconvene Sept. 2, and lawmakers have indicated they hope to receive additional, more specific guidance from the Treasury regarding how federal CARES Act dollars can be spent in late July or August. Many states are waiting on this direction, and feel an urgency to spend federal funds due to their end-of-year deadline, but are fearful of federal clawbacks.
In the meantime we continue to watch the coronavirus pandemic and the related economic situation as they unfold, as well as keep close eyes on how electoral races big and small are shaping up ahead of November. Rest assured our team will keep you updated and in the loop on Short Session Part III, the 2020 election and beyond.