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Sep 11, 2020

North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

North Carolina has officially moved into Phase 2.5 of coronavirus restrictions, which began Friday, September 4 at 5:00PM and is expected to last through Friday, October 2 at 5:00PM. Phase 2.5 allows playgrounds to open, museums and aquariums to open at 50% capacity, fitness facilities and gyms to open at 30% capacity, and increases the mass gathering limit to 25 people indoors, 50 people outdoors. It also allows for more flexibility to visits to long-term care facilities. The order extends the statewide alcohol curfew which prohibits the sale of alcohol past 11:00PM and under Safer At Home 2.5, bars will remain closed. 

As of Thursday morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 180,754 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 2,521,839 completed tests, 2,990 deaths, and 928 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.

With just 54 days until Election Day, our McGuireWoods Consulting's bipartisan team is hosting a free, virtual panel discussion on the 2020 federal elections, including insights into the presidential, U.S. House and Senate races. This webinar will provide a landscape view of our nation's political scene and insights on potential shifts in the tide in states across the country. Join us on Wednesday, September 16 from 1:00PM - 2:00PM ET. To register, click here


School Choice 

Governor Cooper signed House Bill 1105: Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0 into law September 4. The massive relief bill passed during the brief legislative session last week will allocate $1.1 billion in state and federal funds. The bill passed through the General Assembly last week with a 44-5 vote in the Senate and a 104-10 vote in the House. However,  provisions relating to school choice drew criticism from Democrats.

The school choice provisions will expand the state's Opportunity Scholarship Program by increasing the income eligibility standards which will allow students to qualify if their family is at 150% of the amount to qualify for free and reduced lunch. Originally, the threshold was set at 133%. The program provides up to $4,200 per year for students to enroll in private schools across the state. The bill will also remove the cap on the amount of scholarships that can be received by kindergarten and first grade students. Additionally, up to 3,800 more students will be able to attend the NC Cyber Academy and NC Virtual Academy.

During debate on the floor, many Democrats argued that the short COVID-19 session was not the time to use funds to expand the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Many felt that issues such as Medicaid expansion and other healthcare-related funding were more appropriate to consider. Republicans in both chambers cited the need for more flexibility in education and choice for families across the state due to the way the pandemic has impacted education for K-12 schools.

The bill also contains the Extra Credit Grant Program which allocates $440.5 million to go towards providing $335 checks to families with a child under the age of 17. To qualify, parents must have claimed the federal child tax credit. Parents that do not have to file tax returns may still be eligible, but will need to go online to file a request to receive the grant.


Absentee Voting

North Carolina became the first state to mail absentee ballots for the 2020 General Elections on Friday, September 4. The North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBE) reported 688,980 requests, which was about 15 times the amount requested at the same point during the 2016 elections.

This year, filling out an absentee ballot will look different as the legislature scaled down the witness requirement to one instead of two to address voting during the pandemic through House Bill 1169: Bipartisan Elections Act of 2020. The bill, which was passed and signed in June, also does the following:

  • Requires the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the SBE to develop guidelines on how to safely allow multipartisan teams to assist registered voters within a congregate living situation during the 2020 elections
  • Requires applications for absentee ballots to have a bar code allowing the county board of elections and the voter to track a voted ballot following its return to the county board
  • Provides an additional two weeks for county boards of elections to approve applications for absentee ballots
  • Clarifies that voters may call the State Board or a county board of elections and request a blank absentee ballot request form be sent to the voter by mail, e-mail, or fax
  • Provides that the State Board or its Executive Director cannot deliver absentee ballots to a voter who did not submit a valid request form 
  • Requires the State Board to create an online portal for voters to submit online requests for absentee ballots 
  • Makes it a Class I felony for any member serving on or employed by the State Board or a county board of elections to knowingly send or deliver an unrequested absentee ballot

The state also has an online absentee ballot request portal for the first time ever. The deadline to request a ballot is Tuesday, October 27. 


Economic Development 

Last week the General Assembly passed HB 807: Championship NC Act which allows businesses to be eligible for a site development award so long as they invest at least $5 million of private funds in the project. The project must have an estimated total economic benefit of at least $800 million, must create at least 35 new jobs, and the business must hold at least one men’s championship event within the state every five to seven years and one women’s professional championship event every 10 years.

Earlier this week, the United States Golf Association (USGA) along with members of the General Assembly and the Governor announced the finalization of a new USGA hub to be located in the Village of Pinehurst, North Carolina. USGA will invest up to $36 million and employ up to 50 people across the campus. The campus will include the USGA's southern headquarters, a new equipment testing center, museum, and a visitors center. It was also announced that Pinehurst will host the U.S. Open in 2024, 2029, 2035, 2041, and 2047. 

Legislators and the Governor both touted the move as a bi-partisan economic development effort that will benefit the state for generations. The project is expected to bring $2 billion of economic impact over the next 25 years. The bill also reallocates $3.6 million in funds to cover the total annual cost of the contract - $3.5 million from the One NC Fund and $100,000 from the Job Development Investment Grant Special Revenue (JDIG) Fund.