June 8, 2020

Dear Friends,
The confluence of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others and the COVID-19 pandemic illustrate a continued American tragedy.

I am heartbroken that our country continues to watch these murders occur, year after year without taking meaningful action to address needed police reform as well as the systemic racism that continues to pervade our society and its laws and policies.
And the Coronavirus has disproportionately affected African American people who are more likely to come from communities without healthy food choices, affordable healthcare and safe living spaces – so their resulting health conditions put them at greater risk of contraction and death. I’m proud to support Governor Cooper and his Executive Order 143  addressing this (details below).

I am grateful to receive many of your emails and calls sharing what you believe we need to dodevelop policies, procedures, and training that emphasize empathy, mental health, de-escalation and law enforcement reform. We must ensure that the communities who are marginalized and suffering are truly involved in our discussions and deliberations. We can only develop responsive policies to prevent racial bias and to ensure that our law enforcement officers are protecting ALL citizens IF we listen and use the experiences and guidance of those who are being harmed.

I’m encouraged that Speaker Moore announced that he is appointing a bipartisan Task Force on Justice, Law Enforcement and Community Relations , with members of the House and representatives from the community. However, it appears that it is not now the intent of the Speaker that the Task Force begin its work immediately, instead waiting until we adjourn this Short Session. So I hope you will reach out to him and others in our NCGA Leadership and let them know that you want us to begin addressing this NOW. The work to investigate, involve, collaborate, and act will take time. Any policy changes we develop will only proceed with the support of our General Assembly leadership and will only be embraced by everyone as meaningful action if we join in true bipartisan work, as soon as possible.

I was also proud to join some of my colleagues in a press conference on Friday to talk about various pieces of legislation we have already filed that have not had hearings, plans for actions we should take, and legislation we should develop. You can read the press release here .

We need to pull together fight together for real change. People are dying, and we have done a lot of talking in the past without lasting, meaningful action. As The Rev. William Barber II stated, “The hope of this nation is in the mourning we are seeing in the streets.” Let’s stand together with our citizens of color so this is finally the time that our actions speak louder than our words.
Guidelines Established for Return to School
Opening schools will be possible if we keep working together to slow the spread of COVID-19. We will each need to do our part and practice the 3 Ws – Wear a cloth face covering. Wait six feet apart. Wash your hands frequently. These easy actions will have outsized impact in keeping viral spread low to in order to help get our children back to school.”
NC Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen 

In a press conference this afternoon, state leaders, including the Governor, Secretary Cohen, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, and State Board of Education Chair Eric Davis released new health guidelines for reopening public schools. Schools are asked to plan for reopening under three scenarios – Plan A: Minimal Social Distancing, Plan B: Moderate Social Distancing, or Plan C: Remote Learning Only. NC DHHS, in consultation with the State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction, will announce by July 1 which of the three plans should be implemented for schools to most safely reopen . The remaining plans may be needed if the state’s COVID-19 metrics change over time.

Bills I’ve Filed:
Public Education, Legislative Transparency
 I continue to fight for policies that ensure a sound basic education for all students and have filed more bills to advance that goal during the last 5 weeks.

Building the Teacher Pipeline: From Awareness to Engagement, Recruitment, and Retention

Funds the NC Foundation for Public School Children to expand the successful North Carolina Teacher Cadet Program to the most economically-distressed counties and to grow the number of cadets who are male and cadets who are persons of color. The Cadet Program encourages high-achieving high school students to attend college and eventually teach in North Carolina public schools.

1,700 traditional pathway NC educator preparation program 2020 graduates will begin their teaching career in NC public schools without having completed clinical internships, pedagogy assessments, and other components of their programs prior to entering the workforce. The bipartisan sponsored HB 1212 enables these new teachers to participate in NC NTSP without cost to local school districts. New teachers would be assigned instructional coaches, participate in specialized professional development, and a multi-day, online conference.

This bipartisan sponsored bill provides teacher professional development through a partnership between North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS), nationally recognized and the second-largest state-led virtual school in the nation and North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT). The partnership would use live, online classes and self-paced learning to accommodate today’s circumstances.

We are losing our good teachers at an alarming rate, which only gets worse each year. This bipartisan sponsored legislation creates a Teacher Retention Task Force to develop recommendations for improving teacher retention. The Task Force will use data from the Teacher Working Conditions Survey and the State of the Teaching Profession Report and look at best practices from districts with the lowest teacher attrition rates and highest recoupment rates*.

*The rate at which districts are able to attract transferring teachers to their system.

Enabling Healthy Schools
It has long been acknowledged that our schools are sorely lacking enough health professionals to address the needs of our students. And with the compounding impacts of COVID-19 and the anxieties and angers of our racial justice protests, the need has never been greater. So I am pressing for action NOW.

Will staff every school in each of North Carolina’s 115 school districts with a full-time, permanent school nurse . This bill has strong bipartisan sponsorship and a companion bill in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Wiley Nickel.
Will establish a tiered system of support for students by increasing the number of school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists serving our public schools at the following ratios:
  • At least one school counselor for every 250 students.
  • At least one school social worker for every 400 students.
  • At least one school psychologist for every 700 students.

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri has filed a companion bill in the Senate.

These two bills have gotten a lot of press attention; I was pleased to be interviewed by NBC-17, WPTF, and NC Policy Watch.

Provides a source of grants for public school districts through 2020 to support extraordinary costs associated with providing Extended School Year Services or future services for exceptional children who qualify for these services due to the impacts of COVID-19.
Keeping On Track for Success

We need to know more about existing programs in our schools that are providinginsufficient data and oversight and a lack of understanding of the overall impacts on student performance.

Requires a common exam to be used at schools accepting students with vouchers for the purpose of evaluating student performance. An independent research organization will study data to measure the efficacy of school vouchers.

Creates a 20-person expert committee to make findings and recommendations regarding effectiveness of student retention in grades K-12. The committee will look at several years of retention data, address matters of equity and inclusion among different demographic groups to make policy recommendations and identify remediation resources.

Government Transparency

You should know more about how we are operating. And I am certain I’m not the only one who is sometimes challenged to follow bills that are moving quickly with proposed committee substitutes. I believe that we can be more efficient and transparent.

As many of you can attest, it can be challenging to follow the movement of a bill from filing, through committees with amendments and substitutes, to floor votes and passage over to the alternate chamber, with potential substantial changes from the original bill’s content and title. This bill would make the necessary enhancements to the current web-based bill tracking system to make it easier to track and understand changes to legislation. It also includes a provision to add closed captioning for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
This bill would do two things:
  1. Establish a task force to investigate the current status of information technology operations at the NC General Assembly to ensure that the General Assembly runs seamlessly, whether under normal or exceptional circumstances such as a pandemic or weather-related event, and
  2. Ensure meaningful public participation for individuals with disabilities and those with limited connectivity.

Governor Cooper’s Order Addresses Systemic Inequities Exacerbated by COVID-19 Pandemic
This past Friday, June 4th, Governor Cooper issued Executive Order 143 , which acknowledges the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on communities of color. Specifically, the order addresses social, environmental, economic, and health disparities by doing the following:

  • Establishes the “Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental, and Health Equity Task Force” to focus on economic stability, health disparities, and environmental justice in North Carolina;
  • Tasks the North Carolina Pandemic Recovery Office to ensure the equitable distribution of pandemic relief funds;
  • Directs the Historically Underutilized Business Office to provide small historically underutilized businesses with access to opportunities, tools, and resources that promote equitable economic recovery and procurement of State contracts;
  • Directs the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to ensure all communities have access to COVID-19 testing and related health care; 
  • Tasks the Office of Public Engagement to increase awareness about COVID-19, COVID-19 relief services and resources, and provide education on eliminating disparities; 
  • Directs the Division of Emergency Management to continue coordinating efforts to protect the food supply chain and support feeding operations at food banks and school systems;
  • Directs the North Carolina National Guard to provide planning and logistical support and personnel where feasible to support mass testing of food processing plant workers in impacted communities and migrant farm workers; and 
  • Tasks the Department of Environmental Quality to create a common discourse on environmental justice and coordinate with state executive agencies on the integration of environmental justice considerations into current and future policies, programs, and procedures.

For additional information, please read the FAQ and the press release.
Executive Order Extends Moratorium on
Utility Cut Offs, Implements Evictions Moratorium
On May 30th, Governor Roy Cooper signed Executive Order 142, which

  • Extends the utility shutoff moratorium for 60 days (end of July), and
  • Creates a new evictions moratorium lasting through June 20th.

For additional information, read the FAQ and review the press release .
COVID-19: Testing, Tracing, Trends
In mid-April, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen, MD identified three areas in which North Carolina needed to make progress to help flatten the curve and ease restrictions.

  • Increasing testing to identify and track cases
  • Engaging public health workers to build a contact tracing system—the detective work of COVID-19, which helps contain the spread of the illness in local communities
  • Capturing and monitoring trends to understand the impact of COVID-19 and make appropriate policy decisions

Subsequent to Secretary Cohen’s discussion, access to testing equipment has increased, a contract tracing team was established, and more data is being collected and shared ( Visit the COVID-19 North Carolina Dashboard for up-to-date data and information.)

New COVID-19 Testing Tools for Everyone to Use

There are several new digital tools available to help expand testing capacity, streamline contact tracing efforts, and provide guidance on how to protect yourself and your family. These tools include:

  • Check My Symptoms (www.ncdhhs.gov/symptoms),apublic website that allows you to enter your symptoms and determine if you should get tested for COVID-19. If its recommended for you to be tested, you’ll receive a link to a list of nearby testing sites via email or text. Note: The symptom checker is an informational tool; however it is not a physician order. Testing sites may require their own screening.  
  • Find My Testing Place (www.ncdhhs.gov/TestingPlace), a public website that allows people to input their county or ZIP code and access a list of nearby testing site locations online. 

Tracing COVID-19
The COVID-19 Community Team is made up of trained Local Health Department staff and Community team members who are serving as contact tracers across the state.

Team members reach out to people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or anyone who has been near someone with COVID-19, and get them the information and support they need. This support can include helping someone understand what it means to have been exposed to COVID-19, how to monitor their symptoms, when to get tested, if needed, and how to protect their loved ones. 
When the COVID-19 Community Team reaches out, it is important that people answer the call. Individuals being contacted would get an initial text from the number 45394 or email from NC-ARIAS-NoReply@dhhs.nc.gov with follow-up phone calls from NC OUTREACH (844-628-7223) or the Local Health Department. The Community Team represents North Carolinians across the state and will be available to provide support and information in multiple languages. 

Tracking: Still Keeping you Safe – “Safer at Home”
Based on 14-day trends, phase 2 of North Carolina’s three-phase approach moved our state from stay at home to safer at home restrictions. Effective May 22 nd , phase 2 measures opened up many businesses, although with strict guidelines to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19. Those who are considered high risk per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) definition–adults age 65 and older as well as people of any age with underlying conditions—are encouraged to stay at home. Rigorous restrictions on congregant care facilities and nursing homes remain. Phase 2:

  • Raises the number of people allowed at gatherings to a 10-person limit indoors; 25-person limit outdoors
  • Enables the limited opening of businesses including restaurants, retail, barbers, salons and personal-care businesses with detailed guidelines for each
  • Permits gatherings at houses of worship and entertainment venues at reduced capacity
  • Keeps pools, gyms, fitness studios, bars, theaters, indoor music venues, bowling alleys, skating rinks closed, based on the data that these places do not provide for sufficient health safety procedures.

Bar and gym owners have filed lawsuits against this ban on reopening their businesses. And last Friday, the Governor implied that, depending on trends, there could be a “Phase 2.5,” signaling the possibility of a cautious reopening of these establishments. While I am very supportive of these businesses, I did vote against HB 536, Temp Outdoor Restaurants for Outdoor Seating , which Governor Cooper vetoed on Friday, as it would have removed the Governor’s authority and the authorities of local municipalities to respond and restrict them, should COVID-19 resurgent trends necessitate such a move.

We are hearing about the possibility of additional bills that appear controversial. We will share more about them in our next newsletter as they move through the legislative process.

Additional information:

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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