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General Assembly Unanimously Approves Additional Hurricane Florence Relief

Here's a quick overview of what state legislators did and did not do during the hectic, six-week session.
Here's a quick overview of what state legislators did and did not do during the hectic, six-week session.

The North Carolina General Assembly unanimously agreed Monday night to set aside another $800 million dollars for Hurricane Florence relief.

"This legislation today is an historic response to an historic crisis," said Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake), addressing a joint appropriations committee meeting.

Most of the relief money is coming from the state's rainy day fund, which is flush with $2 billion dollars in reserves.

"And so there'll be no tax increases and no interruptions or disruptions, from a budgetary perspective, of any of our existing, important programs in education, health and human services, public safety and otherwise," Dollar said.

Lawmakers already put aside $56 million dollars of disaster relief in a special session two weeks ago.

Last night's legislation reserves another $800 million but will only appropriate about half for spending in the immediate term.

There's $2 million dollars for mosquito abatement, $1.6 million in compensation for commercial fishermen and $50 million dollars for agricultural recovery.

"It's not just houses and roads, we're talking about people's lives here," said Rep. Michael Speciale, a Repurblican lawmaker whose district comprises three storm-ravaged counties, Beaufort, Craven and Pamlico.

Speaking in his office after the unanimous vote in the House, Rep. Graig Meyer, a Democrat who represents portions of Orange and Caswell counties, praised the $8 million earmarked for grants to help university and community college students in the hardest hit counties.

"That's a great thing for a lot of young people in North Carolina and helps the universities they're going to be able to continue to collect their tuition," Meyer said.

But Meyer said he and other Democrats would have liked to see some funds allocated for clean water initiatives and for fixing dams.

The bi-partisan, united response to Hurricane Florence thus far marks a departure from an intensely fought political season just weeks away from legislative elections.

Lawmakers are scheduled to be back at the end of November when they plan to take up more hurricane relief legislation.

But Representative Meyer noted that isn't the only thing lawmakers will address on November 27.

This fall's ballot includes six GOP-backed referenda on constitutional amendments. The controversial measures cover such highly charged topics as a photo ID requirement for North Carolina voters. Democrats are trying to defeat all six of the amendments.

"The session that's been called for November was originally called for implementation of the constitutional amendments which are highly partisan," said Meyer. "And so it's likely the November session is going to include a lot of partisan rancor."

Meyer said it's not clear whether Democrats and Republicans will be able to cooperate on hurricane relief funds in that atmosphere.

Copyright 2020 North Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio.