The General Assembly’s short session is almost over. Here’s a look at what happened this week:
Tillman retirement: After 18 years in the Senate, Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said he’ll retire at the end of June. He announced his departure Thursday, June 25, on the Senate floor, stunning colleagues. Tillman has been a fierce advocate for his constituents, said Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, in a news release. Tillman has served as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Education, and as Majority Whip. The Republican Party in his district will nominate a candidate to replace him on the November ballot.
Gyms get another workout: Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, is trying a third time to force Gov. Roy Cooper to allow gyms and fitness centers to reopen. An amended version of House Bill 806 passed the House 75-31 and the Senate 35-11 — with more than enough votes to override a veto if lawmakers hold fast. H.B. 806 would let workout facilities reopen if they meet coronavirus-preventing sanitation and safety standards recommended by an industry trade group. Cooper closed gyms March 27. They initially were part of Cooper’s Phase Two COVID-19 reopening plan. But he excluded them and private bars from the proposal. The governor vetoed two earlier reopening measures that would have required Cooper to get Council of State approval before closing them again. Gym and bar owners also await a decision in lawsuits filed against Cooper challenging the selective nature of his emergency orders. H.B. 806 is a “clean” bill that didn’t limit the governor’s power. Cooper hasn’t said what he’ll do.
Respect my authority: Lawmakers made a direct attempt to restrict the governor’s emergency powers. Senate Bill 105 requires the governor to notify and get the approval of a majority of the Council of State within 48 hours of issuing a statewide declaration of emergency. The council is composed of the 10 statewide elected executive branch officials. Cooper failed to get COS approval for his March 17 Executive Order limiting restaurants to delivery and takeout service. The bill defines “statewide” as any emergency covering at least two-thirds of the state’s 100 counties. It passed the House 64-49, several votes shy of the 60% margin needed to override Cooper’s likely veto.
Sine die on hold: The General Assembly doesn’t plan to take up any other bills but it will remain in session until July 11. Keeping the session open gives Cooper 10 days either to sign, veto, or allow to become law the more than 60 bills lawmakers passed this week. Adjourning sine die would have given the governor 30 days to decide. Lawmakers will return Sept. 2, presumably to deal with lingering budget problems. Both federal and state governments pushed back the income-tax filing deadline from April 15 to July 15, causing cash crunches all around.