Politics & Government

NC Gov. Cooper calls for special session to deal with Hurricane Florence recovery

Gov. Cooper visits with evacuees at UNC hurricane shelter

Governor Roy Cooper visited those seeking refuge from Hurricane Florence at a recently-opened shelter at UNC-Chapel Hill on Sunday, Sept. 16, many of whom are members of the Congolese refugee community in New Bern.
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Governor Roy Cooper visited those seeking refuge from Hurricane Florence at a recently-opened shelter at UNC-Chapel Hill on Sunday, Sept. 16, many of whom are members of the Congolese refugee community in New Bern.

Gov. Roy Cooper called Thursday for state lawmakers to return to Raleigh for a special session to fund initial recovery needs from Hurricane Florence.

“As I’ve traveled around the state surveying damage and meeting with people who have lost everything, it’s clear that the destruction in eastern North Carolina is historic,” Cooper said in a statement Thursday night. “Now is the time to come together and begin the work of rebuilding our communities and making families whole.”

Cooper wants the General Assembly to return Oct. 9, according to a release from his office.

The storm has killed 31 people in North Carolina, bringing devastation to many communities, widespread flooding and road closures and several environmental concerns.

“Recovery is beginning in many places,” Cooper said Thursday. “But for some communities, today is still a matter of life and death.”

The legislature returned to Raleigh two months after Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina in 2016 to pass disaster relief bills.

Cooper has the authority to handle immediate spending, a spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger told The News & Observer before the storm made landfall on Friday, Sept. 14 near Wrightsville Beach: “Governor Cooper has the authority to spend emergency funds and shift money from other parts of the state budget as needed to cover disaster-related expenses, and we support the state’s response efforts.”

Republicans control both chambers in the General Assembly. Cooper, a Democrat, is in his first term as governor.

The state has about $2 billion in its “rainy day” emergency fund, but there are some limits on how much can be spent in one year.

In addition to financial decisions, state lawmakers may provide an exemption for school districts in the areas hardest hit by Florence.

State law requires schools to be in session for 185 days or 1,025 hours of instruction per year. Some state leaders, including N.C. Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson and House Speaker Tim Moore, want to ease statewide attendance requirements for counties affected by the storm, The N&O reported Wednesday.

“So many families’ lives are being uprooted right now and anything we can do to make their lives easier, we need to do,” Moore said in a statement.

The legislature already has a session scheduled to begin on Nov. 27.

The state constitution gives the Governor power to convene, on extraordinary occasions, an “extra session” by proclamation. Last year, however, the General Assembly canceled Cooper’s request for a special session for redistricting.

Brian Murphy: 202.383.6089; Twitter: @MurphinDC
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