NC House passes $1.7 billion COVID-19 relief bill in near-unanimous vote

NC House passes $1.7 billion COVID-19 relief bill in near-unanimous vote
NC House passes $1.7 billion COVID-19 relief bill in near-unanimous vote (Source: WNCN)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN/WBTV) - One day after the North Carolina Senate passed their COVID-19 relief bill, the House has passed their version.

The $1.7 billion relief bill passed 116-1 on Thursday afternoon. The Senate’s version of the bill passed unanimously on Wednesday. It would spend a lower amount of $1.36 billion. Leaders in both chambers spent Thursday afternoon and evening discussing the differences with the goal of passing a compromise bill Friday.

About $3.5 billion in federal funding has been made available to North Carolina, so this initial bill would not spend the entire amount, with legislators anticipating a variety of additional needs will arise as the crisis continues.

“We have a commitment to making sure that we’re getting resources out to our hospitals, getting resources out to other healthcare providers, taking care of funding education,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R).

Many legislators did not attend Thursday’s House session in person. Democratic leader Rep. Darren Jackson had a TV monitor next to him showing several of his party’s members on a video screen. They were watching remotely and allowed Rep. Jackson to cast votes for them on their behalf.

House leaders also agreed to increase the voting period to 40 minutes to allow members to enter the chamber in smaller groups to help maintain social distancing. The legislative building is closed to the public with the exception of members of the press.

“It’s a good, strong bill to help the people of North Carolina through what’s going on. Is it everything everybody wants? No,” said Rep. Allison Dahle (D-Wake)

Both the House and Senate versions of the relief bill provide funding for more COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment, help for small businesses and struggling government agencies.

In addition to determining how to allocate the federal funding, the House and Senate bills also make a variety of policy changes in response to the outbreak, such as waiving end-of-year school testing requirements and allowing school districts to move up the start of school next year to Aug. 17, which is a week earlier than classes normally begin.

Both chambers would expand Medicaid in a limited way, but they disagree on to what extent. The House has proposed covering testing and treatment of COVID-19, while the Senate would just approve testing.

House Speaker Tim Moore said members of both chambers would continue meeting Thursday afternoon with the goal of having a final bill ready to pass Friday. Moore said he anticipates lawmakers returning within weeks to pass additional legislation in response to COVID-19.

Copyright 2020 WNCN. All rights reserved. WBTV contributed to this report.