@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

Medicaid expansion, lawmaker death benefit among other bills filed during coronavirus session

Posted April 28, 2020 9:36 p.m. EDT
Updated April 29, 2020 9:25 a.m. EDT

This is the sign in front of the North Carolina legislative building.

— The lion's share lawmaking likely to be done during this General Assembly session is broken up over roughly half a dozen bills that zero in on coronavirus pandemic responses, appropriating money and tweaking policies.

But legislators filed a number of other bills Tuesday as well, including one with bipartisan leadership support to boost death benefits paid to the families of lawmakers who die in office.

Democrats also filed a long-shot effort to expand Medicaid, long a goal for Gov. Roy Cooper and other Democrats, but one Republican lawmakers have blocked. The coronavirus pandemic has not changed that math.

House Bill 1042 would increase death benefits for families of lawmakers from $15,000 to $50,000. House Speaker Tim Moore and House Minority Leader Darren Jackson are co-sponsors on the bill, which tweaks benefits in the Legislative Retirement System, but its prospects weren't clear Tuesday night.

There's no corresponding bill in the state Senate, but the House committee this bill was sent to Tuesday meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday, and the bill is on the agenda.

The bill would be retroactive to January 1, covering state reps. MaryAnn Black, D-Durham, and Linda Johnson, R-Cabarrus, who died earlier this year.

Wednesday update: This bill cleared the House Pensions and Retirement Committee this morning on a divided, but bipartisan, 7-5 vote, and it heads to the House Committee on Rules. State Rep. Julia Howard, the lead sponsor, said the measure is about fairness and that it brings the death benefit in line with what's in place for other state employees.

The House's COVID-centric bills may get merged into one bill before Wednesday is up, but as filed they break down like this:

  • House Bill 1034 is the small-business loan bill, adding $75 million to a bridge loan program being run by Rocky Mount-based economic development foundation Golden LEAF. The Senate's proposal on this, part of a broad single piece of legislation, would put $125 million into the program.
  • House Bill 1035 is an education omnibus bill filled with policy changes, including some calendar flexibility. The first day of school next fall under the bill as filed could be no earlier than Aug. 17. Current law says no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26.
  • House Bill 1037 is a catch-all bill for health policy changes.
  • House Bill 1038 lays out the House's health care funding priorities.
  • House Bill 1039 lays out a number of tax and unemployment policy changes, including a delay on interest and penalty charges for income taxes until July 15 and a tax credit to offset unemployment taxes businesses have paid into the system this year. Like many elements in the House bills, similar language is in the Senate's bill.
  • House Bill 1043 lays out 38 pages of "time sensitive matters," including an extension for Division of Motor Vehicles deadlines.
  • House Resolution 1044 lays out the chamber's new rules for the session, which are designed to boost social distancing.

Democrats are pitching a couple of major changes, though the bills may not be heard this session.

House Bill 1040 would expand Medicaid in North Carolina. The bill has more than 40 Democratic co-sponsors, and Cooper's secretary for Health and Human Services, Dr. Mandy Cohen, said during a Tuesday briefing that expansion is "the one thing our state could do right now" to really help North Carolina families and rural hospitals.

Democrats also filed House Bill 1046 Tuesday, which would essentially do away in North Carolina with exemptions on paid family leave requirements that were written into the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act earlier this year.

The bill would require employers to provide at least two weeks paid leave to full-time employees if they have COVID-19 symptoms, are ordered quarantined or must care for children because school is canceled or day care unavailable.

Other bills filed Tuesday:

  • Rep. Billy Richardson, D-Cumberland, called for $10 million in emergency assistance for commercial fishermen in House Bill 1045. Grants would be capped at $2,500 per licensed fisher.
  • Rep. Keith Kidwell, R-Beaufort, filed House Bill 1033, which would ask voters to amend the state constitution to automatically convene a legislative session when the governor declares a statewide state of emergency.
  • Rep. Wayne Sasser, R-Stanly, filed House bill 1036 to appropriate $1 million in water and sewer grant money to the town of Locust.
  • House Bill 1041 lays out about 20 appointments by Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger to various government boards.
  • Senate Bill 705, from Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson, would provide $50,000 grants to businesses that promote tourism in Buncombe County.
Our commenting policy has changed. If you would like to comment, please share on social media using the icons below and comment there.