Legislative Update: NC General Assembly recap

July 21, 2020

What a year it has been: The Covid-19 Pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement stirring up the national conscience in the wake of the George Floyd murder, a major election campaign, working from home, mask wearing, businesses opening and closing, along with too many other important issues to fully enumerate. Meanwhile, the business of conducting the State’s legislative obligations continued. Here is a brief (not all-inclusive) synopsis of important bills we tracked as your Chamber that matter to you, your business and your family:

The State legislature formally adjourned on Saturday, July 11 and will reconvene on Wednesday, September 2 at noon.  According to the adjournment resolution SJR 870—Adjourn to Date Certain then Sine Die, the House and Senate will be limited  to only considering bills that: 1) Appropriate federal funds received in response to the COVID-19 pandemic; 2) Appointments and confirmations from the General Assembly; and 3) Gubernatorial nominations or appointments. So, for the most part, any substantive policy bills are finished for the year, unless they are tied directly to Covid-19 relief efforts. Once the Senate and the House adjourn on Thursday, September 3 then they stand adjourned sine die, which means they’ll be done for the year…supposedly.

(NOTE: we will not be discussing bills still pending or in committee in this listing):

SB 808–Medicaid Funding Act:  This bill appropriates more than $700 million in funding to the state’s Medicaid Transformation plan, the Medicaid program rebase, NC Fast upgrades, the relocation of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), as well as behavioral health and crisis services in response to the pandemic.  The deadline for Medicaid Transformation will remain as July 1, 2021; however, the House removed the provision requiring DHHS to pay the prepaid health plans $4 million per month if it does not meet the new deadline.  In addition, the House version of SB 808 allows the prepaid health plans participating in Medicaid to have a four-year contract instead of a three-year contract with the state; secures $100 million for DHHS to expand contact tracing and testing; and allocates $20 million in funding for early childhood initiatives.

HB 1023—Coronavirus Relief Fund/Additions & Revisions:  This bill directs millions of dollars in federal coronavirus funds mostly to state and local government agencies for provisions such as the implementation of COVID-19 related operations and improvements to the state’s health information exchange network (NC HealthConnex), tourism promotion and grants, additional funding for the NC Biotech Center, the purchase of PPE for public schools, and job retention grants to provide economic support to businesses and nonprofits.  However, it also provides funding to novel projects such as $3.5 million to a domestic violence nonprofit to run a GPS tracking project on people accused of domestic violence in nine judicial districts and $2.5 million to a local software company to teach students chemistry and physical science using video game technology.  In addition, the Senate amended the bill to include provisions unrelated to funding such as extending the remote notary and video witnessing authorization until March 1, 2021, and streamlining the claims for unclaimed property to the state Treasurer’s office during the coronavirus economic downturn.

HB 77—DOT 2020-2021 FY Budget/GovernanceThis bill balances the budget of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and provides oversight and restructuring of the DOT board.  HB 77 is the result of $742 million in overspending by the Department as well as the State Auditor’s problematic findings.

SB 208—COVID-19 Immunity/IHEs:  This bill provides public and private universities and colleges with limited immunity protection from lawsuits for tuition and fees for the spring 2020 semester. It will allow universities and colleges to avoid liability if their actions were reasonably related to protecting the public health, safety or welfare of its students in accordance with the Governor’s executive orders and CDC guidance.  In addition, these colleges and universities had to have offered remote learning options to students for completing their coursework.  SB 208 will apply retroactively to any pending lawsuits.

HB 118—COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor:  This bill provides businesses, government agencies and others limited liability immunity from lawsuits based on the transmission of COVID-19.  The bill requires the posting of notices explaining the safety measures taken to prevent viral spread.  HB 118 does not provide immunity for gross negligence, wanton conduct or intentional wrongdoing.

SB 113Education Omnibus:  This bill contains various provisions related to K-12 schools across the state, including providing COVID-19 limited liability protection for private and parochial schools from lawsuits related to tuition and fees from the 2020 spring semester.  The law will allow these schools to avoid liability if their actions were reasonably related to protecting the public health, safety or welfare of their students and remote learning options were provided to students to complete their academic year.

SB 562 (The Second Chance Act) and HB 463 (Education in Prisons): will remove hurdles preventing many North Carolinians from entering the workforce and gaining much-needed access to educational opportunities. Both bills passed the General Assembly with unanimous support and earned Gov. Cooper’s signature.

HB 1050 (PED/Low-Performing School Districts): passed unanimously by the House and Senate and signed by the governor – will prioritize early childhood learning assessments to advance school improvement plans for low-performing schools. The bill represents a positive step forward to reduce burdens on those North Carolina school systems that have suffered the most during COVID-19.

HB 1080—Revenue Laws Recommendations:  This bill makes various changes to the state’s revenue laws, includes the Internal Revenue Code update, and contains other modifications such as the extension of the sunset provision of the Job Development Investment Grant Program (JDIG).  However, the Senate amended the bill to increase the tax deduction for medical expenses in an effort to provide tax relief for North Carolinians this year.  Under this provision, taxpayers will be able to deduct medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of gross income, which is a departure from current law that allows deduction in excess of 10 percent of gross income.

HB 308—Regulatory Reform Act of 2020:  Unlike last year’s annual regulatory reform that was vetoed due to controversial provisions, the conference report passed the House with broad support and a unanimous vote.

HB 471—Exempt Direct Primary Care from DOI Regs:  This bill allows primary care physicians to offer primary care independent of any insurance and thereby exempting medical direct primary care from regulation by the Department of Insurance.

HB 1079 (Various Sales Tax Changes) and HB 1229 (UI Program Integrity/Temp. ABAWD Time Waivers): Together, these bills will give businesses more tax certainty and protect the integrity of our unemployment insurance fund.

11th Congressional District Runoff Election Update
Madison Cawthorn, a 24-year-old relative newcomer to politics, won the Republican runoff election for the 11th Congressional District seat that was vacated by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.  Cawthorn will face Democrat Moe Davis in November’s general election.  If elected, he will become the youngest member of the U.S. House of Representatives.  The 11th Congressional District covers the western part of the state.

The Asheville Chamber would like to thank each of our WNC Representatives and Senators for continuing the business of formulating thoughtful, directed legislation to help our entire community. Let’s see this bipartisanship continue going forward in all our endeavors to make this region and state the best it can be!