NC Legislative Update 6/30/20
By Lexi Arthur
June 30, 2020
Many legislators and virtual spectators expected the NC General Assembly to adjourn until a specific date last Thursday night. Instead, lawmakers worked until around 2:30am Friday morning without an adjournment bill. Now, the plan is to hold skeletal sessions until July 11 while they wait for Governor Cooper to take action on pending bills. Then, they’ll take a full break from then until September 2nd. Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) noted that a voting session may be held before July 11th for veto overrides or other pressing matters.
DOT 2020-2021 FY Budget/Governance (HB 77): Last Wednesday, the General Assembly passed this bill, which provides NC DOT funding in the wake of COVID-19-related revenue declines at the Department. It also provides oversight and restructuring of the department’s board after a recent audit revealed overspending. The bill will let legislative leaders pick six members of the Board of Transportation. Currently, all 19 voting members of the board are chosen by Gov. Roy Cooper. Last week, Cooper had warned GOP lawmakers against a “power grab” in this bill. Legislative Democrats haven’t railed against the governance changes, which were adjusted before the legislation passed so that Cooper could now pick the board chairman. Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) said he’s been told Cooper will let the bill become law.
N.C. Education and Transportation Bond Act of 2020 (HB 1225): Early last week, the House passed this bill, which would ask North Carolina voters to decide whether to issue $3.1 million in bonds to pay for school construction and roadways. If passed, voters could approve $1.5 billion on roads, $800 million for public school’s construction projects, $600 million for the UNC system facilities and $200 million for community colleges facilities. The Senate has not considered the bill, and Senator Berger (R-Rockingham) has previously voiced concerns about the idea.
Workers’ Compensation: Efforts by Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake) to change 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 continued last week. There was discussion on his amendment on the House floor to include the provision in SB 805, but it was not officially considered for a vote. Rep. Jackson’s proposal was included in legislation that was filed earlier in the session, but received major pushback from the employer community, and therefore did not move forward.
DOT Secretary: The Senate unanimously voted last week to confirm Gov. Cooper’s appointment of Eric Boyette as Secretary of Transportation, who has been the interim secretary. Boyette was formerly the secretary of information technology.
Unemployment Benefit Eligibility: As the North Carolina economy reopens, individuals receiving unemployment benefits have had to decide whether to return to work amid the continuing COVID-19 public health emergency. Until recently, opting not to return to a prior employer or refusing to accept suitable work likely meant the discontinuation of unemployment benefits. The North Carolina Division of Employment Security (DES) recently adopted emergency rule 04 N.C. Admin. Code § 24G.0104. This rule became effective on June 26, 2020 and outlines the specific situations related to COVID-19 in which an individual may refuse suitable work and continue to receive unemployment benefits. There are two important things that the new emergency rule did not change. It left intact Section 3(b) of North Carolina Executive Order No. 118, issued March 17, 2020, which clarifies that unemployment benefits paid for reasons related to COVID-19 are not charged to employer accounts. It also left intact previous emergency rule 04 N.C. Admin. Code § 24G.0102, which implemented a requirement that employers provide employees with notice of unemployment benefits at the time they are separated from employment.