Lawmakers returned to Raleigh this week for a two-day session focusing on COVID-19 relief. They adjourned sine die, which formally ends the 2019-20 legislative session. Leaders did mention that if congress appropriates more federal dollars to the states, then they would return for a special session to spend those funds. Otherwise, the Legislature will not reconvene until January 13, 2021 for the start of a new session.
The General Assembly passed House Bill 1105, the Coronavirus Relief - Act 3.0. The legislature had already passed several COVID-19 relief bills, and this bill appropriates the remaining $1.1 billion of the State’s federal CARES Act funds. Federal guidelines required that these funds be distributed to recipients by the end of the year.
In order to assist families with online learning during the pandemic, the bill establishes the Extra Credit Grant Program, which will give every family with a child age 17 or younger a $335 stimulus check.
The bill also appropriates money for vaccine research, COVID-19 testing, and personal protective equipment. $20 million is appropriated to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to establish the NC COVID-19 Provider Relief Fund, which will reimburse Medicaid Providers who treat uninsured patients.
The legislation increases the amount that individuals receive for unemployment insurance by $50 a week.
Some Democrats objected to a provision that increases the eligibility limit for the Opportunity Scholarship program, which gives grants for children to attend charter or private schools. Democrats were also displeased that the bill did not contain Medicaid expansion, which they argued would help uninsured individuals get access to care during the pandemic.
Legislators also included provisions to aid with the recovery from recent hurricanes and an earthquake in the western part of the State.
The bill passed both chambers by large margins, and is now on the Governor’s desk awaiting his action.
This week, Governor Cooper issued Executive Order 163, which moves the State into Phase 2.5 of his three-phase reopening plan. North Carolina moved from the Phase 1 stay-at-home order to Phase 2 on May 22, when some businesses were allowed to open. Under Phase 2, restaurants, retail establishments, and personal care salons were allowed to open at a limited capacity, while gyms, bars, and various entertainment facilities remained closed.
Phase 2.5 allows gyms, bowling allies, aquariums, and museums to open at a limited capacity, while also following safety guidelines. Gyms are limited to 30% capacity. Many gyms had recently announced that they were going to reopen with-or-without approval under what they considered a medical loophole.
The mass gathering limit under Phase 2.5 has been raised to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors. Phase 2.5 still requires individuals to wear a face covering in public areas and situations where social distancing is not possible. The Governor has also extended the prohibition on alcohol sales for onsite consumption after 11pm.
Bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, and indoor entertainment facilities will remain closed under Phase 2.5.
The Order became effective on Friday, September 4, 2020, and remains in effect until October 2, 2020.