This week, Governor Roy Cooper announced that the state is considering expanding the number of people eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. With new federal guidelines in place, North Carolinians 65 and older and adults under 65 with pre-existing conditions would be eligible to receive the vaccine. The change comes as North Carolina has experienced a slow vaccine rollout for a variety of reasons. Gov. Cooper, along with, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, urged North Carolinians to remain vigilant as cases across the state continue to rise rapidly.
As of Thursday morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 650, 926 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 7,788,507 completed tests, 7,796 deaths, and 3,990 current hospitalizations. As we all continue to feel the effects of the global pandemic and adjust to a new normal, we want to highlight a few ways our clients across North Carolina have worked to support residents and make this time a little easier for those throughout the state. Read more about what our clients are doing to help by clicking here.
For more information on COVID-19 in North Carolina, click here to visit the Department of Health and Human Services website, and be sure to stay up to date on the latest federal guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by clicking here.
The North Carolina General Assembly returned to Raleigh Wednesday for the start of the 2021 session. Opening day is typically filled with families of legislators joining them on the chamber floors as they are sworn in. This year, due to the pandemic families were only allowed to watch from the galleries as legislators took their oaths wearing masks and limiting congratulatory handshaking.
Newly elected Lt. Governor Mark Robinson (R) presided over the Senate for the first time, ringing in a new era as the President of the Senate. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) denounced the violence that took place in Washington last week, and urged members to put aside policy differences in order to implement good policy for the citizens of the state. The Senate also amended some of its rules, adding a new rule which states that no member of the Senate is allowed to make disparaging remarks towards another member or members. Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake) initially sought to amend the rules to require that all staff and members wear masks while on the Senate floor. Republican leadership asserted that its caucus would continue to wear masks and there would not be a need to vote for an amendment right away.
Over in the House, Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) welcomed new legislators and returning members by acknowledging the challenges that the country faces and the uncertainty that the pandemic has brought upon the state. Speaker Moore reiterated that the House must be united and agree to disagree in order to tackle the most pressing issues that the state faces. A top priority for both chambers will be to agree on additional COVID-19 relief. The House also passed out gavels and House committee chairs were named. Full House committee membership has not yet been announced. To see a full list of House committee chairs, please click here.
House Select Committee on Strategic Transportation Planning and Long-Term Funding Solutions
The House Select Committee on Strategic Transportation Planning and Long-Term Funding Solutions met Monday, January 11. The committee heard from the NC FIRST Commission on their findings to create sustainable transportation funding streams. The NC FIRST Commission was tasked with evaluating North Carolina's current and future transportation investment needs, and advising the secretary on new and better ways to ensure that critical financial resources are available in the future. The commission researched emerging trends and considered the impact new technologies and changing demographics would have on North Carolina's current funding model as they made informed and forward-thinking recommendations on how to address these changes.
The report includes a recommendation for an additional investment of at least $20 billion over the next ten years. Additionally, the commission recommended that the state explore moving away from the gas tax to a mileage-based user fee coupled with raising the state sales tax by 0.5%. The commission found that changes in consumer activity such as less driving and increased demand for electric or hybrid vehicles have diminished the viability of the gas tax. The commission also recommended that the legislature raise or remove the statutory cap on toll projects, authorize reinvestment in state infrastructure banks, and allow for additional flexibility on local option sales tax for transportation purposes. Additional recommendations include:
- Increasing the Highway Use Tax
- Transferring proceeds from short-term rentals, vehicle subscription services, and car sharing to NCDOT
- Taxing transportation network companies such as rideshares
- Authorizing of a mileage-based user fee pilot program in the short session
- Pursuing more public-private partnerships for funding projects
- Appointing a Chief Innovation Officer within NCDOT so that North Carolina is at the forefront of changes in technologies
The committee did not vote on any of the recommendations, but will seek to produce draft legislation during the new session.