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Jun 26, 2020

North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

Members of the North Carolina General Assembly have officially brought the 2020 short session to a close. After a packed week of committee meetings and late night floor debates, both the House and Senate adjourned Thursday night. SJR 870: Adjourn to Date Certain then Sine Die outlines the General Assembly's plans to officially adjourn Saturday, July 11 until Wednesday, September 2. Through July 11, both chambers will hold skeletal, non-voting sessions, unless they need to reconvene for another veto override vote. In September, lawmakers may consider bills that deal with appropriating additional COVID-19 funds from the federal government, or take action on appointments by the General Assembly or Governor. Since the start of the 2019-2020 session, over 2,000 bills have been filed and nearly 300 bills have become law. Keep an eye out for a special edition Week in Review next week outlining some of the biggest bills from this short session. 

As of Thursday morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 57,183 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 811,278 completed tests, 1,284 deaths, 891 current hospitalizations, and all of the state's 100 counties had seen confirmed coronavirus cases. 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.


Reopening Plans

With the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths due to the coronavirus in North Carolina on the rise, Governor Roy Cooper announced Wednesday that the state would press pause on the reopening process. Gov. Cooper signed Executive Order 147 Wednesday afternoon, extending phase 2, Safer at Home, restrictions. The order also includes a facemask-wearing requirement in all public places where where social distancing is not possible. Cooper urged North Carolinians to follow the requirement so that the state can resume the reopening process. The EO extends phase 2 and requires masks to be worn beginning Friday, June 26 at 5:00 PM and will remain in effect for three weeks, through Friday, July 17. After watching the trends over the next three weeks, Governor Cooper and his team will reconsider the reopening of gyms, museums, and playgrounds.

Shortly after his press conference Wednesday, House lawmakers attempted to override the Governor's veto of HB 594: Temp Open Gyms/Health Clubs/Fitness Ctrs. The House failed to override the veto in a 66 - 53 vote along party lines. Some lawmakers argued that the bill was needed to provide a lifeline to these businesses throughout the state that are at risk of closing their doors for good if they cannot reopen soon. Others argued that it is time to reopen fitness centers and gyms in hopes of providing an outlet for people struggling with the stress the last few months has brought. 

However, another group of lawmakers argued that, on top of it being unsafe for these type of facilities to reopen with hospitalizations on the rise, the bill was not really about reopening these businesses. A provision in the bill would require the Governor, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, or the Secretary of Environmental Quality, to obtain concurrence from the Council of State before reclosing restaurants, bars, and fitness facilities opened through the bill - a provision that many House Democrats have called a poison pill.

Ultimately, Thursday, lawmakers were able to reach an agreement that would allow for gyms and fitness centers to reopen, so long as they follow certain safety precautions. HB 806: Open Exercise & Fitness Facilities would allow facilities to reopen and contains all of the same language as HB 594, but does not include the provision limiting the Governor's authority to close these businesses if needed. The bill now heads to the Governor.


Medicaid Transformation

Transformation to Medicaid managed care has been an uphill battle for North Carolina over the last several years. Last year, Medicaid transformation was put on pause indefinitely because the Department of Health and Human Services did not have adequate funding due to the budget stalemate between the legislature and the Governor. But now, transformation is moving forward once again.

Lawmakers passed SB 808: Medicaid Funding Act this week. SB 808 establishes a start date for Medicaid transformation of, no later than, July 1, 2021. Early versions of the bill included a provision that would have required DHHS to pay prepaid health plans (PHPs) $4M each if transformation did not begin by the start date, however, the provision was removed from the final version of the bill. Under the SB 808, DHHS will will be required to extend the contracts with PHPs to cover four years, rather than three, with a one-year renewal option.

Additionally, the bill appropriates $50M from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to go towards LME/MCOs to fund behavioral health and crisis services, $20M to fund early childhood initiatives, and $100M to fund testing, tracing, and trend tracking efforts throughout the state. The bill also provides funds for the Medicaid rebase, the operation of the Medicaid program itself, and costs associated with transformation.

The bill also allocates funds for the Dorothea Dix campus relocation project. Last year, lawmakers, wanted to move the DHHS headquarters to Granville County, sparking a great deal of debate among legislators on both sides of the aisle. SB 808 allows the Department to locate a facility to remain in Wake County. 


Budget Updates

Both the House and Senate voted to approve a measure this week that would allocate additional federal funds for coronavirus relief. HB 1023: Coronavirus Relief Fund/Additions & Revisions was voted out of the Senate Wednesday, followed by a vote to concur in the House Thursday. 

The bill adds another $670 million to the original $1.425 billion appropriated in S.L. 2020-4, bringing the total state allocation of federal funds for the COVID-19 pandemic to just under $2.096 billion. H1023 increases many existing appropriations and allocates money to address a multitude of issues around there state, but here are some highlights of the bill:

  • $150M to local governments to use at their discretion for COVID-19 relief
  • Increases appropriations to the NC Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, the NC Community Health Center Association, Division of Social Services foster care payments, state tourism marketing
  • Expands the allowed us of funds for school nutrition services to include more schools and extend the deadline of the program through the end of the year
  • $10M for meat processing facility grants
  • $750M for data analysis on economic issues stemming from the virus
  • $3.5M to a pilot project combating domestic violence
  • $1.4M to state libraries and the NC Zoo
  • $1.5M to travel and tourism grants
  • $2.5M for digital learning solutions for high school students
  • $7M for PPE for public schools
  • $5M for virus control measures in group homes
  • $7M to hospitals for patient care related to COVID-19
  • $4.3M to Child Advocacy Centers of NC
  • Establishes a pilot program through Commerce’s Office of Science, Technology, and Innovation and Plasma Games, Inc. that incorporates science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) software into select STEM and CTE programs to cultivate interest and drive workforce development in critical STEM fields

Although last year's budget proposal never went into effect after being vetoed by the Governor, lawmakers moved forward with a number of policy provisions that were included in the original budget bill. SB 681: Agency Policy Directives/2019-2021 moved through the House and Senate Thursday. Among the provisions included, the bill would expand charter school enrollment priority to siblings of current students, authorize the allocation of $1.5M from DHHS Coronavirus Relief Funds to provide a grant to NC MedAssist to help cover the costs of covering additional uninsured or indigent individuals during the pandemic, and amend Medicaid eligibility requirements. A majority of the provisions in the bill make conforming or technical changes and establish or change reporting requirements for state agencies and programs.