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The House Select Committee on COVID-19 is set to review an initial set of bills Tuesday, the first of several expected as the state responds to the new coronavirus pandemic’s impact.
Working groups of legislators, in health care, education, economic support and continuity of state operations, are all advancing potential legislation in order to hit the ground running when the legislature returns to session April 24.
The initial bills will be heard by the Economic Support Working Group on Tuesday during a 10 a.m. teleconference. Audio for the meeting will be available on the General Assembly website, with the agenda and materials accessible online.
The working group is expected to review draft bills that would change the state’s unemployment insurance rules and revise the state tax code to conform with federal changes that Congress passed in recent emergency legislation.
The unemployment insurance draft puts into law changes announced in March by Gov. Roy Cooper, allowing employees who lost jobs due to coronavirus closures and layoffs to qualify for the program.
It also waives the one-week delay in filing and work-search requirements for applicants and does not charge benefit payments to employers.
State unemployment filings have exceeded all records in recent weeks, with officials estimating that about 90% are attributable to the pandemic.
As of Friday, the state reported a surge of about 370,000 applications for unemployment since mid-March.
The legislative economy group is also scheduled Tuesday to hear from representatives of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which represents small businesses, and the N.C. Chamber.
Last week, the group heard from representatives of the travel, restaurant and hospitality industries.
Lynn Minges, president and CEO of the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association, reported to legislators that about 350,000 of the state’s roughly 500,000 restaurant jobs and 23,000 of the 80,000 hotel jobs have been lost so far.
The association wants legislators to delay tax collections and create a $100 million emergency fund to provide grants to restaurants and hotels to cover payrolls, vendors, rent and other expenses.
Vince Chelena, N.C. Travel Industry Association executive director, told legislators that he expects to see some recovery over the summer but warned against approving a move by some school systems to try to open as early as the first week of August to make up for lost instruction time, which he said would further damage his industry.
Local municipal and county governments are also asking for assistance as the legislature pulls together a relief bill. Erin Wynia, chief legislative counsel for the N.C. League of Municipalities, told committee members from the Continuity of State Operations Working Group last week that local governments will see a substantial reduction in sales taxes as well as revenues from utilities and from occupancy and meal taxes.
That group meets again at 2 p.m. Tuesday to hear about coronavirus impacts from Transportation Secretary Eric Boyette, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and state Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell. Materials for the meeting can be found online.
The legislative operations working group will also receive a budget update from state Budget Director Charles Perusse.
Lawmakers will be required to make numerous changes to state budget law in part to conform to federal changes that, among other things, shifted tax collections from April 15 to July 15, two weeks into the state’s new fiscal year.
Budget writers also expect to have a clearer picture of the hit to state finances in the coming weeks.
A preliminary estimate by legislative staff obtained last week by The Associated Press put the projected loss of revenue over the next two years at between $1.5 billion and $2.5 billion.
Also meeting this week via teleconference are the health care and education working groups. The health care group meets at 10 a.m. Thursday followed by a 2 p.m. meeting of the education group.
Materials for the meetings will be posted to the select committee website.