The North Carolina General Assembly met last week in Raleigh for the first time since January 14th. Our House of Representatives has been meeting in committees by remote teleconferencing for at least the past month. I was assigned to one of the 4 task forces working under the House Select Committee on COVID-19 appointed by Speaker Moore in March. Our task force focused on continuity of state operations, while others worked on healthcare, education, and the economy/taxes.
While it was new to all of us to be meeting from home via computer, we had to establish new rules for committee meetings and have more roll call votes. On the lighter side, we had be sure to wear a decent shirt, and be sure what was showing in the background behind us.
Even as we gathered in Raleigh last week, we had to pass new rules for our floor sessions and voting. Even though some of us were streaming the sessions on our office computers, we had to vote in shifts, so that we would not all be in the chamber at the same time.
During our remote committee meetings we were crafting legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on our health, our economy, our education systems, and our state and local government operations. Two bills finally emerged last week. House Bill 1043 – 2020 COVID-19 Recovery Act (HB1043) provides funding of over $1.5 billion for our medical providers, our education communities, broadband connectivity, and our small local businesses. Senate Bill 704 – COVID-19 Recovery Act provides tax relief, allows extension of licensure deadlines, streamlines unemployment benefits access, and makes policy reforms in education, healthcare, and government operations. Both bills passed the House and Senate unanimously on Saturday.
Some of the funding categories included in HB1043:
$140 million for COVID-19 supplies and support, including $50 million for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE);
$125 million in small business loans;
$209.5 million for K – 12 education, including $75 million for nutrition and $54 million for internet and devices;
$89 million for higher education (community colleges and universities);
$9 million for rural broadband;
$85 million for our medical school and research hospitals for COVID-19 research;
$95 million for our general hospitals and rural hospitals;
$36.5 million for social services, including food banks and child care;
$840 million for state and local government operations, including $300 million for local government expenses related to COVID-19 and $5 million to support the North Carolina tourism industry.
All the funds in these appropriations are intended to come from funds allocated by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Agencies are instructed to utilize the federal funds prior to the use of any state funds for these purposes.
We were informed that there would not likely be any voting sessions before May 18th. However, it is assumed that another round of appropriations will be needed, as this is not the total of funds to be allocated from the federal government. The task forces will continue meeting remotely in preparation for more action in the very near future.