Lawmakers Take Up $201 Million Disaster Relief Bill

Dec 13, 2016

Updated 10:18 p.m.
North Carolina lawmakers reconvened for a special session Tuesday, to consider a bill that would provide $201 million in disaster relief to communities affected by flooding from Hurricane Matthew and wildfires.  The bill easily passed the House of Representatives Tuesday night and now goes to the Senate, which returns at 8 a.m. Wednesday. 

House members filed three other bills Tuesday afternoon, all referred to committees. Two, both filed by Democrats, concern election laws:

One would restore the number of early voting days in North Carolina to where it was before Republicans passed the state's Voter ID law.  The other would establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission, to redraw state election districts through a process not controlled by a single party.  Both bills were referred to the House elections committee.   

The third bill would direct the state Department of Human Resources to implement a new employee classification and compensation system by Dec. 31. That was referred to the Committee on State Personnel. 

DISASTER RELIEF BILL

The money would address needs not covered by hundreds of millions of dollars in aid promised by the federal government, including about $300 million approved by Congress last week.

Gov. Pat McCrory addressed the House Appropriations Committee, urging lawmakers to approve the bill. He talked about communities he visited in eastern North Carolina that were damaged or wiped out by flooding.

"The reason I brought you here this holiday season, back to Raleigh, is because there are human stories behind every one of those floods, thousands of human stories behind every one of these floods," McCrory said. "And sadly, the people impacted by this flood were typically the poorest of the poor, people who could least afford it."

The governor said the aid would go for housing, economic development, and for local governments to rebuild schools, buildings and other infrastructure.

"These local governments that only have $900,000 a year budgets, are under water. They're not even sure what their population is now, in the future. And we need to have a long-term plan to help," McCrory said.

During the appropriations committee debate, several eastern North Carolina lawmakers said they're concerned the bill isn't enough to cover the devastation. Other lawmakers said they expect to take up another bill in the spring.

The governor and lawmakers also talked about how the bill will help western North Carolina communities hurt by recent wildfires.

The bill also includes a provision that would let school districts make up just two missed days of school. Any additional days would be forgiven and systems wouldn't have to meet the state's minimum days of instruction.  Rep. Chuck McGrady said that was a compromise with the Senate. He said the legislature will revisit the school days issue in the spring.   

GOP LEADERS: WE WON'T EXPAND SUPREME COURT

Meanwhile, House Speaker Tim Moore said Republicans have no plans to bring up legislation to increase the number of North Carolina Supreme Court justices.

Moore told reporters Tuesday he doesn't believe the chamber should consider legislation to expand the court. There has been speculation since mid-November that Republican lawmakers were considering adding members to the Supreme Court to keep a GOP majority.  Democrats are poised to have a 4-3 advantage following last month's elections. The speculation grew as Republicans did little to address those rumors. Democrats and groups critical of the General Assembly's leadership had been calling on lawmakers not to expand the court.

A few hundred activists marched to the legislative Building rotunda as the special session began and vowed to push back on any Republican efforts to pack the court.

RELATED LINKS

Text of the Disaster Recovery Act of 2016, on NCLeg.net

DETAILS OF THE $201 MILLION DISASTER RECOVERY ACT OF 2016
(via Associated Press) 

Details of the legislation approved by the state House on Tuesday that would spend $201 million to address disaster recovery following Hurricane Matthew in eastern North Carolina and wildfires in the mountains:

  • $20 million to the state's Housing Trust Fund to help working families who didn't receive enough federal funds to rebuild homes.
  • $9 million to the Division of Emergency Management to provide short-term housing needs for displaced residents.
  • $11.5 million to emergency management to help counties affected by Hurricane Matthew with "resilient redevelopment planning" designed to help communities such as Princeville and Fair Bluff rebuild in ways to discourage future damages.
  • $66.2 million for matching funds needed to participate in federal disaster assistance programs.
  • $10 million to the state's disaster relief fund.
  • $25 million to the Golden LEAF Foundation for loans for small businesses damaged by the disasters and for grants to local governments to help construct sidewalks, wastewater systems and other projects that support new residences outside the 100-year flood plain.
  • $10 million to the Department of Commerce's rural development division for grants to local governments to help construct sidewalks, wastewater systems and other projects that support new residences outside the 100-year flood plain.
  • $10 million to the Department of Environmental Quality for wastewater system repairs and dam safety and to help local government mitigate flooded burial sites.
  • $25.5 million to the North Carolina Forest Service for wildfire response expenses and timber restoration.
  • $12.2 million to the Division of Soil and Water Conservation for stream debris removal and non-field farm road repairs.
  • $250,000 to the Department of Agriculture for dike repairs at the Cherry Research Farm in Wayne County.
  • $1 million to the state Fire Marshal's Office for grants for volunteer fire department repairs.
  • $250,000 for the Department of Commerce to assess the need for business assistance funds.
  • Prohibition of state funds to construct any new residences within the 100-year flood plan, with some exceptions.
  • Schools that were closed in October due to Hurricane Matthew and subsequent flooding only would have to make up two instructional days.
  • Requirement of monthly reporting by the state budget office about the use of the funds.
  • Directs the $201 million to come from the state's savings reserve account and unspent funds attributed in part to higher than anticipated tax collections so far this fiscal year.

Source: North Carolina House, Disaster Recovery Act of 2016.