News & Updates From Senator Edwards
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From my Senate Desk

The NC Legislature convened for our short session on May 16. The first two weeks of the session were dedicated primarily towards the budget. This part of session has been widely recapped through the media and by other legislators, so at this time I will only add that both the House and the Senate have now overridden the Governor's veto. The Governor's budget include a tax increase and roughly a $470 million deficit due to a half billion dollar 'spreadsheet error.' The budget I supported invests $700 million additional dollars in public education, raises teacher pay by 6.5%, directs $200 million to other deserving state employees, and continues to grow our savings reserve.

In the most two weeks we have been working furiously to finalize statewide bills that must be sent to the governor. Later in this newsletter I will highlight some of those in which I think most followers would have the greatest interest. 

I Will Meet With 
Educators  At Home

Approximately 19,000 teachers stayed out of work and forced schools to close around the state so they could descend on Raleigh May 16th. I am pleased that few from WNC made the choice to inconvenience their students, families, and educational staff. 

I would like the opportunity to hear from teachers without them having to lose a personal day, or travel to Raleigh. If you are an educator and would be willing to meet with me to share your ideas or concerns please contact my local office at (828) 785-4177 or I will happily meet you at my Hendersonville office at a time that will be convenient for you including early mornings, days, evenings, or weekends.

School Safety at the Forefront

During this session the legislature has focused much of our attention to improve the safety of our school children. No parent should have to worry about their children when they drop them off at school each day. The tragedies that have been occurring demand action and we have responded. 

In the budget, the legislature increased access to mental health professionals, provided additional funding for school resource officers and worked to help fund the creation of an app allowing students to report incidents or behaviors that make them feel unsafe. In this year's budget we provided $35 million to these efforts.

HB670- Protect Educational Property was presented to the Governor on June 15th. This bill increases the criminal penalty for communicating threats of mass violence on educational property or places of religious worship from a Class 1 Misdemeanor to a Class H Felony.  Additionally, it raises the punishment for making a false report about an act of mass violence on a school or place of religious worship a Class H Felony. The defendant of any crimes listed above would be required to be placed on supervised probation for at least one year, complete a minimum of 30 hours of community service, obtain a mental health evaluation, and comply with any treatment recommended as a result of the mental health evaluation. Upon completion of the conditions, the defendant would receive a discharge and dismissal of charges and would be eligible to apply for expunction of the charges. This bill received almost unanimous support. 

While there is still work to be done, I am pleased with these bold actions and aside from the budgetary items they have received bi-partisan support.

Reduced Class Room Testing and Ensuring Low-Income Students Have Access to Advanced Courses

One of the most common issues I hear from teachers and parents is the over emphasis on testing of students, and the belief that reduced testing would offer time to focus on teaching. This week both the Senate and the House passed legislation which I supported that takes steps to reduce the testing burden on students in North Carolina and helps provide additional learning opportunities to thousands of children from low-income families across the state. 

HB986 directs the state Superintendent of Public Instruction to study and make recommendations on ways to reduce local testing for students from Kindergarten through twelfth grade. 

I am dedicated to improve outcomes for students in North Carolina, and after listening to teachers from around the state who are concerned that too much time is spent on testing, I believe that this bill is a first step towards reducing that testing burden. 

The bill also makes changes to how students are enrolled in advanced math courses by directing that any student in grade 3 or above who achieves a "superior "score on their end-of-grade math test will automatically be enrolled in an advanced math course the following year. 

These changes come after an investigation by the [Raleigh] News and Observer and Charlotte Observer last year found thousands of low-income children who achieve "superior" marks on end-of-grade tests are more likely to be excluded from advanced classes than their peers from families with higher incomes. 

The NC Farm Act of 2018 Helps Protect the Right to Farm

This week both the Senate and the House pass the N.C. Farm Act of 2018. I supported this bill. It contains numerous provisions aimed at supporting the state's largest industry and ensuring that farmers have the intended legal protections in the state's right to farm law. 

Senate Bill 711 clarifies provisions of the current right to farm law in order to protect farmers against unfounded nuisance lawsuits, often brought by out-of-state lawyers, attempting to put them out of business. 

The Heroin 
 & Opioid Prevention & Enforcement 

On June 14 we presented SB616: Heroin & Opioid Prevention & Enforcement Act or the HOPE Act of 2018 to the Governor. This vital piece of legislation which I supported is an extension of the STOP Act which went into law last. The STOP Act limits opioid prescribing. 

In 2017, 64,000 people in the United States died due to the opioid epidemic sweeping our nation. 3 North Carolinians die each day of an opioid overdose. All three counties in our district from 2010-2017 had 6-10 unintentional opioid-related overdoses per 100,000 people. The HOPE Act will give law enforcement the tools needed to help combat the growing opioid problem. 

The HOPE Act protects patient safety by making it a class G felony for a first responder or home health worker to steal a patients drugs. It also makes it a class E felony for a healthcare provider to steal drugs by diluting a patient's drugs or substituting a different drug than what the patient is supposed to receive. The HOPE act also creates a new criminal offense "death by distribution of a dangerous drug", to hold drug traffickers and dealers responsible if they distribute drugs that aide in the death of another person. 
The HOPE Act invests $10 million per year in community-based drug treatment and recovery services to help law enforcement's efforts to bring low-level, non-violent offenders into treatment. It also invests $1 million per year to the life-saving overdose reversal drug naloxone, and $160,000 a year in the state drug take-back program SafeKids NC/Operation Medicine Drop.

While these two bills are just the beginning, I am proud to have supported their passage. I am confident that these steps will help combat the continued spread of opioid abuse will help ease the epidemic sweeping our state and District 48.

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