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N.C. Senate rejects bill to end participation in federal unemployment benefits program.
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N.C. Senate rejects bill to end participation in federal unemployment benefits program.

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The state Senate voted 47-0 Monday to reject House changes to legislation that would compel North Carolina’s withdrawal from a federal extended unemployment-benefit program with a $300 weekly payment.

Given the gut-and-replace method applied by the House to Senate Bill 116, it’s unclear if a concurrence committee can reach a compromise on the language.

Meanwhile, the Senate agreed by a 33-14 vote on House changes to Senate Bill 722 that would delay this year’s elections for 35 municipalities — including Greensboro, Hickory, Lexington and Statesville — until 2022.

SB722 has been sent to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has 10 days to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature. The bill received yes votes from seven Senate Democrats.

Even though Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson, acknowledged the timeliness of the UI payment issue in the revamped SB116, he urged senators to not concur.

The original version of SB116 was focused on allowing public and nonpublic high schools to expand seating capacity for outdoor sports venues. It passed the Senate by a 34-15 vote on March 1.

However, Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, added language on June 2 that would bar the N.C. Division of Employment Security from authorizing or administering the $300 federal UI payments. The legislation would not go into effect until 30 days after it becomes law.

That version of SB116 passed the House by a 71-36 vote on June 3.

Edwards said the House version of the bill appeared to represent “an identity crisis” because he wasn’t sure if it became a return-to-work bill or a budget bill.

Edwards said rejecting the House changes could open dialogue on what the Senate would want in such a bill.

House changes

The latest version of the federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program provides a $300 weekly benefit to eligible unemployed and furloughed North Carolinians. The program is scheduled to expire Sept. 6.

During the House debate on its changes, House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said the perceived worker shortage “is probably one of the more critical issues that we are now dealing with.”

“This bill is the way to restore strength in our economy, and finally move forward, to put this pandemic in the rear-view mirror.”

Democratic opponents of SB116 said that ending North Carolina’s participation would cost the state about $500 million in federal UI benefits.

People eligible to draw up to 16 weeks of regular state UI benefits are getting on average about $235 a week along with the $300 federal benefit.

For most claimants who have exhausted their regular state UI benefits, the federal benefit may be their only source of income.

“The bottom line is if we want to truly get our economy back on track and thriving again, we cannot continue punishing businesses in the name of helping individuals,” Moore said. “We need a more holistic approach.”

Cooper has signaled he has no plans to end participation in the federal program.

The governor’s office has said there are more than 245,000 North Carolinians listed as unemployed or furloughed.

Republican bill sponsors countered that NCWorks currently lists more than 200,000 job openings.

One sweetener to SB116: Moore agreed to transfer $250 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act child-care block grant funding to the N.C. Division of Child Development and Early Education “to be used for subsidized child care for eligible children.”

Another potential sweetener would exclude unemployment compensation payments from state taxable income, similar to how the federal relief act excluded payments as federal taxable income.

Individuals who paid federal taxes on their federal unemployment benefits have or will receive a refund from the IRS.

Senate Bill 722

The Senate accepted the House changes to SB722 even though the five senators representing Wake County objected to legislation affecting Raleigh municipal elections.

SB722 would permanently switch Raleigh’s elections to even-numbered years, including what would have been the November 2021 election to Nov. 8, 2022.

The Wake senators said the public has not been given ample opportunity to express their view to the Raleigh City Council on those changes.

The House approved the bill by a 107-0 on June 9 following the inclusion of changes that would affect school board elections with Lexington City Schools and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Election timing can be changed only by the General Assembly. SB722 is a public bill and subject to veto by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Greensboro, Hickory, Lexington and Statesville are affected by SB722 since their council seats are determined by districts, rather than being all at-large.

One change made by the House is that there would be no election this year for the Lexington City Board of Education.

The timing of the 2022 election would be subject to whether the board receives the 2020 federal census information by July 19, 2021. Board members whose terms would have expired on Dec. 6 could remain in that term for up to another year.

Another amendment would give affected municipalities the option to conduct an election this year for at-large offices and mayor, and in 2022 for those offices determined by districts and wards.

In most instances under SB722, primaries would be held on March 8 and the general election on April 26.

336-727-7376

@rcraverWSJ

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