A Special Session of the North Carolina General Assembly Where Bipartisan Support of Hurricane Relief Ruled the Day
Today, a Special Session of the NC General Assembly was called by Governor Cooper to consider two bills which are necessary as a result of Hurricane Florence. Senate Bill 2, titled School Calendar & Pay/Hurricane Florence, would allow public schools in counties which had received a federal disaster assistance declaration to reduce the number of hours of instructions to students attending public schools in the designated counties. It would allow school districts the flexibility to make up some days of missed classes, however, these districts could actually waive up to 20 days of missed classes if it was necessary to do so. While I support this legislation, I did raise questions during committee discussions relating to how we can provide students in these districts with opportunities to take additional classes during the summer months or during other occasions. I do not want to see our students academically shortchanged and placed at a competitive disadvantage because they missed up to a month of classes in some of these districts. These students would also be placed at a competitive disadvantage end of grade tests. This bill provided $6.5 million dollars to provide compensation for school lunch employees whose compensation is normally provided for through school lunch receipts and federal funds on instructional days.
The other bill which was passed was House Bill 4, titled Hurricane Florence Emergency Response Act. This bill appropriated $56.5 million dollars for hurricane relief. Included within this figure was the $6.5 million dollars for the school lunch employees hereinabove. These funds would currently be directed towards 28 counties which have been designated under the major disaster declaration issued by the federal government. In addition, this bill extended the deadline for voter registration applications from October 12th, 2018 until October 15th, 2018 at 5:00 pm. It also provided County Boards of Election to provide for a substitution of a one-stop voting site if it was unanimously agreed upon by the local County Board of Elections. The bill also allowed County Boards of Election to alter voting places for Election Day if the change was for the purpose of providing a substitute location for a voting precinct damaged by Hurricane Florence. Local Boards of Elections must provide notice to voters of these changes in the most expedient manner possible which may include public service announcements, print, radio, television, online and social media. It would have been great if the bill could have allowed greater flexibility for people who have been displaced by Hurricane Florence to apply for, obtain, and submit absentee ballots, however, that was not included in the bill.
There were also funds provided in this bill to address the emergence of large populations of mosquitos in floodwater-impacted areas. Lastly, there were opportunities for the governor to waive the collection of certain motor vehicle fees for residents in these impacted counties in the event that a person perhaps needed a duplicate driver’s license or other similar types of documents that might have been lost as a result of Hurricane Florence. Fortunately, there was unanimous support in the Senate for both of these bills. I only wish that we could see such bipartisanship on other occasions.