North Carolina will now no longer be required to offer coronavirus vaccines to persons who don’t live, work or spend “significant time” in the state. NC Department of Health Services data indicate that about 30,000 shots of the first 1.1 million administered in North Carolina went to non-residents, but it is not clear how many of these crossed state lines solely for the purpose of getting the inoculations. Federal guidelines initially required states to administer vaccines to anyone who met a state’s eligibility plan, but the U.S. CDC has lifted that requirement.
Republican legislative leaders have eliminated the NC legislature’s nonpartisan Program Evaluation Division, a research and advisory unit tasked with evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of public programs. The Division, created in 2007 with unanimous support from the General Assembly, has saved the state some $38.6 million annually. It will be replaced by partisan staff tasked with a similar mandate. While Republican leaders assert the move will improve efficiency, both Democrats and some former Republican representatives have expressed disagreement with the decision.
The U.S. Census Bureau announced that it will not release state district data, usually available in March, until September 30, largely due to the impact of the pandemic on the census process. If the 2020 Census data shows that existing districts are out of balance, state and local officials are required to draw new voting maps based on the decennial data before new elections can be held. Local elections for 2021 are likely to be affected by this delay, and it is not known how this will affect congressional, state legislative, and local elections in 2022.
SB 37, which requires NC K-12 public school districts to provide the option of in-person learning to all students, received final approval with bipartisan support in both legislative chambers and has been sent to the governor. Under the bill, special-needs students must have the option of full-time in-class instruction, but it retains a provision allowing all families to opt for online-only classes and gives local school districts the leeway to create alternative work assignments for teachers at high risk for COVID-19. Gov. Cooper has expressed reservations about mandating reopening, preferring to give school districts more discretion.. However, the bill passed with enough votes to override a veto.
Lawmakers have begun refining the details of a bill (HB 82) that would provide non-compulsory, in-person summer school to students in state public schools. The program would target students who are academically “at risk,” and according to the state Dept. of Public Instruction, the proportion of these students across the state has grown from 40 to 60 percent during the pandemic. It is expected that the cost of the program would be covered by federal pandemic relief money the state doled out to school districts last week.
North Carolina is projected to have $4.1 billion more available revenue over the next two years than previously expected. The consensus report presented to state House and Senate budget writers during a joint appropriations committee meeting on Wednesday points to an unexpected surplus as lawmakers assess where the state stands financially and how spending could increase in areas like pay raises for state employees and disaster relief.
Health Care Policy
The NC Office of the State Auditor identified overpayments of $13.4 million in Medicaid reimbursements to health care providers ineligible because they had lost their licenses, lacked credentials or had other problems. Moreover, the audit identified significantly more than that amount in potential overpayments. State Auditor Beth Wood, a Democrat, indicated that DHHS could have found and fixed many of the problems before the audit became public.
Senate Republicans filed a bill to reduce state funding to any city or county that disproportionately reduces local funding for law enforcement. They also revived another bill that would require local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
The “Police Funding Protection Act” (SB 100), written in response to calls for “defunding: the police, would penalize any city or county that reduces its law enforcement budget without a proportionate reduction in the budgets of other departments. Representatives for local municipalities say these budgetary decisions should be made on the local level, not dictated by state officials who may not be responsive to local taxpayers’ priorities.
SB 101, “Require Cooperation with ICE 2.0,” requires sheriffs to determine the immigration status of anyone booked into a city or county jail on a felony or impaired driving charge; if proper identification is not provided, sheriffs must detain these individuals for Homeland Security’s ICE agents. The bill is similar to one vetoed by Gov. Cooper in 2019 because it included a provision that sheriffs who didn't abide by the law could be removed from office. The revised bill would make this noncompliance a misdemeanor.