News: CJ Exclusives

Omnibus House COVID-19 relief bill set for vote Thursday

Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, addresses a mostly empty N.C. House chamber on April 28, 2020. (Screen shot from N.C. House of Representatives' YouTube channel)
Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, addresses a mostly empty N.C. House chamber on April 28, 2020. (Screen shot from N.C. House of Representatives' YouTube channel)

The House is wasting little time addressing the challenges COVID-19 has posed to North Carolina. It’s pushing a roughly $1.7 billion omnibus bill to provide relief to North Carolina from the COVID-19 outbreak.

The House Rules Committee approved six COVID-19 related bills during a Wednesday, April 29, virtual meeting. The bills will be wrapped into a single measure, which should face its first floor vote Thursday.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, praised the work of House members and staff under unprecedented conditions, including virtual committee meetings.

“Our bipartisan pandemic response act was developed over weeks of remote committee meetings and we know North Carolinians need its funding, reforms, and tax relief now,” Moore said.

“Just as the General Assembly worked collaboratively in a bipartisan, bicameral way to provide over $1 billion in hurricane relief since 2016, we will also find a successful shared path for putting North Carolina’s strong emergency preparations into action for folks who are really hurting from this pandemic.”

House Bill 1038, Omnibus COVID-19 Response Funds, covers health care, education, and continuity of state operations. Money will come from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Health care will get much of the money — roughly $480 million. Of that, $110 million would establish the COVID-19 Response Research Fund. The fund will support several N.C. universities studying COVID-19, seeking a vaccine or antiviral treatment. 

Rural hospitals will get $75 million, while teaching hospitals will get $25 million. Another $25 million will go to the General Hospitals Relief Fund. 

Under H.B. 1038, $50 million will go toward personal protective equipment and other supplies to respond to COVID-19. To support testing, contract tracing, and trends tracking and analysis, $25 million will be set aside. 

The bill temporarily expands Medicaid coverage for COVID-19 related treatment for those making less than 200% of the poverty line. Medicaid will cover COVID-19 testing under the bill. The bill spends $40 million on Medicaid. 

For K-12 education, H.B. 1038 sets aside nearly $300 million to pay for everything from school nutrition to internet connectivity. Of the nearly $300 million, $70 million will go to a supplemental summer learning program to help students who’ve fallen behind during the school year. Money for more physical and mental health services for students, such as school nurses and school counselors, totals $35 million. Nearly $18 million will use Extended School Year Services to help students with learning disabilities or who have otherwise fallen behind.

Under H.B. 1038, higher education will get around $103.6 million for students and staff. Of the $103.6 million, $25 million will go to community colleges, $48.6 million to the University of North Carolina system, and $30 million to independent colleges and universities. 

The Office of Budget Services and Management will receive $80 million for continuity of state operations.

The state Department of Transportation and other state agencies that lost money because of COVID-19 would get money if federal guidance for the CARES Act changes. But if Washington fails to allow states to replace taxes they couldn’t collect, then lawmakers will have to find another way to restore agency budgets. 

House Bill 1043, COVID-19 Time Sensitive Matters, eases regulations and waives some requirements. The bill extends DMV deadlines, allows emergency video notarizations and remote ID renewals, waives power-of-attorney rules in certain situations, and allows local governments to meet remotely in compliance with open meetings laws. Under the bill, local governments can borrow to finance or refinance projects with special obligation bonds and notes. Another provision in the bill would allow Alcoholic Beverage Control boards to permit mixed beverages in closed containers to be sold alongside takeout orders at restaurants. 

House Bill 1034, Small Business Emergency Loans, the Golden LEAF Foundation $75 million for low-interest loans to small businesses affected by the pandemic. 

House Bill 1039, COVID-19 Response Act-Economic Support, provides tax and regulatory relief for families and businesses and makes changes to state unemployment laws.  

House Bill 1035, Education Omnibus/COVID-19, allows students to take a test to qualify for an advanced math course. Changes also extended school improvement plans and the deadline for summer learning plans. The bill waives some state tests, teacher licensing requirements, and some program requirements. It allows calendar flexibility.

House Bill 1037, Health Care Working Group Policy Recommendations, creates a state stockpile of personal protective equipment, increases access to telehealth, grants flexibility to health care providers, and grants health care providers and facilities immunity from civil or criminal liability related to COVID-19.

The Senate has put together a separate measure and scheduled a floor vote Wednesday night.