The General Assembly has passed with a unanimous vote a new COVID relief bill that would direct nearly $1.7 billion in aid across the state. 

The legislature now will consider more contentious pandemic-related legislation, including a new bill that would allow the state’s bars and restaurants to fully reopen.

The COVID relief bill is the latest in a series that allocates money from the federal government. House Bill 196 includes $600 million in new spending, primarily for North Carolina’s colleges and universities. It directs millions for K-12 schools, including money to evaluate how North Carolina handled the transition to remote learning and what the long-term effects of virtual schooling could be for the state’s children. 

Joe Coletti, senior fellow of fiscal studies at the John Locke Foundation, said the adjustments in this bill are evidence the state legislature is prudently using the billions in relief from Congress.

“The General Assembly is using the discretion and extra time it has with Coronavirus Relief Fund money, to better meet actual needs, reducing appropriations where they could not be used and increasing funding in other areas that could have more benefit,” he said.

Coletti said he would prefer if the federal government gave the flexibility to direct education relief money to families instead of only school systems.

The bill passed by a vote of 117-0 in the House, 48-0 in the Senate. It is now in front of Gov. Roy Cooper. While the governor has vetoed many of the General Assembly’s COVID-related bills, he did sign into law the prior $2-billion relief bill.

Other legislation in front of the General Assembly will have a tougher time.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, has said he will bring the chamber’s school reopening bill back for another veto override attempt. The effort failed by one vote last week, with one Democrat who was a primary sponsor of the bill absent. 

A new bill introduced by Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Henderson, would allow the state’s bars and restaurants to fully reopen.

Currently, bars are limited to 30% capacity. They had been closed for nearly a year before being allowed to reopen at the end of February.

Restaurants are limited to 50% capacity, and diners are required to wear masks even in their seats unless they are “actively eating or drinking.” 

Under the bill, restaurants would have to put employees through daily temperature checks and health screenings, frequently clean “high-touch” areas and “deep clean” each night.

Andrew Dunn is a freelance writer for Carolina Journal.