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League Bulletin

September 4, 2020

​WHAT HAPPENED: The General Assembly got back to business for what was a two-day session, adjourning sine die.

WHAT IT MEANS: You’ll recall that lawmakers had scheduled the September session with expectations that they’d focus on budget adjustments and pandemic-related policy. Media attention followed what was called the “Championship NC Act,” to provide incentives to bring an undisclosed “sports championship employer” to the state. And, of course, there was the Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0, a budget bill spending the rest of the state’s federal COVID-19 money. Both bills won approval and went to the governor’s desk for signing and were still awaiting his determination as of this writing.

ON TAP: Phase 2.5 of the state’s calculated reopening as the pandemic persists. It takes effect at 5 p.m. today (Friday, Sept. 4). What’s new with it? You can find the pertinent details in this Bulletin.

THE SKINNY: Even though the legislature adjourned “sine die” – done for the year, with nothing else scheduled, essentially – there’s a chance that lawmakers could return if Congress sends states more pandemic money to allocate. Read on for more details from the week.

​North Carolina lawmakers got back to business this week and addressed a League priority in the process in what was a two-day session that sent two bills to the governor to sign, finalized appointments to various public offices, and adjourned “sine die” – meaning no more session days scheduled this year. That could change, however. More on that in a minute. The biggest item before lawmakers this week was the Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0, which budgeted the rest of the state’s before-then-unspent pandemic relief money from the federal government, about $1 billion. Its most news-making attributes included the programming of $335 stimulus checks that will go to households with parents who have children ages 17 or younger, a way of helping them with costs of remote learning.

On that note, legislators in the bill addressed a League priority for the session, for which we’d like to thank them – making it easier for remote learning programs to start in areas where schools are meeting virtually. The Relief Act created a grant program worth nearly $20 million for qualifying programs (such as a parks and rec department or a local YMCA). It also allowed these types of remote learning programs via providers who register with the state’s Department of Health and Human Services and follow the same process as other licensed child care facilities.

Elsewhere in the bill, legislators granted development interests an extension of local development approvals and permits – now, any development approval valid from now until 30 day after the rescission of the executive order that declared the pandemic emergency will remain valid for an additional four months beyond its normal expiration date.

Gov. Roy Cooper had yet to sign the new Coronavirus Relief Act as of this writing. One of the big arguments that played out in the legislature this week was whether to approve Medicaid expansion in the bill, which the governor wanted. A spokesperson for Governor Cooper on Thursday said the administration was pleased with areas of spending in the bill but it “should have expanded Medicaid to give 600,000 working people health care and done more for struggling small businesses and unemployed people….” The statement closed by saying the governor “will continue to review the bill.”

While lawmakers adjourned “sine die,” ordinarily meaning they’re done for the year, they could return if the governor calls the them or if two-thirds of them agree to call themselves back. One scenario would be if Congress approves more money for states to allocate. This week, national news reports focused on U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urging Congress to fire the negotiations back up, with apparently less opposition from the administration to the apportionment of more money for state and local governments.

​The North Carolina General Assembly gaveled in and gaveled out, adjourning what had been an historically unique legislative session, with process and focus dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Advancing Advocacy, NCLM’s virtual update on all matters policy, returns September 10 at 3 p.m. to provide you with an overview of the full legislative session and how actions by state legislators will be affecting North Carolina municipalities. Register now.

NCLM’s Public & Government Affairs staff will provide the update and also brief you on the latest regarding local government revenue replacement proposals before Congress. And don’t miss hearing from this year’s legislative recipient of the League’s Community Champion award.

And of course, we'll reserve time for your questions as we conclude with a live Q&A session. We hope you will join us for this important session!

​Playgrounds can open, mass gathering limits are increased, and museums and gyms may open at limited occupancy as part of the new "Phase 2.5" of statewide pandemic-related policy unveiled by Gov. Roy Cooper. Bars remain closed under this phase, laid out in Executive Order 163, effective at 5 p.m. Sept. 4. The mask mandate remains in place. "Safer at Home Phase 2.5 continues our state's dimmer-switch approach to easing some restrictions," the governor explained. "We can do this safely only if we keep doing what we know works -- wearing masks and social distancing. In fact, a new phase is exactly when we need to take this virus even more seriously." 

press release about the order provides contextual detail and data the governor's team used to formulate the new phase. They also released slides with numbers and trends presented to the public at a press conference Sept. 1. A Frequently Asked Questions document was also released in anticipation of inquiries. 

The specific changes going into effect at 5 p.m.: 

  • Mass gathering limits will be increased to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors. 
  • Playgrounds will be allowed to open. 
  • Museums and aquariums can open at 50 percent capacity. 
  • Fitness and competitive physical activity facilities can open at 30 percent​ capacity.
  • All employers in North Carolina are strongly encouraged to provide face coverings to their employees. ​

North Carolina stands to lose many billions of dollars per its underwhelming response to the 2020 Census, which is a major reference point in the allocation of federal money to communities. Now, less than a month remains in the 2020 headcount operation. Join the final push to make North Carolina count by adopting a low-responding census tract through N.C. Counts Coalition’s Adopt-A-Tract program. N.C. Counts Coalition invites organizations to adopt a tract to increase self-response rates among historically undercounted populations to ensure a fair and accurate census. This program is part of N.C. Counts Coalition’s Get-Out-The-Count campaign. Grant amounts will be between $1,000 and $2,500. Collaborative proposals for up to $3,500 will be considered. The grant program has up to $150,000 to disburse. The application period closes midnight Sept. 8. See our 2020 Census resource page for more resources.

​The pandemic has underlined the need for better quality internet access across North Carolina, particularly its underserved rural areas. Now, media outlets are again reporting on how local partnerships are the key to improvement. A Winston-Salem Journal piece this week takes a closer look at real people affected by the lack of reliable internet at their homes and jobs, with a reported 500,000 residents in that camp. “I think it’s the most vital economic issue facing a lot of rural towns in the state,” the newspaper quoted of the League’s Scott Mooneyham on the need for good broadband access. A separate piece published in the Journal this week looks at studies that reveal how much broadband matters to jobs, income, business site selection or relocation, civic engagement and, of course, health – and how existing policies are hurting the mission.

​Now that the September session of the General Assembly is in the books, we’ll be updating our annual compendium of legislative action relevant to cities and towns. But this End of Session Bulletin, which provides special, digestible context to explain the tone and focus of the session along with what happened with each bill we tracked this year, is worth your attention as the best reference document of its kind. Read about the special considerations that influenced 2020 lawmaking. See the municipal-related legislative actions that garnered media attention. Review what went into the League's revenue replacement campaign as COVID-19 kinked the lines to our coffers. And find summaries and statuses of bills the General Assembly considered, whether they passed or not.

 Read the 2020 End of Session Bulletin.