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League Bulletin

March 5, 2021

​WHAT HAPPENED: The General Assembly focused on pandemic relief for North Carolinians and otherwise kept filed bills moving into committees for attention. The big ticket item from lawmakers was HB 196 2021 COVID-19 Response & Relief, a $1.7 billion measure that has gone to the governor for consideration. The week also saw a veto override effort on reopening schools fail in the Senate. Last but not least, municipal and legislative leaders got together in virtual fashion for an important goodwill conversation on working together, for all of North Carolina. This Town & State Social, including remarks from House Speaker Tim Moore, was a rousing success. 

WHAT IT MEANS: As the state continues its pandemic recovery positioning, true and immediate needs remain for cities and towns, the state's economic drivers, as past funding bills haven't met needs. Cities and towns across the state together set a series of goals for the current legislative biennium, shared with lawmakers at the Town & State Social through a League-produced video that you should share.

ON TAP: We're at cruising speed in the General Assembly. A glance at the loaded calendar on the right side of the page at http://ncleg.gov/ is a good visual representation. We've rounded up some bills to pay attention to below in this Bulletin, with quick summaries and where they're headed. 

THE SKINNY: In contrast with past legislative sessions, bills are moving at a quicker pace, being calendared for committee hearings within a week of being introduced. For example, two bills opposed by cities and towns will receive their second committee hearing on Tuesday, when the House Judiciary 1 Committee is expected to take up a municipal employee whistleblower bill (HB 7 Protect City Employees from Retaliation) and a “sanctuary cities" bill (HB 62 Gov. Immigration Compliance/Enjoin Ordinances). Read on for more.

​Hundreds of local and state elected officials gathered in pandemic-safe virtual fashion this week to discuss common ground and how to work together to achieve goals that cities and towns have set that would position them to benefit North Carolina overall. Hosted by NCLM Executive Director Paul Meyer and President Jennifer Robinson of the Cary Town Council, the League’s Town & State Social -- an adaptation of the organization’s hugely successful Town & State Dinner -- kicked off Wednesday evening with mayors and city council members from the mountains to the coast joining with state legislators for goodwill-building and substantive conversation. Special guest House Speaker Tim Moore set the tone for the event, describing the pace of the 2021 legislative session, noting the presence of bills of interest to cities and towns, and assuring municipal officials they were well represented in the Legislative Building. His warm remarks followed the showing of a League-produced video that laid out, with context, the legislative goals that cities and towns chose for the 2021-22 biennium.

In a first round of breakout sessions, local leaders met with lawmakers directly to discuss their work together, as the League itself is driven by the motto “Working as One, Advancing All.” Later in the program, municipal officials workgrouped the connections between goals, policy and effects in their communities, among other topics.

While it was a different kind of occasion -- hosted over Zoom as opposed to the usual ballroom setting of our Town & State Dinner -- officials rose to the occasion and maximized its value. “It has been a strange year. But, here we are," Meyer said. “And even if we can't -- as we have done in the past two years -- break bread together, we can come together. We can bring town and state together, allowing some time for legislators to hold mini town halls with their municipal officials. And we can talk about our aims and aspirations for our communities -- and just spend some time together. And that is really the most important aspect of this -- fellowship and connection." President Robinson agreed. “Whether we are in person or having to operate virtually, keeping these lines of communication open is critical. We all want the same thing -- to help making our communities and our state better places to live for all North Carolinians." 

Added Meyer: “We look forward to a time again when we can do this in person…."

The League thanks all -- municipal officials and state legislators alike -- who attended this successful event amid such busy schedules in recognition of our shared visions. 

​As part of a conversation between six mayors and the U.S. Treasury Department last week, Shallotte Mayor Walt Eccard made the case for local COVID-19 relief. Speaking to Sec. Janet Yellen, Eccard laid out the unresolved issue of local COVID relief, specifically noting that past relief efforts did not provide direct support to municipalities and were thus inadequate. “The need is real," Eccard said. "Towns and cities are engines of growth and, as they repair, the economy as a whole will improve."

Eccard has a unique insight into the issue and the Treasury's role. Prior to his civil service for the Town of Shallotte, Eccard served as the assistant general counsel for the U.S. Treasury from 1980 to 1986. 

The virtual meeting addressed the unprecedented public health and economic crises that have left millions of Americans struggling, as well as specific challenges facing small towns and rural areas across the country. You can read the Treasury Department's press release on the meeting here, and you can read Mayor Eccard's remarks here

​The General Assembly continued its pace this week with primary focus on pandemic relief and moving recently introduced bills into committees for attention. Below are updates on measures of interest to cities and towns.

In other state government news, this week saw the release of the annual Debt Affordability Study, which advises leadership on the state's borrowing capacity. Essentially, it's improving in the face of a tough economy, but with caveats. “The expanding debt capacity could help Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and legislators from both parties build the case to place a multibillion-dollar bond referendum on the ballot soon for schools, building construction and other infrastructure," the Associated Press reported. But transportation debt service will “substantially increase" over the next 10 years," the office of State Treasurer Dale Folwell notes in its summary of the report. That means no additional capacity for transportation projects in that timeframe. 

The North Carolina legislature on Thursday sent to the governor's desk a new, $1.7 billion COVID-19 relief bill that includes rent and utility assistance. HB 196 2021 COVID-19 Response & Relief extends or programs new funding over 24 pages. More than $600 million of the total benefits testing, tracing and prevention; $390 million is for needs at public schools and higher education facilities. In a summary, House Speaker Tim Moore noted the bill also includes funding for farms, fisheries, food banks, small business grants, broadband, summer school programs, mental health and substance abuse services and improvements to the NC COVID Vaccine Management System. House senior budget writers Reps. Donny Lambeth, Jason Saine and Dean Arp released a joint statement saying the bill “builds on our successful approach to addressing the top priorities of North Carolinians early in this legislative session." Important for cities and towns, it directed specific sums to each county in the state for rent and utility assistance. 

As noted in coverage from the Associated Press, this follows a $2.2 billion bill Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law last month. “Most of that money was authorized to help K-12 schools and emergency rental assistance efforts," AP reported. “Thursday's bill also goes to Cooper, who is likely to sign it." 

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