Dear Friends,

We are making history – continuing in the longest legislative session in decades. (In case you were wondering, North Carolina is among only 11 states without a restriction on the length of its legislative calendar.) In September and October, there were 15 skeletal days (days in which there was no action on legislation), when we could have passed stalled legislation, negotiated on issues we see differently, and handled other business of our State. Instead, we adjourned on October 31 after passing additional corporate tax cuts and a teacher pay raise that falls far short of the mark—but no full state budget…and no legislation to close the Medicaid coverage gap.

And, we are back today—to focus on congressional redistricting—and all eyes are on North Carolina!
Another Ruling on Partisan Gerrymanders:
U.S. Congressional Maps
On October 28, the same three-judge panel that ruled on our NC House and Senate district maps (see below for an update) determined that current North Carolina U.S. Congressional District maps were partisan gerrymanders, drawn in such a way as to violate the Free Elections, Equal Protection, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly Clauses of our State Constitution. They issued an injunction indicating that
we could not use the current maps. The defendants (the Republican majority), fearing that they were unlikely to win a trial, went ahead and redrew the maps.

Currently, North Carolina’s 13 Congressional Districts are represented by 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats, in contrast to the more balanced voter registration in our political parties and the statewide voting performance of the parties in the 2018 Election.

In response, last Tuesday, a newly-appointed Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting met to begin the redistricting process, which requires that each of the 13 congressional districts be close to equal in population (based on 2010 census data).

Ostensibly all work is supposed to be done in full view of the public via live streaming on the General Assembly website. The Committee convened for several days while members consulted with staff to draw maps. However, there has been concern that throughout the map drawing process, members were leaving the room and coming back with input and making what we fear were partisan changes. ( Data on the maps that have been drawn are available on the Committee web page.)
A public comment session was held today. Among the speakers was League of Women Voters of Wake County President Dianna Wynn who noted, “We suspect that knowledge of political leanings in different parts of the state was considered, which is certainly counter to the spirit of an impartial map-drawing process.”

We believe that we will vote on the maps in Committee tomorrow and on the floor this week. Subject to the court accepting the map we pass, these will be the districts for the 2020 election.

Then, we will likely adjourn to return on January 14, 2020. And, when we return mid-January, the scope of what we can consider is also limited!
League of Women Voters of Wake County President Dianna Wynn speaks during today's Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting public hearing.
NC Legislative Maps Approved
All elections shall be free.”
The three-judge panel has approved the redrawn NC House and Senate Districts that were passed on September 17. And unless the higher court accepts the plaintiffs’ appeal of eight of the district maps based on their belief that they are still partisan gerrymanders, these will be the districts we will use for the 2020 Election.


Mini-Budget Bills Continue
As I mentioned in my last newsletter, leadership has taken the approach of passing “mini budgets,” rather than work towards compromise. Among many things, we have allotted money for grants to economically distressed counties and to keep DOT projects moving. There were some other mini budget bills approved—pay increases for some but not all state employees, further cuts to corporate taxes, and weak responses to a call for teacher pay raises and retiree cost of living increases. But it’s not over yet, since the Governor has vetoed some! Please keep reading below for more detail. 
SB 354 – Does Little to “Strengthen Teacher Pay”
5-1-19 with Teacher
I remain committed to making a top priority the funding of our public schools and the recruitment and retention of outstanding teachers to educate our young people for successful lives. So, I am always going to consider carefully whether a bill dealing with teacher pay addresses current inadequate salaries.

As I have stressed several times before, Governor Cooper proposed a compromise budget on July 9 th that provided for an 8.5% teacher pay raise that would keep North Carolina competitive in teacher salaries. Competitive. Not at the very top of the national pay scale, but competitive. And I supported this proposal.

When I debated the Conference Report for SB 354 Strengthening Educators' Pay Act on the House floor, I noted that “The 4.4% raise—including the step increase—does little to address underpayment of the men and women who work tirelessly to help build a brighter future for our children and for North Carolina…We need a budget that raises education funding to pre-recession levels, incentivizes the recruitment and retention of teachers, and provides other resources to ensure student success.”

Both the outcome of this bill as well as the process by which it became law are especially distressing. A conference committee created the bill, thus eliminating the possibility of offering any amendments. And the bill came with a string attached: an additional .5% raise was offered, on the condition that the Senate would override the Governor’s veto of the State Budget bill. 

Using our teachers as pawns by holding pay raises as hostage in the name of advancing a flawed budget bill is not how your Legislature should operate!
While the bill ultimately passed, many of us voted against it. Fortunately, Governor Cooper vetoed the bill, agreeing that it is inadequate. I sincerely hope we can find a better educator pay bill through negotiation between the Governor and the entire NCGA. When a veto override is considered, I hope you will be vocal about your support for the veto. We can do better and your voice can make a difference.
SB 559 – NO Multi-Year Ratemaking for Utilities
This legislation is a great example of how public advocacy can impact the outcome of a bill!

I was grateful for the hundreds of emails, calls, and thank you notes I received from you regarding SB 559 Storm Securitization. The bill was re-titled once the multi-year rate hike provisions were eliminated. Your responses were unanimous in opposing the rate hike, and in the end, both the House and Senate votes were also unanimous in their support of the final legislation .

Storm securitization is a financial mechanism already used by more than 20 states. Passage of SB 559 will now allow NC utilities to recover storm-recovery expenditures by issuing storm recovery bonds at a lower cost to finance than other means. Utilities are able to secure cash faster and the lower cost to finance via a bond reduces the impact on ratepayers’ bills. 
Addressing the Youth Vaping & Health Crisis
NC e-cigarette usage
With all the news of the growing popularity of vaping/e-cigarette use among our youth as well as the sudden increase in lung injury and 34 reported deaths, I thought it was time to take action in North Carolina .

In vaping, we have a new, unregulated frontier. According to the US Surgeon General, it’s a $2.5 billion business. And it’s targeting our young people, with companies spending hundreds of millions on advertising—proven to be a direct link to product use. In fact, a national survey showed that approximately 72% of U.S. youth believe e-cigarettes cause little, some, or even NO harm!

Some additional facts:
  • North Carolina, use of electronic cigarettes among high school students has risen 894% between 2011 and 2017, and 28.8% of youth use tobacco products.
  • A growing body of strong scientific evidence that shows vaping is a one-way bridge to cigarette smoking among youth.
  • State health officials are warning against using these products.

Thanks to my colleague Rep. Gale Adcock who serves on the House Finance Committee, we were able to team up on an amendment that received strong bipartisan support in that Committee. It called for taxing vapor products at the same rate as cigarettes; tax revenue would be used create a Tobacco Use Prevention Fund, which would support new initiatives to address the crisis.

Unfortunately, legislative leaders and tobacco lobbyists intervened, and the amendment was stripped from the bill. But rest assured, I will be working with colleagues on a bipartisan effort to raise the issue again next year! As one of the supporters of the amendment, Rep. Julia Howard (R-Davie) said, “I think it’s a good provision…It’s a pretty complicated issue that needs to be addressed. And it will be.” 

Other Noteworthy Bills...Vetoed
North Carolina has the lowest corporate tax rate in the country. SB 578 lowers the franchise tax paid by corporations and mostly helps the largest corporations. It reduces revenue over the next four years by over $1 billion. I voted against SB 578; further cuts to corporate tax rates prevents us from adequately funding public education, health care, and our infrastructure, among many priorities. And Governor Cooper vetoed the bill, so again, I hope we can come back together and find a common ground solution.
 
I voted against this bill for several reasons. It offers much less that I think our State employee retirees deserve -- only a one-time bonus of 1% spread across two years. Instead of cutting corporate taxes further, we should be providing more competitive salaries to attract and retain the best educators at our community colleges and universities.  Governor Cooper vetoed this bill.

I voted against this bill for the same reasons Governor Cooper vetoed it: “This bill fails to adequately fund state cybersecurity and data analytics needs while sending a substantial capital earmark outside the state’s proven university system.”

Sex Abuse Laws Strengthened
SB 199 - Child Sex Abuse/Strengthen Laws - passed unanimously.
SB 199 offers much-needed reforms including: increasing the statute of limitations for a civil action for child sexual abuse from age 21 to age 28, offering child protections from online predators, requiring school personnel to participate in a child sexual abuse and sex trafficking training program, and more.

Prior to the passage of this bill, NC was the only state in which continuing sexual activity once the other party withdraws consent was not a crime.
 
In the Community
Last month, I was a guest "consultant" for several Civics and Economics classes at Green Hope High School. Students were working on developing U.S. presidential campaign teams. I had the opportunity to watch these young people work together effectively to address issues, make platforms, and define goals and how to achieve them through strategic plans for policy research, communications, debate preparation, and teamwork. These kinds of exercises in our classrooms teach our young people to consider timely topics and work effectively on teams, resolving differences in approach and opinion. Thanks to teacher Kim Mackey and Principal Camille Hedrick for asking me to participate! Groups chose diverse presidential tickets, including one all-female ticket!
Last week, I was honored to participate in a bipartisan legislative panel as part of the Public School Forum of NC’s Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP). EPFP is in-service leadership and policy development program for education professionals, and the panel offered EPFP Fellows the opportunity to understand how education policy works at the state level and how they can personally impact those policies. I look forward seeing how these Fellows engage in critical debates that will shape the future of education in our state!
NC Teaching Fellows Program Applications Available!
Do you know a North Carolina student who’s considering a future in education? If so, please share the following about our nationally-recognized, merit-based NC Teaching Fellows Program .

Applications for this prestigious program are now available and will be accepted until midnight, January 13, 2020. The Program is designed to recruit highly-qualified students and provides up to $4,125/semester for up to four years to those committed to teaching special education or in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) field. For more information, please see the FAQ in the link below.


It's a Privilege to Serve
As we head towards Thanksgiving, I want to wish you and your families a very happy start to the holiday season. I am grateful to serve a district with such thoughtful and engaged constituents!
As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or the
District 49 Legislative Assistant, Patty Williams , with your questions or concerns.
It is my privilege to serve the people of North Carolina!
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