The North Carolina General Assembly wrapped up the bulk of its work on June 26, coming back into town briefly in early July to act on the governor’s vetoes. Legislators plan to return Sept. 2 to address anything needed regarding Covid-19 funding issues and appointments.
It is no surprise that the session was taken up largely by coronavirus response measures, as the General Assembly itself adopted such novel methods as virtual committee meetings and proxy voting to maintain social distancing. The traditional role of the even-year “short session,” adjustments to the biennial budget, was not even on the table – although some stand-alone funding bills for limited subject matter did make their way to the governor.
The General Assembly’s second coronavirus relief bill was signed by Cooper on July 1, appropriating a remaining portion of the federal CARES Act funding that was originally spent in the first state-level response bill in early May. House Bill 1023 released another $150 million in aid to local governments to add to the $150 million allocated in May.
Of importance for Public Power communities, the new legislation stipulates that counties must provide at least 25% of the funding it receives to municipalities in that county. All the funding provided by the bill must be spent on Covid-related expenses.
The U.S. Treasury Department has issued guidance on the federal CARES Act and how state and local governments may use the $150 billion that Congress appropriated to the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF).
As Public Power communities look to alleviate budget shortfalls and await Gov. Roy Cooper’s decision on whether to extend the statewide moratorium on residential service disconnections, the guidance provides some less-than-solid assurance that funds could be used by municipal systems to help customers pay power bills.
Movement on broadband bills
Noting the increased dependence on access to reliable internet service amid the Covid pandemic, three bills of note aimed at expanding broadband moved this session, with one being signed into law.
Senate Bill 212 establishes a Satellite-Based Broadband Grant Fund at the Department of Technology, making funds available to broadband providers to make investments in underserved areas across the state. Under the bill, priority is given to applicants capable of providing access to the greatest number of unserved households. The bill was signed into law on July 1.
House Bill 1105 would provide funding to the N.C. Department of Information Technology (DIT) to expand broadband infrastructure by way of a supplemental grant period and process for the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program. Under the bill, $30 million in federal coronavirus relief funding would be used to expand the existing GREAT program, which provides grants to internet providers working to expand into underserved communities.
House Bill 1205 expedites the process for leasing state-owned facilities and property for new broadband infrastructure. The bill requires the Department of Administration or agency controlling the property in question to process lease requests within four months. Both House Bill 1105 and 1205 passed the House with bipartisan support and are awaiting action in the Senate.
VW settlement update
After failing to see movement on the issue last session, the bill that would allow for funds from the Volkswagen emissions settlement to be used for DC fast charging stations for electric vehicles unanimously passed both chambers and was signed by Gov. Roy Cooper on July 1.
House Bill 1087 appropriates $30.6 million from the Volkswagen Litigation Environmental Mitigation Fund to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for – among other initiatives – diesel bus and vehicle replacements or upgrades and zero emissions vehicle infrastructure, including DC fast charging stations.
Five ElectriCities member cities have submitted applications for grants to fund the purchase and installation of DC fast charging stations in their cities.
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