Initial $56M in Florence recovery aid clears legislature
Posted October 2, 2018 2:10 p.m. EDT
Updated October 2, 2018 6:19 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — The General Assembly finalized an initial round of $56.5 million in Hurricane Florence recovery funding on Tuesday.
Legislation with that funding and waivers for school systems that won't hit the minimum 185 school days this year because of flooding cleared both the House and the Senate unanimously. Lawmakers then adjourned for two weeks and will come back into session on Oct. 15 to take up larger funding measures.
Gov. Roy Cooper's administration is tallying damages from the storm, and the funding it will seek from the state and federal governments. The governor has spoken repeatedly about his hopes that the state's recovery will include more buyouts and mitigation than past efforts, recognizing that the state has seen two so-called "500-year storms" – Florence and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 – in less than two years.
"We're going to approach this in a way where we not only talk about recovery, but we talk about resilience as well," Cooper said.
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Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said the Republican-controlled legislature and the governor have been on the same page in the early days of this recovery. Tuesday's focus was largely on initial steps, and bills moving with unanimous support through the chambers would:
- Allow school systems in counties hard hit by the storm to waive up to 20 school days.
- Make sure teachers and other school employees, who normally wouldn't be paid on days school doesn't meet, get paid.
- Start up the state's disaster recovery fund, with $50 million in it to cover initial matching costs on federal recovery dollars and $6.5 million to make sure educators get paid. The money will come from the state's "rainy day" reserve fund, which has been built up to $2 billion.
- Delay the voter registration deadline from Oct. 12 to Oct. 15. The state NAACP had asked the legislature to push it to Oct. 17, the start of early voting in North Carolina. The state will set aside $400,000 for the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to communicate changes to voters.
- Empower local boards of election to move early voting sites if facilities or roads to them have been damaged. These decisions would have to be unanimous under the legislation moving. Democrats pushed to allow majority votes to make these changes, but the Republican majority declined.
- Allow the governor to waive Division of Motor Vehicles fees for duplicate driver's licenses and other official documents.
- Allow the governor to waive building inspector fees for homeowners repairing storm or flood damage.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction told lawmakers that more than 1.5 million students were affected by the storm, and more than 100,000 still haven't returned to class.
"Today's effort is to give people assurance that a) they're going to get paid, and b) we're going to work with them individually to meet the needs of their students," said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, chairman of the House Education Committee.
Some lawmakers questioned whether allowing districts to skip a month of school would shortchange students in some of the poorest areas of the state. Affected school districts will try to make up as many days as they can, but it may not be possible to catch up completely in some cases, legislative leaders said.