Each week of the General Assembly’s short session, Carolina Journal staff will look back at several important bills lawmakers considered.
Teacher bonuses: Teachers and school support staff could get a $350 bonus if Gov. Roy Cooper signs Senate Bill 818 into law. Under the bill, teachers and school support staff would get a bonus plus annual salary step increases. Assistant principals would get step increases, too, and principals would get a bonus. The Senate passed S.B. 818, 33-16, on Monday, June 15. Two days later, the House passed the bill, 84-35. Democratic lawmakers slammed Republicans for failing to offer more and excepting cafeteria workers and bus drivers from bonuses. Some House Democrats tried to extend bonuses to more employees and raise the amount, but House Republican leaders blocked amendments and debate. “Thanks to smart budgeting, North Carolina can weather the historic revenue shortfalls caused by the economic shutdown and still reward educators with salary step increases and bonuses instead of the pay cuts and furloughs of previous crises,” said Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, in a news release.
Reopening bills: Lawmakers have passed bills to reopen gyms and bars, although the governor vetoed their first attempt and, as if this writing, is sitting on the second. Lawmakers now have their sights on bowling alleys and skating rinks. Senate Bill 599 allows these venues to reopen with safety measures in place. The bill also allows restaurants at minor league baseball stadiums to provide temporary outdoor service at 10% seating capacity. The governor said the first gym/bar bill would have made it harder for the state to close the businesses if COVID-19 cases surged. House Bill 594 opens bars and gyms, but requires the governor to get Council of State approval before shutting them down if the virus spreads. S.B. 599 lacks that provision. The House passed S.B. 599 in a 68-52 vote, with the support of only three Democrats. The Senate concurred and sent the bill to the governor. Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce Committee approved a new version of House Bill 258. H.B. 258 reopens wedding and private event venues, arcades, and amusement parks at limited capacity.
Criminal justice reform: The General Assembly has fast-tracked two criminal justice reform bills. After receiving unanimous approval from lawmakers, the North Carolina First Step Act and the Second Chance Act await the governor’s signature. Under the First Step Act, judges have discretion in sentencing drug trafficking cases rather than tying them to mandatory minimum terms. The Second Chance Act revises expunction laws, making it easier to expunge records for nonviolent offenders. The two bills gained traction after George Floyd was killed by police.
Transportation board: A bill to increase financial oversight of the Department of Transportation includes a provision limiting the governor’s power to appoint transportation board members. House Bill 77 aims to rein in spending at DOT, which has recently come under fire for overspending. The bill also restructures the Board of Transportation. Instead of full appointment power, the governor could pick only 14 members. House and Senate leaders each would choose three at-large members. In a letter to legislative leaders, the governor called the changes to the Board of Transportation a “power grab,” the Associated Press reported. Cooper has repeatedly fought with the Republican legislative leaders over power. The Senate passed H.B. 77 unanimously.
Education and Transportation Bond Act: The House initially approved a bill putting a $1.95-billion education bond and a $1.15-billion transportation bond on the November general election ballot. K-12 schools would get $1.05 billion, universities would get $600 million, and $300 million would go to community colleges. The transportation bond would pay for highway construction and renovation projects. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said low interest rates made borrowing attractive. House Bill 1225 passed the House 113-4 on second reading. A final vote should occur early next week. Senate deputy leader Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, told WRAL the Senate remains skeptical about borrowing money.