The North Carolina General Assembly is scheduled to hold a special session beginning Dec. 13 to supplement federal disaster aid aimed at helping the state recover from Hurricane Matthew.
Matthew and the subsequent flooding were responsible for 28 deaths and more than $2 billion in damage in North Carolina, mostly in eastern North Carolina.
Legislators are expected to dip into the state’s “rainy day fund” to supplement federal disaster recovery funding. This week, Congress included $300 million in a continuing budget resolution for North Carolina’s recovery effort. If the federal funding is approved, it will include money for housing, agricultural assistance, highway repairs and other recovery efforts. You can read Coastal Review Online’s coverage of the special session and Matthew recovery here.
North Carolina Coastal Federation staff and consultants have been talking with state legislators about including funding in the state disaster package for a variety of coastal restoration efforts aimed at softening the next big storm’s impact on the coast. The federation’s suggestions include expanded funding for living shorelines, oyster reef and wetland restoration and stormwater controls — all of which have been proven to help prevent coastal erosion and limit storm-related pollution.
To date, legislators have been reluctant to include funding in the state’s disaster package for anything not directly related to Matthew recovery. They fear adding additional items to the legislation to be considered would result in a rush to fund a wide variety of programs and projects — and undermine overall support for the legislation.
The legislature is, however, expected to consider proposals for disaster prevention during the 2017 legislative session, which begins next month. The federation will be lobbying legislators to fund natural solutions to storm prevention during the regular session.
Media reports have also suggested that legislative leaders are cooking up other proposals for the special session — including expanding the number of judges on the state Supreme Court. Less well-reported is the likelihood that legislators are will take up a regulatory reform bill that died in the waning minutes of the 2016 session last summer. As these types of bills go, the one debated last summer — Senate Bill 303 — was relatively innocuous, with few major impacts on the coast. SB 303’s most controversial provisions — concerning the approval of wind energy facilities and electronic waste disposal — are NOT expected to be in the legislation taken up next week. But when bills like this pop up at the last moment, without a great deal of debate, the worry is that lawmakers can — and often do — slip items in without a lot of public notice or debate, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on the legislature next week.