Legislative building

The North Carolina State Legislative Building in Raleigh houses the North Carolina General Assembly chambers and offices.

RALEIGH — During the N.C. General Assembly session that convened on April 28, Rep. Ray Russell (D-Boone) and Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Blowing Rock) have co-sponsored a number of bills that are waiting on committee action from the state House of Representatives and Senate as of June 10.

Unemployment expansion

Filed on May 14 and awaiting committee action as of June 10, House Bill 1075 is an unemployment benefit expansion bill, which would increase benefit eligibility from the current maximum of 12 weeks to a maximum 26 weeks and change the maximum weekly amount from $350 to $450, the bill states.

The bill would also expand unemployment benefits in the case of relocation and other hardships. While “military spouse relocation” has been an acceptable reason to collect unemployment benefits for some time, HB1075 would add “spousal relocation, undue family hardship, health reasons and domestic violence” as qualified reasons for leaving work and collecting unemployment benefits.

Russell is a co-sponsor of this bill.

Medicaid expansion

On April 28, state House representatives introduced a Medicaid expansion bill, HB1040, which would provide health care for the underemployed and unemployed workers of North Carolina that fall within the Medicaid “coverage gap.”

To qualify for benefits of this bill and fall within the coverage gap, individuals must fall below 133 percent of the federal poverty level, be between ages 19 and 65, not be enrolled in Medicare Part A or B, and not be collecting Social Security benefits, according to the drafted bill.

Individuals who were not eligible for “Medicaid coverage from the state as it existed” on Jan. 1 would also be eligible for benefits under HB1040.

Russell is a co-sponsor of this bill, and it has been in committee since April 28.

“Medicaid expansion should have happened years ago. If it had, we would be in better shape today to deal with COVID-19. It is time for us to join 38 other states in this common-sense step,” Russell said on April 29.

School-based mental health

Ballard is a primary sponsor of SB476, a bill that was passed and put into effect on June 8 to highlight school-based mental health.

Russell voted in favor of the House version of the bill in July 2019.

According to the UNC School of Government, the bill requires several changes to be implemented by the State Board of Education, including requiring public schools “to adopt a school-based mental health policy ... a model mental health training program and model suicide risk referral protocol for K-12 schools.”

It also requires six hours of personnel training for the mental health of students within six months of an employee’s hiring date, along with requiring “the Superintendent of Public Instruction to review the School Board’s minimum requirements for the plan, program and protocol, and recommend needed changes, every five years beginning Aug. 1, 2025.”

Schools will be required to adopt and submit their adopted plans under the new policy to the state board by July 1, 2021.

University lab modifications

Ballard was a primary sponsor of Senate Bill 847, a bill that outlines new requirements for laboratory schools, which are grade-level schools for children that are supported by a university.

The bill “authorizes the chancellor (of the supporting university) to execute lease agreements and memoranda of agreement for operation” and “adds new authority for laboratory schools to admit students who reside in the (area) but do not meet eligibility requirements if the school has not reached enrollment capacity in a program, class, grade level or building,” according to the bill summary.

The Appalachian State University Academy at Middle Fork in Winston-Salem is a laboratory school for Appalachian State University in Boone.

SB847 has been waiting for Senate committee action since May 27.

Accelerated university degree completion

An accelerated university degree completion study bill, SB853, of which Ballard was a primary sponsor, details a study to be completed by the UNC Board of Governors that senators will expect to be presented by March 1, 2021.

The bill “details nine factors the BOG must consider in conducting the study, including the use of online education for certain courses, particularly for general education requirements, the feasibility of increasing summer term options or flexible calendar scheduling and the potential cost savings for students who enroll in an accelerated degree program,” according to the UNC School of Government.

“During this short session my focus has been on responding to the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis. I have been the primary sponsor on several bills, including the COVID-19 Recovery Act and UNC Lab School Modifications, and a co-sponsor on bills to fund enrollment growth in community colleges, the UNC system and K-12 public schools,” said Ballard.

Reopen gyms, health clubs and fitness centers

On June 10, House Speaker Tim Moore made an announcement that the General Assembly has passed HB594 on to Gov. Roy Cooper. Ballard voted in favor of the bill in the Senate, while Russell voted against it in the House.

“After preparing to reopen in Phase 2, gym owners were unexpectedly forced to remain closed. As a result, gym owners across the state filed lawsuits against the administration,” Moore said in a statement. “Noticeably, all states that border North Carolina have reopened fitness facilities. House Bill 594 allows exercise and fitness facilities, gyms, health clubs and fitness centers to safely operate under the prescribed 15-point plan.”

The plan outlined for the opening of gyms, health clubs and fitness centers in HB594 includes the following requirements:

  • Total indoor capacity is limited to 50 percent of the authorized fire capacity.
  • All employees must be screened daily and must wear face masks, except when actively leading a group fitness class or when outdoors and socially distanced. All members and visitors are strongly encouraged to wear face masks.
  • Contactless check-in is available.
  • Sanitation spray bottles with disinfectant or disinfectant wipes are available throughout the establishment.
  • Hand sanitizer stations are available throughout the establishment.
  • Frequent cleanings of high-touch equipment and high-use areas while the establishment is open and a “deep clean” at least once every 24 hours.
  • For open space cardiovascular, weight training and exercise areas, the following practices must be maintained:
  • Equipment placed 6 feet apart.
  • Signage directs foot traffic for social distancing.
  • Employees monitor for social distancing and to ensure that equipment is being cleaned regularly.
  • For studio and group fitness classes, the following practices must be maintained:
  • Markings to denote proper social distancing of at least 6 feet apart.
  • Stations or equipment used during classes is arranged and used in a manner to ensure social distancing of at least 6 feet.
  • All doors to studio and group fitness classes must remain open when possible.
  • All rooms and any equipment used must be thoroughly cleaned between classes.
  • On-premises childcare is limited to 50 percent of its current allowed occupancy.
  • Social distancing of at least 6 feet is employed on all open courts and fields.
  • Personal hygiene areas and amenity services are closed, except for toilets, lavatories and lockers.
  • Water fountains are limited to filling water bottles only.

As of mid-day on June 11, no updates regarding Cooper’s response to this bill were available.

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