COVID-19 Issues Dominate Legislative Week
This week’s legislative focus continued to be on COVID-19 issues highlighted by legislation which would override Governor Cooper’s executive order regarding restaurants and bars. HB 536 (Temp Outdoor Restaurants for Outdoor Seating) would permit bars, which may currently not operate under the Governor’s order, to serve customers in outdoor areas. It would also allow restaurants to set up temporary outdoor spaces expanding capacity beyond the 50% allowed by the Governor’s order.
The bill passed with strong bipartisan support in the Senate (42-5) but the House vote was much closer and more partisan (66-53). Should the Governor veto the bill, which is expected, additional House votes would be necessary to achieve the 3/5 majority necessary to override it.
The disagreement on this legislation marks a significant departure from the COVID-19 relief legislation which was enacted earlier this month in a unanimous bipartisan vote in both chambers and signed by the Governor. It suggests that the General Assembly is asserting its own voice in response to the Governor’s actions and that its priorities will likely be reflected with respect to funding and other issues in the weeks ahead.
NCHBA continues to press ahead with its legislative priorities. At the top of the list is the enactment of SB 720 (GSC Conforming Amends/2019 Land Use Changes) introduced by Senators Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson), Andy Wells (R-Catawba) and Don Davis (D-Pitt). This bill is the final step in NCHBA’s five-year effort to improve land-use laws in North Carolina.
This bill integrates our land-use regulatory changes which were enacted last year and are currently in effect into a new Chapter 160D which is a consolidation of the current planning and zoning provisions in city and county statutes. For the last four months, NCHBA has spent many hours working closely with the General Statutes Commission and other stakeholders to accomplish this task. The principal sponsors of last year’s bill, Senators Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) and Sam Searcy (D-Wake) are co-sponsors of SB 720.
On Tuesday, Senate Bill 720 was heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee where it received a unanimous favorable report. Yesterday, it was heard in the Senate Rules Committee where it likewise received a unanimous favorable report. It has been calendared for floor action in the Senate on Monday.
Also this week, NCHBA continued its conversations with House members in opposition to HB 1057 (WC/COVID-19 Front Line Coverage/Funds). This legislation would create a presumption that an employee who contracts COVID-19 did so on the jobsite. This burden-shifting is a serious threat to the continued viability of the workers compensation system.
While the bill has superficial appeal and appears to be an effort to assist frontline medical personnel and first responders, it also includes workers from any industry which was designated by the Governor as “essential” which includes construction. Current workers’ compensation laws already allow workers to recover if they can prove it is more likely than not that they contracted COVID-19 at the worksite.
NCHBA has been a leader in the coalition of business and local government associations which was formed to oppose this bill. The coalition has worked hard to educate legislators on the severe impact of this legislation. Due to those efforts, more than 17 of the original co-sponsors of the bill no longer support it and have removed their names from the bill.
Your legislative team continued to work this week on language to be inserted into bills addressing several other issues important to our members. Stay tuned for more information on those matters.
The legislative budget process for the 2020-2021 fiscal year is well underway. Unlike prior years, budget writers are facing diminished revenue due to the economic shutdown. Legislators received an update from the General Assembly’s fiscal staff projecting that state tax revenue will be $4.2 billion dollars short of pre-COVID projections. Decisions of allowable ways to spend remaining unallocated federal dollars coming to the state as a result of the COVID crisis are awaiting further clarification from Washington.
It is widely expected that the current “short session” will run until the end of June so time is short to pass non-budget legislation. It is expected that the General Assembly will then recess to return for a budget session once tax revenue can be more accurately determined following the delayed tax filing deadline of July 15.
Legislator of the Week
Representative Cynthia Ball (D-Wake)
Representative Cynthia Ball has been a steadfast supporter of North Carolina’s home building industry. In fact, she has a 100% voting record on home builder issues. Recently, she has been involved in some of our Building Code Regulatory Reform legislation. Thank you Representative Ball for your work to keep housing affordable in North Carolina.