Last week at the North Carolina General Assembly saw us picking up the pace, much like the weather in Raleigh was running hot and cold, as well as life-giving rain returning to the state.  We had some significant bills, dealing with small businesses, taxes, the economy, church protection, and favorable treatment of non-profit work centers for the blind and disabled. 

Senate Bill 116 – Putting North Carolina Back to Work Act has three major provisions to assist businesses in finding workers and allowing workers a tax benefit. It withdraws the state from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) fund that pays an extra $300 for individuals to stay home instead of returning to work.  It also gives the working taxpayers an exemption of $10,200 of unemployment benefits for the 2020 tax year and allows businesses to deduct Payroll Protection Program (PPP) expenses for tax years 2020 and 2021.  Small businesses in our coastal economy have been asking for changes in the benefits so that people will want to resume working and filling their short staff situations.  SB 116 passed 71 – 36 and was sent back to the Senate for their concurrence.

Senate Bill 43 – Protect Religious Meeting Places makes it legal for churches to defend their meetings, whether or not the facility is also used for a school, but definitely NOT when school classes or activities are in session.  Current “concealed carry” law has not allowed churches used as schools to have this protection.  Churches without schools are already allowed to have members carry during religious services.  SB 43 passed 70 – 38 and also was sent to the Senate for concurrence.

House Bill 654 – Statewide Contracts/Nonprofits for the Blind gives special attention to nonprofit work centers for the blind and other severely disabled workers.  These centers, sometimes known as “sheltered workshops” employ these disabled workers making products in a safe setting so they can be productive.  HB 654 passed the House 106 – 2 and went to the Senate.

The North Carolina House of Representatives has 120 members.  I was a little dismayed that only 107 to 108 of our members were present and voting on these bills.  I know a few absentees had very good reasons: a broken shoulder, death in the family, etc.  However, unless I am physically not able to travel to Raleigh and attend voting sessions, I believe our citizens expect me to be there representing them.   The virtual committee meetings, where we normally have voice votes, are fine for those with busy schedules and health concerns.  A sign at my desk says, “Attendance Matters”.  I know that Representative Miller believes the same. 

The state budget was on everyone’s mind last week.  The Senate is still working on their version of the budget, but the House started budget meetings while we wait for their budget to cross over and be presented.  We are approximately a month behind the proposed budget schedule but are hopeful this week will produce some progress on it.  The fiscal year starts July 1st, and all agencies would always like to have a budget by then.