NC Legislative Update
June 18, 2020
By Lexi Arthur
The NCGA has had a packed schedule this week as each chamber continues to move bills reflecting their respective priorities. Legislative leadership’s intention to adjourn by July 4, though possibly just for a recess, seems to be track. On Tuesday, the House Transportation Committee heard presentations from State Auditor Beth Wood and NC DOT. In her presentation, Wood reviewed her performance audit for DOT, confirming that the department exceeded its spending plan by $742 million. DOT’s presentation given by Chief Operating Officer, Bobby Lewis, and Chief Engineer, Tim Little, included this bridge replacement forecasting chart:
DOT 2020-2021 FY Budget/Governance (HB 77): In response to the state audit showing NC DOT’s $740 million in overspending last year, provisions in this bill are designed to rein in the department. The legislation directs spending cuts for the next fiscal year to close an anticipated shortfall, locates additional borrowing capacity to spend on current road projects, and prevents the state gasoline tax from falling as expected in January. It also directs DOT to come up with a comprehensive cash-spending plan, creates a new position within Cooper’s state budget office to examine the agency, and requires annual performance audits by the state auditor’s office. While the package was developed through a bipartisan process, it may face pushback from the Governor. It proposes to restructure the Board of Transportation, which this article quotes Governor Cooper as describing as a power grab. HB 77 quickly passed through Senate committees this week and will considered by the full Senate Thursday afternoon. It will then be sent to the House for consideration.
Education & Transportation Bond Act of 2020 (HB 1225): This $3.1 billion education and transportation bond proposal passed the House Appropriations Committee late Wednesday with bipartisan support. The bond in question would go before voters in the November election. About $1.5 billion would go to transportation projects, $800 million for K-12 public school construction, $600 million for UNC System construction and $200 million for community college construction. It will be heard by the full House next, possibly as early as today. The House’s 2019 bond proposal faced Senate opposition, and some expect a similar response to this legislation.
UI Program Integrity/Temp. ABAWD Time Waivers (HB 1229): As unemployment benefit claims rise around the country, numerous states have reported unemployment insurance claim fraud resulting from international rings. This bill appropriates $2 million to enhance cybersecurity and strengthen unemployment insurance program integrity. It has passed the House and the Senate, and will be considered by the House again today for concurrence after changes were made by the Senate.
COVID-19 Liab. Safe Harbor (HB 118): Efforts to protect businesses from litigation as they reopen are ongoing. This bill would provide protections for one year after the end of the executive order for reopening companies. This does not include gross negligence. An altered version of HB 118 was approved by the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday, and it will next be considered by the full Senate.
Rebuttable Presumption / Workers’ Comp.: During Wednesday’s House floor debate on SB 805 Coronavirus Relief Funds/Create Offsets, there was a partisan push to amend the bill to include what Democrats labeled as worker protections during the pandemic. Included in one of the amendments proposed by Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake) was a change to the workers’ compensation law to create a rebuttable presumption that employees who are infection with COVID-19 contracted the disease in the course of employment. This idea was included in legislation that was filed earlier in the session, but received major pushback from the employer community, and was therefore held back. The amendments were rejected.