July 29, 2020

Dear Friends,
We had a very limited NCGA session in late June to consider veto overrides. I voted to sustain the vetoes of bills that would have re-opened some businesses even as the numbers for transmission of the coronavirus were increasing. While I continue to be very concerned about the economic and personal impacts of our closures and partial openings, I believe we should not be moving in the direction of allowing more public interaction in places that are known to have higher transmission probability. 

During this June session, I heard from many of you with your concerns that we did not consider more allocation of the CARES federal funds. Like you, I had hoped we would find the funds for additional unemployment benefits, for our small businesses that are struggling to survive, for rent and utility payment assistance, for municipalities that provide critical public services, and for programs where more PPE is required such as our public schools and higher education campuses as the Fall semester approaches.

So, when we are scheduled to come back to session on September 2 (or possibly before), we should make it a priority to address the remaining serious shortfalls that will keep our communities and people safe and our economy buttressed as much as possible in these times of less revenue and increased needs. Below we explain some of the things we need to do and ways you can help.

You and your families remain in my thoughts and prayers in these difficult times.

Hoping you continue to remain safe and well,
BREAKING NEWS:
COVID Concerns Cause Cancellation of NC State Fair
For the first time since World War II, the 2020 NC State Fair has been cancelled.

In a press announcement this morning, State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler stated, “The State Fair is a tradition we all look forward to each year. It’s a vital economic engine for local non-profits, community groups, small businesses and individuals. It’s a time for family and friends to come together to celebrate everything that makes North Carolina such a great place to live. We waited as long as we could, hoping the numbers would take a turn and we’d be able to continue with our planning, but each day brought more challenges than solutions."
Many Needs: Here's How You Can Help
The stark reality of the pandemic is that, although we have the scientific capability, data, and evidence to address COVID-19 head on, we are severely challenged without a national plan and adequate funding from the federal government to flatten our curve and shore up our economy.

In a New York Times opinion piece , former Federal Reserve Board Chair Ben Bernanke wrote, “To continue to provide services that its citizens need and to avoid severe budget and employment cuts that will drag down the economy, states and localities need more federal help. Providing that help is in everyone’s interest .”
 
To that end, on July 16th Governor Cooper wrote to our North Carolina Congressional Delegation , prioritizing needs for the next round of federal funding: 

  1. Robust and flexible dollars sent directly to state and local governments to help replace lost revenues and address pandemic costs
  2. Help protecting our students, educators and staff as we get back to school
  3. Increase the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) to address healthcare system demands
  4. Continued funding of expanded federal unemployment benefits
  5. A federal rental and utility assistance package
  6. Investment in a range of programs designed to support small businesses, expand national service opportunities, rebuild our infrastructure, and create opportunities

In May, anticipating the need for additional assistance ($3 trillion), the U. S. House passed the HEROES act. And just last night, U.S. Senate leadership announced its $1 trillion HEALS act, providing half the amount contained in the March CARES act. It’s now up to the White House and Congress to negotiate the size and scope of the next wave of COVID relief aid, which is likely to be decided in August.

I am increasingly concerned about North Carolinians being shortchanged on COVID relief. Legislation passed in 2013 has made our state worst in the nation in terms of the amount ($350/week max) and duration (12 weeks) in unemployment insurance benefits, and federal CARES supplemental benefits of $600/week will expire on July 31.

While it is encouraging that there may be another round of $1,200 economic impact payments, the HEALS act cuts weekly federal unemployment assistance from $600 to $200/week. Further, HEALS does not address additional funding for food stamps and eviction prevention, or hazard pay for essential workers. We need a more generous bill to keep going.

I urge you to reach out to North Carolina’s U.S. Senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis , to let them know you support these critical priorities for our state. And please let them know that providing that help is in EVERYONE’S interest .
Legislature Scheduled to Return in September
When we come back on Wednesday, September 2nd, the Majority party leadership will set the agenda, but it is likely that our focus will be on spending any remaining dollars from the CARES Act, prioritizing the use of new federal funding that comes our way, and determining how to budget for basic state needs for 2020-21. It is the Governor’s stated intention—and mine—to work with legislative leaders to find consensus after new budget numbers are released and analyzed to address priorities. I will appreciate hearing from you with your thoughts on how we should prioritize the many competing needs we have.
New Executive Order Limits Sale of Alcoholic Beverages
A new executive order issued yesterday by Governor Cooper and effective this Friday, July 31st at 11:00 PM, prohibits restaurants, breweries, wineries, distilleries, and other establishments that serve alcohol for on-site consumption from providing sales and service from the hours of 11:00 PM through 7:00 AM. The City of Raleigh will be under a more limiting emergency proclamation that also applies to grocery stores, convenience stores or other entities permitted to sell alcohol for off-premises consumption. According to Governor Cooperand a representative from the NC Restaurant and Lodging Association who says these restrictions are preferable to having to impose more limits on the food dining service in restaurantsthese moves are part of a targeted strategy to slow the spread of COVID-19 among young people, who now make up the majority of the state’s cases. The curfew is intended to discourage the “bar-type scene of a restaurant” that has developed, attracting young people as the night goes on. The 11pm time allows for the main restaurant portion of the evening to continue.

Keeping Us Safe and Well:
Phase 2 Safer at Home Continues
"If everyone could wear a face covering over the next six weeks, we can drive this virus into the ground."  – Robert Redfield, Director, CDC

“Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact.” – President Donald Trump

With the issuance of Executive Order 151 , Governor Cooper has judiciously extended Executive Orders 141 and 147 . The decision to keep the orders in place until 5:00 pm on August 7, 2020 come as officials seek to stabilize concerning trends of increasing viral spread. 
What does this mean?

  • Face coverings must continue to be worn when people are in public places
  • Certain businesses, such as restaurants, child care centers, and indoor/outdoor pools remain open with restrictions and following state health guidelines
  • Other businesses, including bars, movie theaters, bowling alleys remain closed
  • Except for certain compassionate care situations, visiting congregant healthcare facilities is still restricted*


Learn more:


What “Back to School” Means
for Wake County Public Schools
The enormity of the challenges that come with opening schools amidst a pandemic cannot be understated. Multiply that by the fact that, as the 15th largest school district in the nation, the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) serves more than 162,000 students in 191 schools and employs 19,300 people, and the logistics alone are staggering! WCPSS is currently revising 6,000 bus routes for the 750 buses that transport its students to schools on multiple schedules , as well as monitoring guidance from local and state health officials to ensure a healthy and safe eventual return to the classroom.
 
Remote learning to start
 
In guidance provided by the Governor and NC DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen , school districts were offered the latitude to reopen under Plan B or C (see chart below). On July 21, WCPSS announced a delay in Plan B, instead opting to begin the year in online instruction (Plan C). The District will also use this time to prepare for students to return to campus.

The first day of school for students’ online instruction:
  • Week of August 3: Early College
  • August 13: Modified
  • August 17: Traditional and Year-Round

Currently, the plan is to prioritize returning Pre-K and Regional Programs students on September 8 to daily classroom instruction. Other students will transition to in-person instruction as soon as practical. I will share additional information as it becomes available.



NC Task Force for Racial Equity and Criminal Justice Moves Quickly, Thoughtfully
“We must acknowledge racial inequities in our systems of law enforcement and criminal justice, and then work to eliminate them. This task force will address policies and procedures that disproportionately burden communities of color.” – Governor Roy Cooper

I have heard from so many of you about your desire to take meaningful action to address systemic racism and unjust treatment of people of color by law enforcement and within the judicial system. I am committed to making such policy reform a priority.

On June 9 th , Governor Cooper announced the formation of the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, led by Attorney General Josh Stein and North Carolina Supreme Court Associate Justice Anita Earls, with 21 other members from a variety of social, economic, religious, geographic, and professional backgrounds.
Recommendations will be offered on or before December 1, 2020, and the first of three bi-weekly public comment sessions occurred yesterday with more than 50 people weighing in.

Just last week, the Task Force adopted its first 3 recommendations:
  • A requirement for law enforcement to intervene and report when an officer may be a witness to what they know to be an excessive use of force or other abuse of a suspect or arrestee
  • Prohibiting the use of neck holds by law enforcement
  • Requesting the State Supreme Court to require requirement of an assessment of ability to pay before levying fines and fees

The recommendations are the first of many that I know will bring real change to our criminal justice system.





Eviction Ban Expired June 20, 2020
While the uncertainly of additional federal funds looms large, many North Carolinians struggle to pay their rent and utility bills and to afford other basic necessities. According to the NC Utilities Commission , as many as 1 million families are behind in their payments, amounting to $218 million in late or missed payments between April 1 and June 30. The revenue loss to municipalities that run their own utilities is especially concerning.

And with the June 20th expiration* of the evictions ban, many are facing the prospect of homelessness. Those disproportionately affected are Black, Latinx, and Native American members of our community, who have higher rates of unemployment and are more likely to be impacted by COVID-19.

When the legislative session resume, I am committed to taking a hard look at look at our state and federal dollars to ensure that funding is provided to address these fundamental needs.

* The CARES act restricts evictions before August 24 th for tenants living in properties that participate in federal housing programs or have federally-backed mortgages.
 
 

Important Information: November Election
It is clear that voters are deeply concerned about the safety of in-person voting and getting their “paperwork” in place so that they are able to vote. Several measures have been taken to provide safe and flexible options for the upcoming election.

While I believe that more is needed, the Bipartisan Elections Act of 2020 addressed some concerns.

  • Allows you to request an absentee ballot via e-mail or fax with an electronic signature
  • Requires you to have only one witness to fill out your absentee ballot 
  • Appropriates funds to the State Board of Elections to respond to COVID-19

In-Person Voting – New Measures Taken 
State Board of Elections (SBE) Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell also issued an emergency order , which requires poll workers to wear masks, the frequent cleaning of voting locations, allows for expanded hours for voting, and requires one early voting location per 20,000 registered voters. With these measures in place, we are likely to reduce the time spent waiting in line to vote during early voting.
 
Don’t want to vote in person? Vote with a mail-in ballot!
As of July 15th, 70,000 voters requested a mail-in absentee ballot, more than double that in 2016, and the number of requests is climbing. If you are concerned about voting in person, you can apply— right now —to receive a mail-in ballot. Learn more about mail-in absentee voting and request a ballot here . Of note: once you request an mail-in absentee ballot, you can change your mind and instead vote in person at an Early Voting site or on Election Day.

Want to check the status of your current registration?
Visit the voter lookup page on the SBE website . You can also use this link to see if your request for a mail-in absentee ballot has been received, or if any other changes to your registration that you requested have been made.
Want to register to vote or update your current registration online?
If you have a NC driver’s license or DMV-issued ID, you can log onto myNCDMV and take care of business online. Please note: you cannot change your name, but you can change your address or party affiliation. And remember: you must be registered at your current address to vote

No photo ID!
After a a Court STAY, you are NOT REQUIRED TO PROVIDE PHOTO ID for this election. The multiple lawsuits contesting some voting laws are unlikely to be resolved prior to Election Day. I will provide any updates if necessary.
UNC System and NC Community College System Update
Next week, current North Carolina Community College System President Peter Hans will become the next UNC System President. He takes on this new responsibility on the eve of the reopening of the 16 university campuses . Each institution has established its own set of protocols, relying on guidance from authorities such as the   Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  (CDC), the  Occupational Safety and Health Administration , and the State of North Carolina. Each university will operate according to its own schedule and will offer a mix of in-person and online classes. Any changes to the current plan will be made by the UNC Board of Governors , and not by individual universities.

The 58 campuses that make up the NC Community College System will conduct the vast majority of courses online. According to the System’s website, “Face-to-face instruction has been paused for all classes except certain public safety and public health programs that are critical to North Carolina's current emergency needs.” Dr. William Carver, former president of Nash Community College, has been appointed Interim President , and as of August 1 st will lead the system until a permanent president is chosen.

Your Reliable Sources of Information
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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