Concerns over coronavirus prompted the North Carolina Legislature to cancel committee meetings for the remainder of March. A memo to members of the General Assembly community outlines workplace safety plans and specifies that, “legislative leadership requests and directs that no committee, commission or task force meetings be held until Wednesday, April 1, 2020 at the earliest.” According to News & Observer, Senate leader Phil Berger assured, “The work of the people does not stop or end during a crisis, and the General Assembly will remain operational throughout this period…The formal beginning of the short session is scheduled for April 28, and that remains unchanged.” DEQ sent out an announcement delaying public hearings for permitting because of the recent executive order banning meetings with over 100 people. This will delay the permitting process.
Legislators had been attending interim committee meetings as they prepare for the short session, scheduled to begin April 28th. Both the General Assembly and Governor Cooper remain pressured to end the state’s budget stalemate. During the short session, mini-budget proposals are likely to surface in an effort to provide funding that the vetoed budget would have allocated. In addition, legislative leaders anticipate future legislative action to respond to the coronavirus crisis.
At the end of February, the new Department of Transportation secretary was officially sworn in by Court of Appeals Judge Reuben Young in a private ceremony. NC DOT Secretary Eric Boyette succeeds Jim Trogdon, who retired from state government. Boyette previously worked in DOT as inspector general and the Division of Motor Vehicles commissioner before going over to information technology in 2015.
On March 5th, the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee met. Committee members received an update on NC Dept. of Transportation’s finances in the wake of overspending driven by disaster relief, Map Act lawsuits and other issues. Of particular interest in the report are charts forecasting contract resurfacing and bridge replacement expenditures until June 2020. The report states: “NCDOT continues to work to reduce expenditures, increase revenues, until cash balances are increased, and expenditures can be restored to steady rates.” One DOT official cautioned that while the overall spending this year is tracking close to the forecasted budget so far, some expenses could increase before the end of the fiscal year, particularly in operations. Several legislators expressed their continued concern about the situation – including Senator Rick Gunn (R-Alamance), who commented, “this is a black eye. It’s embarrassing for us, but we are where we are.”
As construction for Duke Energy’s Cape Fear beneficiation unit continues, media outlets report that is still scheduled to be completed by December 2020. The cost to construct the facility in Moncure is approximately $240 million.
SC Update (excerpts taken from CAGC e-blast)
This week, the SC Legislature quickly approved funding for DHEC to address COVID-19, attempted to pass a Continuing Resolution and then left town. The House, which was out this week on Furlough, was called back this to Session, where they approved the funding before adjourning for the week.
This week, the Senate had planned to meet in committees and in session, but things shifted quickly as it became apparent that they needed to address funding needs so that the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) could respond to the many health concerns surrounding the Coronavirus. Specifically, they approved $45 million dollars that will be applied as such:
- Nearly $15 million for staffing to support disease and contact surveillance, lab testing, and phone lines
- Nearly $15 million for additional medical equipment
- More than $5 million for staff support, which DHEC says would be for technology, lab supplies, and cleaning
- $2.5 million for public information campaign on TV and radio
- $1.7 million for patient quarantines
- $1.3 million for transportation of lab samples and supplies from the national stockpile
- $5 million in contingency funds
The House returned to Columbia on Thursday to approve the same funding plan above. Within 15 minutes of the House passing the bill, Gov. Henry McMaster signed it into law.
While the Senate was in session this week, they attempted to pass a Continuing Resolution that would fund state government at the 2019 levels. The intent of the bill was to have a trigger in place that could be pulled should the General Assembly not be able to meet again for the rest of this session. The bill received a second reading but was objected to on a third reading.
Here are links to all available resources in SC for questions, action items, etc. regarding COVID-19L