The NC General Assembly reconvenes its 2020 legislative session today (Sept. 2, 2020).
Here’s (based on the Raleigh News & Observer’s “Under the Dome” column) is a summary of some of the things that are on the agenda of state lawmakers (or, at least, the Republican leaders in the House and Senate) with respect to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The primary focus on the legislature will be how to spend the $900 million remaining in federal COVID-19 funding which must be spent by the end of 2020. And this task is complicated by the fact that Congress hasn’t been able to agree on additional COVID-19 funding. Gov.
Cooper proposes spending higher-than-expected state revenues (not federal COVID funding) to fund teacher bonuses and other priorities but Republican legislative leaders are hesitant to do so.
Republicans plan to introduce legislation that will:
- Use $440 million in federal COVID funding to provide a one-time $325 payment to families with children.
- Spend $45.5 million in federal COVID funding to assist businesses through an existing Job Retention Grant program. Gov. Cooper’s proposal would, instead, spend $50 million to provide up to four months of rent, utility, and mortgage assistance to businesses impacted by the pandemic (especially hospitality, tourism, and leisure businesses) and an additional $33 million to assist historically underutilized (including minority owned) businesses).
- Spend $3 million in federal COVID funding to provide $100 bonuses to poll workers in the 2020 election cycle and recruit additional poll workers and support local election boards.
- Spend $30 million in federal COVID funding to expand rural broadband internet. Gov. Cooper proposes spending $50 million to expand internet connectivity to communities that lack broadband service.
- Provide an additional $50 per week in unemployment benefits and increase the duration of unemployment benefits. The additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits authorized by Congress earlier this year expired in July. The Trump administration authorized an additional $300 per week in unemployment benefits effective August 1. This would bring the average NC unemployment benefit up to about $700 per week.
News reports indicate that Republican leaders may also include provisions for increased funding for private school vouchers in the new COVID relief bill, which could be a poison pill for Democratic lawmakers and risk being vetoed by Gov. Cooper.
It seems that state lawmakers want to make this a quick session so they can get back to campaigning before the fall election. That means that they may focus only on the new COVID relief bill.
But while COVID relief may be the most urgent or timely item on the legislative agenda, that doesn’t mean that they (or we) should forget about health care, gun violence, police violence, racial justice, voting rights, and gerrymandering.