The Latest: Disaster aid package clears House, now to Senate

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Latest on Gov. Pat McCrory convening a special legislative session to consider an aid package following Hurricane Matthew in eastern North Carolina and wildfires in the mountains (all times local):

6:15 p.m.

A disaster aid package to help with the cleanup and recovery in eastern North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew and in the mountains following wildfires has cleared the state House.

The chamber voted unanimously late Tuesday to spend $201 million, much of which should go for housing, local infrastructure needs and to match incoming federal funds.

The measure now heads to the state Senate, where leader Phil Berger says he anticipates the bill’s passage Wednesday.

The bill also tells public schools that were shuttered for days or even weeks because of the hurricane to be required to only make up two instructional days. An amendment defeated on the House floor would have forgiven all the lost days.

Bill sponsors said another relief package likely would be considered early next year as more needs are calculated. Several hundred million additional dollars from Washington already has come to North Carolina or will soon.

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4:30 p.m.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory says legislators need to act on a disaster relief plan now to help people affected by Hurricane Matthew’s floods “who cannot help themselves.”

McCrory made an unusual appearance for a governor Tuesday before a General Assembly committee to press for support for a $201 million aid package following Matthew and wildfires in the mountains. The House Appropriations Committee later approved the bill, which locates the money from reserves and unspent money.

The full House was expected to approve the measure later Tuesday. Senate leader Phil Berger says he anticipates his chamber will act on the bill Wednesday.

McCrory told lawmakers there are human stories behind the flooding and that those people need to be helped. House Republicans running the legislation emphasized more relief funding will be considered by the General Assembly in early 2017.

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12:20 p.m.

House Speaker Tim Moore says there are no plans by Republicans to bring up legislation to increase the number of North Carolina Supreme Court justices.

But protesters in the Legislative Building during the special session on disaster relief fear a court expansion could happen.

Moore told reporters Tuesday during a House recess he doesn’t believe the chamber ought to consider legislation to expand the court. Democrats and their allies have pressed the idea for weeks as a way Republicans could keep a GOP majority on the court even though Democrats are poised to have a 4-3 advantage following last month’s elections.

Moore says other legislation unrelated to disaster relief is being considered but declined to provide details.

A few hundred activists from special interest and civil rights groups marched to the Legislative Building rotunda as the special session began and vowed to push back on Republican efforts to pack the court.

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11:45 a.m.

House Republicans have unveiled a $201 million proposal to help pay for cleanup and repairs related to Hurricane Matthew’s record floods and tens of thousands or acres burned by mountain wildfires this fall.

The legislation being considered in a committee and on the House floor later Tuesday includes funds to pay for short-term housing for displaced residents and to build long-term rental units in flooded regions. About a third of the funds would match federal funds already heading to the state. And there is money to help the 49 counties declared disaster areas plan to rebuild so as to ensure they are prepared for future storms and avoid repeated damage.

The $201 million package wouldn’t require a tax increase. The money would come from the state’s emergency reserves and money that wasn’t appropriated in the current state budget.

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10:45 a.m.

The North Carolina legislature has started a special session designed to consider a relief package sought by Gov. Pat McCrory following Hurricane Matthew and wildfires.

The House and Senate convened Tuesday morning and took up administrative work, including the seating of new members appointed since the last session concluded in July. This session’s primary task is disaster aid.

Democrats and their allies are worried about other legislation the General Assembly might consider.

Critics of Republican leaders have not let go of rumors that GOP lawmakers may add two seats to the state Supreme Court as a way to preserve the GOP’s majority after a Democrat’s election victory will give the party a court majority starting next month.

State NAACP president the Rev. William Barber brought dozens of people to the Legislative Building to keep an eye on the proceedings. Barber says legislators should honor the vote of the people.

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6:05 a.m.

The General Assembly is returning to Raleigh to consider funding Hurricane Matthew relief in eastern North Carolina and help for mountain wildfires.

The legislature was to reconvene Tuesday under the call by outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory, who wants roughly $200 million on top of several hundred million already coming from the federal government for Matthew. McCrory has said state money to ensure displaced residents from floods can move into more permanent housing is a priority.

Fellow Republicans are generally on board with the aid package. There are $1.6 billion in reserves to handle it.

Other legislation also is expected to be debated. Democrats and their allies are worried Republicans will try to create two new Supreme Court seats, but GOP leaders don’t sound interested in doing that.