Chuck Edwards Senate Desk | NCGA 2020 Short Session Highlights
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From My Senate Desk

It is an honor to serve the citizens of the 48th Senate District of North Carolina. Thank you for allowing me the honor to represent you.

With the consolidation of local newspapers and their staff reduction, so little news from Raleigh makes it back home. Yet, in many ways, what takes place in the North Carolina General Assembly has a more profound impact on our citizens' lives than does the actions that occur in Washington, DC. 

In this issue, I have included a few of the highlights from our recently adjourned "short" session to help fill this news void. We plan to reconvene on September 2.

 Wishing for your health and safety,

Chuck Edwards, Senator
NC District 48
2020 Legislative Accomplishments for WNC
H1087: Water/Wastewater Public Enterprise Reform
During the legislative short session, the General Assembly continued its 2020-2021 budgeting process through smaller, targeted appropriations bills addressing specific issues, funding obligations, programs, and allocating federal CARES Act funds received by the state.

H1087: Water/Wastewater Public Enterprise Reform  ( SL 2020-79 ) was one of those targeted funding bills for local water infrastructure systems and projects. $100,000 was appropriated to Asheville-based MountainTrue's water quality testing on the French Broad and other WNC rivers and streams.
S267: Buncombe 1/4 Cent Sales Tax Use Restriction
It was revealed that Buncombe County had not fully dedicated a 0.25% sales tax increase towards capital improvements at A-B Tech Community College. Buncombe County Board of Commissioners and the A-B Tech Board of Trustees requested that I intervene.

Therefore, I introduced  S267: Buncombe 1/4 Cent Sales Tax Use Restriction  ( Ch. SL 2020-9 ) that adopts a memorandum of understanding between the two parties that restricts for eight (8) years the use of the quarter-cent local option sales tax levied by Buncombe County for capital needs at A-B Tech.
S390: DuPont State Forest-Financial Study
The DuPont State Forest is one of our region's jewels, drawing nearly a million visitors each year. Its popularity, through abundant use, is straining its natural characteristics and our state's resources. Out of state residents account for about half of the visitors each year, yet only N.C. citizens foot the bill. 

I introduced S390: DuPont State Forest-Financial Study ( Ch. SL 2020-16 ), which directs the Department of Agriculture to study DuPont's current operating model and recommend a plan that sustains a revenue stream. This adopted law also distributes a portion of the gross proceeds from the sale of State-owned real property located outside the State Capitol Area to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. This additional funding will go directly towards our continuing efforts to conserve and protect our natural resources statewide.
Tourism is vital to North Carolina as it supports so many business owners around the state. I was approached by Buncombe County tourism leaders to initiate the response in bolstering the economy by providing grants to small businesses in the tourism industry.

When  S704: COVID-19 Recovery Act  ( SL 2020-3 ) was signed into law on May 4th, it included my bill,  S705: Buncombe County Jobs Recovery Act . The adoption of S704 established a $5 million Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund for emergency COVID-19 relief grants awarded to Buncombe County tourism-related small businesses and nonprofit organizations affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The Fund uses revenue from occupancy tax collections designated for tourism product development.

The only initiative of this type in North Carolina, the Fund awarded 394 grants to local businesses and retained, recovered, or created 4,787 jobs.

View the list of Grant Recipients and the Summary Report on the grant funding.
S705: Buncombe County Jobs Recovery Act
S812: Agriculture Sciences Center Funds
The first of the bond-funded projects approved in the 2016 Connect NC Bond is estimated to be complete in October 2020. We were successful in appropriating funds for the new state-of-the-art Agricultural Sciences Center that will be located in Raleigh, N.C. This long-term investment project received funding in S812: Agricultural Sciences Center Funds ( Ch. SL 2020-44 ), providing $10.1 million for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' new Agricultural Sciences Center using existing cash balances from four different sources. 

The Agricultural Sciences Center is a 225,000 square foot state-of-the-art laboratory complex that will contain offices and labs for Food & Drug protection, the Veterinary Diagnostic laboratory, Structural Pest Control and Pesticides, and the Standards Metrology and Fuel Quality laboratories. 

View the Agricultural Sciences Center project HERE
S212: UNC Asheville Appropriation Reimbursement ($750,000)
In the fall of 2018, UNC Asheville opened new apartment-style residence halls named from the namesakes of North Carolina native trees: Aspen Hall, Beech Hall, Cedar Hall, Chestnut Hall, Magnolia Hall, and Willow Hall. Collectively, these apartments would be known as The Woods .

The nearly $34 million project grappled in its final month of construction with safety concerns and a longstanding battle between the Department of Insurance (DOI) and the State Construction Office. Because of safety concerns, UNC Asheville had to provide hotel rooms for students due to this standoff between DOI.

With the passage of S212: Capital Appropriations/R&R/DIT/Cybersecurity ( SL 2020-81 ), $750,000 was allocated to UNC Asheville to reimburse the school for the extra expenses incurred during this long and drawn out process. 
Other Western North Carolina Bills of Interest

  • H1151: Asheville-Buncombe Bd. of Trustees. (Ch. SL 2020-20) - prevents disputes that have taken place in the past by specifying the number of board appointments that will be made by the Boards of Education of Buncombe County and Asheville City Schools and it alternates the years those appointments will be made. It also adds an appointed member by the Madison County Board of Education.

  • H1154: Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority. (Ch. SL 2020-11) - amends the staggering of appointment terms of certain members of the Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority. It spaces out the terms served by airport board members appointed by Asheville, Buncombe County and Henderson County. It creates better board continuity by eliminating mass simultaneous board turnover.

  • S806: Capital Appropriation - Western Carolina Univ. (Ch. SL 2020-33) - provides funds for certain capital improvements at Western Carolina University.

  • S811: Connect NC Park Facilities Operating Reserves (Ch. SL 2020-42) - transfers funds from the Pay Plan Reserve and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund to the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources for up to 19 full-time equivalent positions, equipment, and other nonrecurring expenses for State parks expanded or improved through Connect NC bonds.

View a full list of bills I've introduced and sponsored during the 2019-2020 sessions HERE
Reopening Public Schools (Plan B or Plan C)
Many school districts and local boards around the state are quickly deciding how to bring students back to school safely in the fall. Previously, Cooper encouraged school districts to prepare three reopening plans. The plans were as follows:

Plan A:  entirely in-person education.
Plan B:  a mix of in-person and online education with increased social distancing, schools at no more than 50 percent capacity, and buses at no more than 33 percent capacity.
Plan C:  remote instruction only.

Gov. Cooper announced that the state would move forward with Plan B. School districts have the option to opt-out and choose Plan C if it's best for them. 

Plan B allows students to attend school in-person on a rotating basis, and transition to remote learning. It requires more stringent health and safety practices, social distancing, and fewer people in the school building. All students, teachers, and staff will have to wear face masks, contradicting the Governor's statewide mask mandate, which excludes children under the age of 11. 

District 48 - School District Announcements
  • Henderson and Buncombe County Schools will reopen under a revised Plan B. The first six (6) weeks of the 2020-21 school year students will be remote learning only. 
  • Asheville City Schools Board of Education also decided to reopen under a revised Plan B. The first nine (9) weeks of the school year students will be remote learning only. 
  • Transylvania County Schools announced that their students would be returning to school under Plan B.

I agree there should be more local control in deciding how schools should reopen. School officials understand their communities and can better tap into what parents want – and ultimately, what students need.

Teachers only have a few weeks to put together lesson plans before classes begin; that's if they decide to return to the classroom. Parents will have to figure out childcare plans or make a difficult decision in which one parent will sacrifice their career to stay home for their children's remote learning. Parents who don't work from home can't take off every other day or week from work. This is another layer of uncertainty for struggling NC families.

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation End July 25
Congress is back in full swing focused on getting a second stimulus package drafted and signed into law by August, when Congress will adjourn for a month-long recess.

Senate Republicans are expected as soon as this week to unveil a $1 trillion proposal for the next stimulus bill that will include a second stimulus check for individuals and families. Once the plan is put forward, negotiations with the House will finalize the stimulus plan's details, including who qualifies for the second payment, how much money the next stimulus check will bring, and when the IRS will send the first batch of payments.

The Senate now has 7 working days until the Aug. 7 deadline is set to debate, negotiate, and pass another stimulus package before the last day of the current session.

What happens if another stimulus bill doesn't get approved before the next recess?

  • Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefits expire on July 25, 2020 - This is the federal program of the CARES Act that provides an extra $600 in weekly assistance to people receiving state or federal unemployment benefits. If Congress allows the extra payments expire and then reinstate them, it will be an unnecessary administrative nightmare for DES, and recipients will face a lapse in benefits of two to four weeks (even if benefits are reinstated right away).

  • Tenant Evictions expire July 25, 2020 - The CARES Act placed a 120-day moratorium on evictions of tenants living in certain types of housing, including housing supported with HOME funds. Which means it only applies to renters whose landlords have federally backed mortgages. Tenants can search by ZIP code to see if their residence is included in the federal eviction moratorium. Landlords of these properties can begin filing evictions later this week but can't remove tenants until late August.

NOTE: In North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper created a statewide eviction moratorium in Executive Order 142 on May 30, but it expired on June 21. 

Still missing your stimulus check from the IRS?

If you're certain you meet the qualifications for the first stimulus check, and are expecting a stimulus payment by check, prepaid debit card, or direct deposit and it never showed up, there's a couple things you can do:

  1. Check on the IRS website - Head to the IRS Get My Payment page and click the blue "Get My Payment" button to check the status of your economic impact payment. Enter your Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), your date of birth, your street address and your ZIP code.
  2. Didn't file a tax return? - If you filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return or receive government benefits, the IRS should automatically send your check without you having to do anything. If you didn't file a return, head to the Non-Filers site and see if the IRS needs more information from you. The non-filers tool will be available until Oct. 15.
  3. Did you mistake your debit card as junk mail? The EIP prepaid debit card arrives in a plain envelope from "Money Network Cardholder Services" as the sender. If you accidentally tossed it in the trash, you can lock your EIP card online to prevent unauthorized transactions or ATM withdrawals. If it's permanently lost, call customer service at 1(800)240-8100 to report your lost or stolen card immediately. You can also request a replacement card by pressing 'Option 2' when prompted.
  4. Call the IRS to make a report and try to find it. Have your most recent tax ID number and the confirmation letter that the IRS sent if you received one. Call the IRS help number at 1(800)829-1040.
  5. Contact Senator Burr's liaisons to assist you:
  • (Last name ends in A - M): email David Helsley or call (336)813-9854.
  • (Last name ends in N - Z): email Brad Langston or call (336)813-6417.
NCDMV New Rules for Road Tests & New Licenses (18+)
DMV has adopted emergency rules to waive road tests in certain circumstances for customers 18 years old and older to obtain a Class C license. The new rules take effect July 23, 2020.

The road test waiver under the new rules will apply to the following circumstances:

  • Drivers who currently hold a Level I permit, have turned 18 years old and meet all requirements to obtain the Level II Limited Provisional License, including no motor vehicle moving violation convictions, seat belt infractions or unlawful use of a mobile phone.

  • Drivers who have received training and passed a driving course from a DMV certified North Carolina driving school within the previous 12 months and have not been convicted of a motor vehicle moving violation, seat belt infraction or unlawful use of a mobile phone.

  • Drivers who previously held an NC driver's license, and the license has not been expired more than one renewal cycle and was in good standing at the time of expiration.
  • Drivers 18 to 65 years old –not expired more than 8 years.
  • Drivers 66 years or older – not expired more than 5 years.

  • Drivers from another state, district, or territory that has reciprocity with North Carolina. Drivers must provide their most recent license held and a certified 5-year driving record from that jurisdiction. License cannot be expired more than 5 years and must have been in good standing at the time of expiration.

Road test requirements for these drivers will be suspended and the driver will be issued a driver license with the appropriate expiration. Unlike the Level II waiver, these drivers will not be required to return later to take a road test. There may be VERY LIMITED circumstances outside of those outlined above where DMV may be able to waive a road test. Contact one of us if you think you have such a circumstance.

REMINDER: (for young drivers under the age of 18) SL 2020-30 requires DMV to temporarily waive the road test requirement for level two limited licenses, however, to obtain the level three limited license, the driver will have to take a road test.

View DMV services and make an appointment HERE
COVID-19 WNC Small Business Roundtable
Governor Cooper issued Executive Order 151, which extends Phase 2's public health measures to August 7.

Last week, I had the opportunity to join NCGOP Party Chairman, Michael Whatley, local business owners, and other elected officials at Hannah Flanagan's Pub. I heard from multiple small business owners representing industries within real estate, construction, gyms, summer camps, agriculture, restaurants, and bars as they vented their frustrations and spoke against the Governor's business restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Concerns ranged from harm to small business - the loss of tourism and sales tax revenue and general confusion over Governor Cooper's executive orders. A common theme I heard was Governor Cooper's politicization of the virus. Instead of worrying about getting people back to work, Governor Cooper is focused on getting reelected. Many business owners acknowledged the threat of the virus but wished to reopen under restrictions to reduce the negative economic impacts.
The Gorge Named Top Aerial Adventure Park in U.S.
While ziplines and canopy tours began as a tool for scientific field research, they've exploded in popularity as an attraction in their own right a way to experience the forest canopy in a safe and thrilling environment.

I am pleased to announce that The Gorge Zipline was recognized by USA Today in their 10Best Readers' Choice 2020 list as runner up for the "Best Aerial Adventure Park" in the nation.

Pictured with me is Sara Bell, owner of The Gorge, located in Saluda, NC. Congratulations to Sara and her business for this great achievement!

View USA Today's full list of the 10Best Aerial Adventure Parks HERE
Staff Spotlight: Justin Condry
I am happy to introduce you to Justin Condry. Justin joined my Raleigh office last month as our Summer Clerk. He graduated in May from the University of North Carolina at Asheville, obtaining his bachelor’s degree in Atmospheric Sciences with a Weather Forecasting concentration.

Justin is currently working in my office to better understand the political process in North Carolina before finding a job as a meteorologist. Justin’s goal is to work for the National Weather Service. Growing up in Jacksonville, NC, Justin has always had an interest in weather, specifically hurricanes. His interest in politics came when he took civics during his sophomore year of high school in 2014. His interests in politics are around elections and the legislative process. In his new role here as a summer clerk, Justin hopes to learn about the legislative process.

In his free time, Justin enjoys watching TV, Netflix, and YouTube. Because of his fascination with weather, Justin also likes to spend time looking at weather models and keeping himself up-to-date on current weather happenings. Additionally, Justin likes to spend time hanging out with his family and traveling.
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