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COVID-19 impacts Rowan County legislators’ goals of session

By Liz Moomey

liz.moomey@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — After the passage of the state’s COVID-19 relief bills Saturday, both the House and Senate are meeting in skeletal sessions until later this month. 

Rowan County legislators predicted budget conversations will continue, especially with the economic hit due to the pandemic, and working on passing their bills they started last session.

N.C. Sen. Carl Ford, R-33, is working on new legislation with Sens. Warren Daniel, R-46, and Vickie Sawyer, R-34, that was filed Tuesday.

The NC Freedom to Work Act would impose no criminal liability for violating the governor’s executive orders, and provides that all prosecutions for violations will be abated. The executive orders listed in the bill are No. 118, No. 120, No. 121, No. 131 and No. 135, which ordered the close of certain businesses and extended the order.

The senators referred to police intervening to stop a tattoo artist and a hairdresser from operating their businesses.

“It seems like the progressive movement wants to give everybody a second chance except for those who try to earn an honest living,” Ford said. “I hope liberal interest groups like the N.C. Justice Center will recognize the hypocrisy of that position and support this decriminalization bill.”

Ford said his No.1  priority has moved to getting people back to work after reading the text messages, Facebook messages, emails and letters from constituents, as well as taking calls.

He wants future legislation to help more businesses, saying if you help the small business it helps their employees. He called it trickle down economics.

Rep. Wayne Sasser, R-67, is working on pharmacy-related bills. In the COVID-19 relief working groups, he advocated for pharmacies being able to mail medicines and succeeded with a temporary solution. He wants to work with the health care committee to come to a long term solution that can help patients.

Sasser said he wants the state to adopt a system that would provide a way for doctor’s offices and the patient’s insurance to work together. The “escribe” system would show the doctor options of the copay amount the patient would have with their insurance, alternative prescriptions, possibility of payment at the drug price or requiring a prior authorization.

“What happens in a lot of these cases with this high dollar stuff, the patient ends up not taking it and doesn’t get treatment,” Sasser said. “The doctor doesn’t realize they are not taking it.”

The current system isn’t beneficial for all parties — the patient, doctor and insurance company — because the patient could get sicker, costing more money.

Rep. Harry Warren, R-76, said he had some bills that crossed over to the Senate last session, but he may have to wait until the next session, since they require appropriations or reallocation of funding.

He said he doubts the bills, such as his lead testing bill, would get support at this time because of lack of funding. He said other members will be going through the same.

Rep. Larry Pittman, R-83, said he wants to get his bill passed that would add minimum sentencing to Sheyenne’s Law, which created a felony charge — instead of a misdemeanor — for drunk boating if it results in serious injury or death.

“We need to put some teeth into Sheyenne’s Law,” Pittman said.

He said the only objection he knows of is it would interfere with judicial discretion, which he called rubbish.

Howard said she didn’t have any bills on her agenda. The General Assembly is in survival mode working on COVID-19 legislation.

The budget is up in the air, with the decrease in sales tax revenue and the extension of the tax deadline.

“We used to say the April surprise now we say the July surprise is how much money is coming in and how much is not and the sales tax revenue takes about three months before it catches up,” Ford said. “I should be interesting where we go from there.”

Howard said they need to know what their resources are and the numbers until they can discuss the budget.

Special project funding is a priority for Warren and Ford.

“What I’m going to do is try to recover as much money as I can for the funding projects that we have in the budget,” Warren said. “It’s going to be very difficult to get any money out because we anticipate going into the next budget cycle about $2-$2.5 billion in the hole, because of revenue that we’re not generating now.”

The budget provided money for the N.C. Transportation Museum, Bell Tower Green, Community Care Clinic of Rowan County, some volunteer fire departments and more.

Sasser said the legislators are going to start looking a projects that shouldn’t get funding.

“I don’t have any that I want to cancel,” Sasser said. “You probably don’t either.”

The Economic Support Working Group will meet again Tuesday.

The legislators expect to return, in whole, on May 18.

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