Florence response shows cooperation possible in Raleigh

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The rains from Hurricane Florence have ended, and much of the flooding has receded. But the effects of this disaster, especially in the poverty-stricken eastern part of our state, will persist for years to come. Residents of flooded areas will have to work hard to recover and aren’t likely to succeed without assistance. This is just the kind of situation that calls for a compassionate, coordinated response from the state, and we’re encouraged that it has come.

On Oct. 2, in a special session called by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, the Republican-controlled state legislature unanimously backed a pair of bills intended to provide practical relief for our neighbors in the east, The Associated Press reported. Cooper signed them the following day.

One bill would take about $57 million from the state’s $2 billion reserve and use it for immediate disaster relief programs. “The people in southeastern North Carolina need this bill. They need every dime that’s been allocated in this bill,” Sen. Danny Britt, a Robeson County Republican, said during floor debate.

The bill also extends traditional voter registration by three days to accommodate residents displaced by the disaster.

The other bill allows schools in nearly 30 eastern counties — those hardest hit by Florence — to write off up to 20 instructional days, or a matching number of classroom hours, and still meet state law requirements. Schools in other areas would get a smaller break. It also provides $6.5 million to cover teachers’ missing wages.

That’s a practical response. Eight school districts instructing more than 100,000 students still have yet to return to classes, Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson told the AP.

This cooperation is certainly appropriate and welcome. Hurricane Florence brought more than 30 inches of rain, causing widespread flooding in several eastern North Carolina cities. Tens of thousands of homes and businesses have been lost. “The damage is estimated to reach billions of dollars, including at least $1.1 billion in crop and livestock losses,” the AP reported.

And it’s superior to the legislative response in a 2016 special session convened to approve disaster recovery from Hurricane Matthew, which morphed to include legislation intended to diminish the governor’s authority. That’s still being hashed out in court.

“The cooperation that I’ve seen has also been unprecedented, and we need to keep that spirit of cooperation all together as we approach the short- and long-term recovery from this storm,” Cooper told the Council of State shortly before the session convened.

“It’s always good to see partisanship and some of the crazy divisions that we allow ourselves to get into get put aside for everybody to work together to try to move things forward,” House Speaker Tim Moore told colleagues. “We’re all people, and we owe a duty to each other to take care of one another.”

All this back-slapping may be well deserved, and we would certainly like to see more such cooperation, especially when not demanded by emergencies. It should be a regular feature of our state’s legislature.

But it must be noted that, this close to an election, it surely serves all legislative candidates’ campaigns to vote in favor of hurricane assistance. The legislature will return for another special session on Oct. 15, and we hope the camaraderie continues. The real proof will be how well the cooperation on these measures lasts after the election.

But this kind of cooperation, with no name-calling or power-grabbing, should be reinforced, so we’ll say kudos to the governor and the legislature. Especially because it benefits our neighbors, we hope the assistance is swift and complete.