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Dec 18, 2020

North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

This week, North Carolina received its first shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Tuesday, during his weekly COVID-19 press conference, Governor Roy Cooper announced that the vaccine was distributed to 42 hospitals across state. The state is still unsure how many doses it will receive weekly. Governor Cooper said that the federal government has told him that each Friday the state will get information about the following week's shipment, then the state has a few hours to identify where to direct the shipments. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Secretary Mandy Cohen warned that until a second vaccine is approved it will still be a bit of time before the metrics are impacted by the vaccine. It is expected that widespread distribution of the vaccine will be possible by Spring 2021.

As of Thursday morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 457,660 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 6,149,645 completed tests, 6,030 deaths, and 2,804 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.

Our team would like to wish you and your family a safe and happy holiday. We will resume Week in Review in January. When we return, stay tuned for updates on the upcoming legislative session.


House Select Committee on Community Relations, Law Enforcement and Justice

The House Select Committee on Community Relations, Law Enforcement and Justice met Monday for their final meeting. The Select Committee was established by Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland)  earlier this year. The committee was tasked to examine North Carolina's criminal justice systems to propose methods of improving police training and relations between law enforcement and its communities. Additionally, members were to propose methods of addressing overcriminalization and disparities within the state's criminal justice system to improve public safety. The committee edited and approved its final list of recommendations that members worked on throughout their meetings. Recommendations include: 

  • Creating additional statewide law enforcement training requirements and providing additional educational and training resources
  • Creating requirements for law enforcement agencies to report disciplinary actions, resignations, terminations, and de-certifications
  • Enact legislation creating whistle-blower protection for law enforcement employees
  • Provide additional resources including any necessary funding for mental health treatment of law enforcement officers
  • Increase the availability of specialty courts such as drug treatment and Veteran's courts
  • Review and consider the reclassification of lower level criminal offenses
  • Enact legislation prohibiting the use of chokeholds, strangleholds, Lateral Vascular Neck Restraints, Carotid Restraints, or any other tactics that restrict oxygen or blood flow to the head or neck, unless deadly
    force is authorized

As a Select Committee, the Speaker of the House has the authority to reinstate the committee during the new session. As of now, it remains unclear if the committee will meet again to discuss further recommendations. Legislators will be able to push for any of the recommendations to become a part of a future legislative package. 


Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee 

The Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee met Tuesday. Members heard a presentation on how the state could better coordinate with nonprofits for disaster recovery and received information regarding a new internal audit from the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). 

General Assembly program evaluators told committee members that better coordination between nonprofits and NC Emergency Management (NCEM) could help improve disaster-related response across the state. According to the report, 45% of nonprofit volunteer organizations did not know if they were included in the state's emergency preparedness plans. There has also been confusion over formal agreements between NCEM and nonprofits leading to duplication of work or slower services. Members saw the benefit of nonprofits providing services such as healthcare, distribution of food, and other basic activities that could alleviate the workload for NCEM. NCEM Director Mike Sprayberry told the committee that the Department is in the process of making sure that clear and concise guidance is being distributed to partners. Director Sprayberry disagreed with recommendations that would require NCEM to report their partnerships to an oversight committee. Committee members agreed that work should be done within the committee to avoid additional oversight or to produce less restrictive legislation recommendations.

Following, the committee heard from NCDOT Inspector General Mary Morton on NCDOT's Highway Division internal audit. Through legislation passed last session and increased scrutiny over their finances, NCDOT has found itself presenting its financial status to the General Assembly every month. The purpose of the internal audit was as follows: 

  • Evaluate Highway Division pre-award processes for Division Let Contracts and on-call Purchase Order Contracts from the time of project funding release to contract award for effectiveness of ensuring compliance with federal and state regulations and internal policies and procedures. Specifically, the audit focused on processes related to project advertisement, bidding and contractor selection.
  • Evaluate Highway Division pre-award processes for Limited Services Purchase Order Contracts from the time a consultant is selected to approval of the purchase order for effectiveness of ensuring compliance with internal policies and procedures.
  • Determine DBE and non-DBE minority business utilization on Division Let, On-call Purchase Order and Limited Services Purchase Order Contracts.

NCDOT has established tighter financial controls across all its divisions, implementing a conservative spending approach. Legislators became skeptical about the findings of the audit after State Auditor Beth Wood addressed the committee. While NCDOT felt confident in their financial monitoring of awarded contracts, State Auditor Wood told committee members that she had not had time to review the whole document. She said that the Department needs to take a deeper dive into their numbers and be more specific with where the contracts came from and the dollars involved. Legislators agreed with Auditor Wood that the Department needs to come back in February with a detailed audit to avoid any further legislative action. 


Chief Justice Race

North Carolina now has a new Supreme Court Chief Justice. Justice Paul Newby (R) defeated Chief Justice Cheri Beasley by 416 votes. Chief Justice Beasley (D) conceded after machine and hand re-counts of the tight race showed minor differences from election day but were not enough to change the outcome.

Combined, both candidates filed over 100 election protests in various parts of the state disputing the validity of certain ballots. Chief Justice Beasley has served on  North Carolina's Supreme Court since 2012 and became the first African-American woman to serve as Chief Justice in 2019. Justice Newby has served on the state's highest court since 2004, making him the longest tenured current justice. He will be sworn in as the new Chief Justice at the beginning of the new year.  


Cabinet Changes

After winning his second term, Governor Roy Cooper (D) is now looking to replace four top cabinet members. Secretary of Commerce Tony Copeland, Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs Larry Hall and Secretary of Natural and Cultural Resources Susi Hamilton all announced that they were stepping down from their post. So far none of their future plans have been announced.

Governor Cooper will also be looking for someone to lead the Department of Environmental Equality (DEQ). Current DEQ Secretary Michael Regan has emerged as President- Elect Biden's top choice to become the next Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator. Regan was named DEQ Secretary in 2017 by Governor Cooper. Since taking over the states top environmental agency, Sec. Regan has created a number of environmental justice boards, initiated tighter environmental regulations, and worked with members of the General Assembly to create bipartisan relationships. If confirmed as EPA Administrator, he would be the first African-American man to hold the position.