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Session Wrap: Hits, misses from long final night

Posted June 29, 2020 4:00 p.m. EDT

— The General Assembly wrapped up its legislative session early Friday after a marathon session where as many things were left undone as accomplished.

Two criminal justice reform measures were among the items lawmakers passed last week. The Second Chance Act would make it easier for people to get nonviolent felony records expunged, while the First Step Act would give judges more sentencing discretion in some drug cases.

A bill to fund Medicaid and set up for the program's shift to managed care next year also cleared the legislature, as did a teacher pay proposal that includes a $350 bonus but no raise because of a budget shortfall in the pandemic.

Lawmakers also approved funding for a long-discussed sculpture park in downtown Raleigh honoring African-Americans and the struggle for freedom, loosened a slew of gun restrictions, and provided universities with immunity from lawsuits seeking housing and meal plan reimbursements because of pandemic-related shutdowns.

Animosity between the House and the Senate at the close of session left several items on the to-do list unchecked, including an extension of an exemption to a state law that prohibits people from wearing masks in public. The law, which for years has targeted the Ku Klux Klan, is now exempted until Aug. 1 to help limit the spread of coronavirus. A provision to extend that to next February was initially in a bill Thursday but got removed before the night was over.

Bills to reopen bars, amusement parks, bowling alleys and other businesses during the pandemic also fell by the wayside during the long night. One that would reopen gyms without limiting the governor's ability to close them again did clear the legislature.

Other measure left undone include requiring hospitals to allow patients to have at least one visitor during the pandemic, bumping up the maximum weekly unemployment benefit, a grant program to help small businesses hurt during the pandemic and an effort to close loopholes that allow debt settlement firms to operate in North Carolina.

Lawmakers did pass a bill that would limit a governor's emergency powers, requiring Council of State approval to extend a state of emergency past 30 days or to close down industries statewide, as Gov. Roy Cooper has done during the pandemic.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest sued Cooper on Monday over that issue, alleging that the governor violated the state's Emergency Management Act by issuing executive orders shutting businesses without getting approval from the Council of State.

Finally, the close of session marked the final appearances of a numer of long-time lawmakers, including Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe, Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, and Rep. Yvonne Holley, D-Wake.

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