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Sep 24, 2021

North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

It was a nostalgic start to the week as the Senate chamber was filled with dozens of former Senators on Tuesday, including Governor Roy Cooper, Attorney General Josh Stein, and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, for the unveiling of a portrait of longtime Senate leader Marc Basnight. The portrait, painted by a member of current Senate leader Phil Berger’s staff, will hang in the chamber. Basnight passed away last year after a decades-long fight with ALS. Both Republican and Democratic members praised Basnight’s tenure as one that allowed for substantial economic growth and investment in education and infrastructure.

The COVID-19 case count has started to decline but still remains deadly. As of this morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 5,953 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 3,231 individuals hospitalized, and sadly, 16,012 confirmed deaths. There have been 11,052,696 doses of the vaccine distributed in NC, which is about 68% of the total adult population.

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.


Budget Update

House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) told members Thursday that the budget chairs in the two chambers have been working late nights this week to find compromises on sticking points. While he did not say specifically what items are delaying the process, Moore did explain the process being used this year. He explained that budget chairs have been meeting to work out differences but suggested there are differences that he and Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) will have to hash out over the next several days. Once they come to an agreement, they will take the budget proposal to Democrat Governor Cooper before voting on it, to see if he will sign it as-is or what changes will be needed in order for him to sign it. It is Moore’s hope, he said, to have a plan to the Governor by next week.


NCDOT

The NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT) would have more flexibility, but greater legislative oversight, when financing projects under a bill moving through the legislature. House Bill 165 would amend various statutes dealing with NCDOT and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Under the bill, NCDOT and the Turnpike Authority would have more options to enter into partnerships with private entities to finance infrastructure projects. Another provision would raise the threshold on utilizing an informal bidding process for construction and repair projects, from $500,000 to $1 million. Additionally, since the pandemic has put a financial and personnel strain on NCDOT, roadside trash collection efforts took a hit. H165 would put in place more legislative oversight on the effectiveness of a new litter management system. The Senate Transportation committee introduced the amended bill this week and passed it along to the Senate Rules committee.


Driverless Cars

The General Assembly continues to move North Carolina into the future; this week, the Senate Transportation committee passed a bill that will define and regulate autonomous vehicles designated to transport goods and products. House Bill 814 would define a “neighborhood occupantless vehicle” as a fully autonomous vehicle that is low-speed and designated to transport cargo without a driver. The bill places some operating limitations on operators, including only being allowed on streets with speed limits of 45 mph or less. Current statute passed a few years ago already enforces regulations on driverless cars, not just including those meant to deliver cargo, including insurance and registration requirements.


Regulatory Sandbox

A phenomenon pushed by the technology and information systems industries called a “sandbox” is an isolated environment enabling users or entrepreneurs to test new business models in a highly controlled setting. Lawmakers in North Carolina are pushing a bill with bipartisan support that would develop a regulatory sandbox for innovative financial and insurance companies who utilize emerging technologies. House Bill 624 would establish the North Carolina Innovation Council, consisting of several members of the Council of State, the Commissioner of Banks and members from the blockchain industry. The Council would select entities wishing to participate in a 24-month program under oversight and scrutiny by the Council.  The Council would have authority to grant an “innovation waiver” and permit a product or service that is not currently authorized by statute, with the exception of criminal or consumer protection laws. The bill passed the Senate Finance committee this week and was sent to the Rules committee.  


Upcoming Legislative Meetings

There are currently no legislative committees scheduled. The Joint Redistricting Committee continues to host public hearings, and will be in Wilmington, Fayetteville and Pembroke next week.