Legislature passes $200 million disaster recovery bill, convenes for another special session

Eamon Queeney— The North State Journal
Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives

RALEIGH — The N.C. General Assembly passed the $200 million Disaster Recovery Act of 2016 on Wednesday, closing out a special session called by Gov. Pat McCrory. Lawmakers came back to Raleigh to address the urgent needs of N.C.’s eastern and western counties hit by fires and floods this year. McCrory appeared in person before both the Senate and House appropriations committees over the past two days asking for “compassion and urgency” in passing the bill. “This bill will help individuals, schools and small businesses,” said Majority Leader John Bell (R-Wayne). “It was out time to act to bring certainty to those affected by these disasters.” However, shortly before gavelling out the special session House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Lt. Gov. Dan Forest announced to the chambers that they are scheduling another special session to begin Wednesday afternoon and continue into Thursday or Friday. The move is seen by some as an effort to keep the promise of making the special session about disaster recovery, while still checking off a Christmas wish list from lawmakers before Democrat Governor-elect Roy Cooper is sworn in on January 1. “The Lt. Governor and I issued a proclamation calling a special session,” announced Moore. “For the General Assembly to call itself into special session only requires three fifths of the members to do so. There is no necessity of extraordinary events or anything else.”Rep. Darren Jackson (D) voiced an official protest of the special session predicated on alleged failures in protocol for informing members immediately upon receiving the necessary signatures calling for an extra session. Public documents show the signatures were procured Monday, while the remaining members were not informed until Tuesday. Most, if not all, House Democrats joined Jackson in his protest.A bill filing deadline in the House was set for 7:00 pm Wednesday. As of this writing, no bills have been filed in the House, though according to insiders proposed legislation could focus on areas that define the power balance between the legislative and executive branches, commission appointments for example, in an effort to increase leverage of the Republican majority when Governor-elect Roy Cooper takes office in January.With the first special session over and another coming up within hours, McCrory is preparing to sign the disaster relief bill that he’s been working on since Hurricane Mathew flooded out much of eastern N.C. The bill allocates more than $100 million from the state’s Savings Reserve Account (commonly referred to as the Rainy Day Fund), and another 100 million from the General Fund. The Bill Breakdown:$20 million to the Housing Trust Fund for means-tested housing projects, serving low-income residents in natural disasters$9 million for the Division of Emergency Management to provide short term housing for affected people$11.5 million for the Division of Emergency Management for redevelopment planning in affected areas $66.2 million for the state matching requirement to receive federal disaster assistance$10 million for future emergencies to be put in the State Emergency Response and disaster Relief Fund$5 million for the Golden L.E.A.F. Foundation for small business grants in affected areas$20 million to the Golden L.E.A.F. Foundation for county infrastructure repairs like water, sewer, sidewalks and other projects$10 million for the Department of Commerce to provide county infrastructure grants$10 million to the Department of Environmental Quality for infrastructure cleanup including wastewater and drinking treatment system repairs and grants to counties for failure of burial site$37.9 million to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for wildlife response, timber restoration, debris removal, and dam repairs.$1 million to volunteer fire departments through the Department of Insurance for repair of damage$250 thousand for the Department of Commerce to assess the needs of small business affected by the disastersThe measure makes clear that the money set aside in this legislation is not available for the governor, McCrory now and Governor-elect Roy Cooper after the first of the year, to use as a supplement in other areas of government. “Because the General Assembly will convene shortly after this bill is enacted and has continuing authority to address the state’s disaster relief needs, the General Assembly finds that broad Executive expenditure flexibility over the funds appropriated is not warranted,” the bill reads.The measure requires the governor to set up advisory boards to advise the agencies with disaster funds and requires that any money not spent be considered savings and not rolled into the state’s General Fund.Other details in the bill include deeming eastern public schools that missed more than two days in October or western schools that missed more than two days in November due to disaster be allowed to not make up those days. It also requires The bill also allows the governor to waive certain Division of Motor Vehicle fees for citizens impacted by the hurricane.The bill was designed after a series of five tours and meetings with local leaders on the Hurricane Matthew Recovery Committee. McCrory set up the group to identify the needs and set a path toward recovery. “Gov. McCrory has shown tremendous leadership in guiding North Carolina’s recovery from these devastating natural disasters, and our partners in Congress have come through with federal support. The Senate is proud to join their efforts to deliver critical aid to North Carolina families and communities in need — which is just the first step toward rebuilding and making our state even stronger than before,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham.)The money will be supplemented with $300 million in federal dollars that the state’s Washington, D.C. delegation has been working to get.