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Political Notebook: Rowan’s lawmakers vote in favor of bill limiting governor’s emergency powers

All three of Rowan County’s Republican lawmakers in the N.C. House last week voted in favor of a bill that aims to limit the governor’s scope of power during a declared emergency.

House Bill 264 was filed by Reps. Keith Kidwell, R-79; Destin Hall, R-87; John Bell IV, R-10; and Timothy Moffitt, R-117. Both Reps. Harry Warren and Wayne Sasser, who represent Rowan County, signed on to the bill as co-sponsors.

The bill, called the Emergency Powers Accountability Act, creates a definition of “concurrence of the Council of State” under the current North Carolina Emergency Management Act, and adds it as a provision for gubernatorial actions taken during a state-declared state of emergency. The bill requires the governor obtain a majority consensus from the Council of State within 48 hours of contact to all members before exercising a power or authority that requires concurrence. One instance outlined in the bill includes the governor’s use of contingency and emergency funds “as necessary and appropriate for National Guard training in preparation of emergencies.”

The bill also allows the gubernatorial or legislatively declared state of emergency to expire in seven calendar days unless a majority concurrence from the Council of State is obtained. Any extensions could not exceed 30 days without additional concurrence. Such restrictions apply to statewide state of emergency declarations, which must include 67 or more counties.

The bill would also bar the governor from issuing the same, or a substantially similar, declaration for the same emergency if concurrence from the council isn’t granted.

In addition to the governor, the Council of State includes the state’s lieutenant governor, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, superintendent of public instruction, attorney general, commissioner of agriculture, commissioner of labor and commissioner of insurance. The current council consists of four Democrats and six Republicans.

Warren and Sasser, in addition to Rep. Julia Howard, a Republican representing Rowan and Davie counties, voted in support of the bill on March 31 when it passed the House 69-50, completely along party lines. The bill made its way to the Senate Rules committee on April 1, but has not yet been placed on the agenda for its first reading on the Senate floor.

Sasser told the Post he believes it’s a fair bill because it would apply to any governor in the future regardless of the letter behind their name.

“Just because the Democrats have the Governor’s Mansion now doesn’t mean it’s not a fair bill,” he said. “No one individual should be a dictator to mandate a policy for (13) months now … That’s not how the executive and legislative (branches) are set up.”

If passed, the bill would become effective once signed into law, and would apply to the exercise of powers during a state of emergency on that date and after. The bill also states that if concurrence isn’t granted within two days after the effective date, any power exercised that requires such concurrence would expire.

Similar legislation was considered during the 2019-20 legislative session. That bill, Senate Bill 105, was ratified but ultimately vetoed by Cooper in July 2020. A veto override from lawmakers would need at least 72 supporting votes, or three-fifths of all voting members in the chamber, if all 120 members of the House were present for a veto override vote.

 

Bill requiring schools to offer summer recovery program awaiting Cooper’s signature

A bill requiring schools offer a summer recovery and enrichment program following the end of the current school year unanimously passed both the House and Senate last week. It now awaits Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature.

House Bill 82, or Summer Learning Choice for N.C. Families, requires each local school administrative unit, or LEA, to offer the program separate and apart from the 2020-21 school year, and prioritize students at risk for academic failure due to learning losses accrued throughout the pandemic.

The bill calls for the State Board of Education to reserve some of the $1.44 billion in state funds allocated to public school units to address learning losses and return to in-person instruction for the summer program. Additionally, instruction must be delivered for at least 150 hours or 30 days throughout the program, not including a mandatory lunch service and physical activity period.

The bill also requires that schools report by October the results of the program and the number of students who participated.

“It’s the least we can do,” said Rep. Wayne Sasser, a Republican representing Rowan and Stanly counties. “It’s been a tough year on everybody, but it’s probably been tougher on school children.”

 

Sen. Tillis co-sponsors PPP Extension Act of 2021 signed into law last week

Bipartisan legislation signed into law last week and co-sponsored by Sen. Thom Tillis will help small businesses retain access to the forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans for at least two more months.

The PPP Extension Act of 2021 extends the deadline to apply for the loans to May 31 and provides an additional 30-day period for the Small Business Administration to process pending applications.

In 2020, more than 129,000 PPP loans were distributed to North Carolina businesses totaling more than $12.2 billion. And so far this year, more than 72,000 loans have been distributed totaling more than $4.2 billion, according to data from the SBA. The program reports that 7.5 million loans totaling $687 billion were granted to small businesses across the U.S. in 2020, with 3.1 million totaling nearly $196 billion in 2021.

The legislation passed the House 415-3, and included opposition from Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) The legislation passed 92-7 in the Senate, with Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky voting against the measure.

Once the legislation made it to the Senate, Tillis joined five Republicans and eight Democrats to sign on as co-sponsors of the legislation.

“I was proud to support the inclusion of the Paycheck Protection Program in the CARES Act last spring, and the program saved millions of jobs so Americans could still receive a paycheck during the pandemic,” Tillis said in a statement. “As we continue to make progress vaccinating Americans and returning to life as normal, these additional two months will ensure any small business who needs assistance can receive it until the end of May.”

The bill was endorsed by nearly 100 organizations, including the National Federation of Independent Business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Tillis supported the PPP when it became law as part of the federal CARES Act in 2020, and supported including $284.5 billion in the December COVID-19 federal relief package. Under that law, small businesses employing 300 or fewer workers that experienced a 25% or greater gross revenue loss between comparable periods in 2019 and 2020 due to COVID-19 became eligible to apply for a second forgivable PPP loan. Small business owners that did not receive a PPP loan in the first round are also eligible to apply. And following the passage of the American Rescue Plan in March, an additional $7.5 billion in funding was added to the program, making larger nonprofits with multiple locations eligible for PPP on a per-location basis.

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