NC Legislative Newsletter
June 12, 2020
The General Assembly passed a major piece of legislation dealing with elections this week by an overwhelming majority – something that has been rare for a number of years. The legislature also continued its piecemeal approach to the state budget as it sent almost a dozen appropriations bills to the Governor, each on a specific subject matter.
Another major legislative action involved the potential re-opening of bars and gyms. This occurred in the context of a week that has seen four straight days of record numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations and five days with reports of 1,000+ new cases.
State and Legislative Issues
An elections reform bill received final approval by the General Assembly this week and is awaiting action by Gov. Roy Cooper. The bill, mostly a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, would make a number of elections law changes primarily intended to make absentee voting easier and to assist counties in staffing the polls. The bill would make it easier to request an absentee ballot, would temporarily reduce the number of witnesses required for an absentee ballot, would give counties more leeway with respect to hiring poll workers, and would provide millions to elections agencies to address special concerns with elections during a pandemic. The bill received strong bipartisan support. The main point of contention involved a provision dealing with voter IDs. Voter IDs are not currently required for the 2020 general election due to pending litigation. If that issue is resolved, the bill would expand the type of voter ID allowed and would make it easier to renew another type.
NC bill passes to expand voting by mail for 2020 elections, heads to Gov. Cooper’s desk (Raleigh News & Observer)
Criminal Justice Reform
In the wake of protests over police brutality, several criminal justice reform initiatives moved forward this week. The House unanimously passed a bill that would make it easier to expunge criminal records in certain cases – primarily cases related to convictions for nonviolent offenses committed between the ages of 16 and 18 and to charges that did not result in a conviction. The Senate passed the bill unanimously last year but must revisit it this due to some changes made in the House. The bill is expected to pass next week. The House and Senate are also hammering out differences on a bill that would amend drug sentencing laws. Both chambers passed the bill unanimously last year, but need to resolve some differences between the two bills.
On Tuesday, Gov. Cooper issued an executive order creating the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice to develop and help implement solutions that eliminate disparate outcomes in the criminal justice system for communities of color. The order also directed State law enforcement agencies to review policies about the use of force and created the Center for the Reduction of Law Enforcement Use of Deadly Force to collect data, conduct analysis, recommend best practices, and develop training around the use of force by law enforcement agencies.
NC lawmakers send criminal justice reforms to Gov. Cooper; more could be on the way (Charlotte Observer)
Cooper creates task force on racial equity in NC justice system, reviews police policies (Raleigh News & Observer)
On Tuesday, the General Assembly gave final approval to a bill that would allow for the re-opening of gyms and fitness centers, subject to certain conditions. The bill would limit capacity in those facilities to 50% of the facility’s current limit and includes additional sanitation, social distancing, and health screening requirements. The bill also contains provisions for re-opening bars and increasing capacity at restaurants that are similar to those included in a bill vetoed by the Governor last week. Unlike the previous bill, the Governor could re-impose greater restrictions or order closure of gyms, bars, and restaurants so long as a majority of the Council of State agreed. Under the bill, there would still be no local authority to take such action.
The Senate Health Committee advanced a separate bill on Thursday that would limit the authority of the government or a hospital to limit visitation in hospitals. The bill would require hospitals to allow at least one visitor per patient. The hospital could limit this to a single visitor for the extent of the hospitalization, could require the visitor to submit to and pass a health screening, and could require the use of infection control measures (such as requiring the wearing of face masks). Under this bill, this right to visitation could not be terminated, suspended, or waived by the hospital or government officials even during a declared emergency.
NC House passes bill that would reopen gyms and bars. It now goes to the governor. (Charlotte Observer)
Local Issues – Raleigh
The City of Raleigh announced plans to pause a major downtown development project. The city had an open RFP for a high-end hotel and mixed-use development project downtown that would have supported the convention center. Due to plummeting hospital taxes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic (an expected decrease in revenues of $97 million over 6 years), the city has decided to postpone plans for parking infrastructure and an expansion of the convention center that were tied to the hotel and mixed-use development
Raleigh hits pause on major downtown hotel, mixed-use project (Triangle Business Journal)
- Thursday Wrap: Teacher pay, driver’s licenses, patient visitors (WRAL)
- Proposal to waive DMV road test requirement for teens on its way to Gov. Cooper (Charlotte Observer)
- Judge orders N.C. track with large crowds to stop races (Greensboro News & Record)
- NC releases details of 3 plans for how schools could operate this fall amid pandemic (Raleigh News & Observer)
- Mecklenburg needs to test 20,000 residents daily to slow COVID-19 spread, officials say (Charlotte Observer)