March 30, 2021

Friends,
To continue to connect you with my work as your Representative, I am sending this quick update on a few important matters. The session has ramped up quickly, with many bills being heard and voted on, and the important work on the budget beginning.

I am working on preparing important bills to be filed, meeting with various advocacy groups and constituents, studying and voting on bills, and considering the hundreds of emails that come in every day. I appreciate hearing about issues of concern for you, so I hope you'll continue to reach out.

Access to COVID-19 Vaccine Accelerates
Last week, Governor Cooper and DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen announced an accelerated timeline for moving to Groups 4 and 5 for vaccine eligibility.

  • Beginning on March 31, the rest of Group 4 will be eligible. 
  • All North Carolinian adults 16 and older will be eligible to be vaccinated beginning on April 7.

For a complete list of who is included in Group 4, please visit Deeper Dive.

As of last night, 27.5% of the population has been partially vaccinated and 16.9% of the population has been fully vaccinated. Daily updates are provided on the vaccine dashboard.

Sign up for a vaccine at the Wake County Health Department website.
Executive Order 204 – Additional Easing of Restrictions
Citing improving metrics and more people getting vaccinated, Governor Cooper also announced last week that the state would continue to ease some COVID-19 restrictions, including an increase to mass gathering limits and a full lifting of restrictions on late-night alcohol sales and service. Executive Order No. 204 took effect last Friday; however, the state’s general mask mandate remains in effect. All businesses must continue to maintain the 6 feet of distance requirement between patrons and implement other safety protocols as they expand their capacity.

  • Indoors and Outdoors up to 100% Capacity: museums, aquariums, retail businesses, salons, personal care and grooming businesses, tattoo parlors
  • Indoors up to 75% and Outdoors up to 100% Capacity: restaurants, breweries, wineries, distilleries, recreation (e.g., bowling, skating, rock climbing), fitness and physical activity facilities (e.g., gyms, yoga studios, fitness centers), pools, amusement parks
  • Indoors and Outdoors up to 50% Capacity: lounges (including tobacco), night clubs, auditoriums, arenas, and other venues for live performances, sports arenas and fields (professional, collegiate, and amateur), meeting, reception, and conference spaces, movie theaters, gaming facilities

For additional details, read Frequently Asked Questions and Executive Order No. 204.
Governor Cooper Releases Recommended Budget
The biennial budget process started last week with the Governor’s Recommended Budget. While the legislature is not required to incorporate the Governor’s recommendations in the 2021-22 biennial budget, I do hope that our budget writers will give careful consideration to them. The entire Recommended Budget is over 250 pages and I’m sharing some highlights below.

The legislative budget process begins in the Senate this year, and we understand that the Senate budget writers are well into framing its priorities. After the Senate passes the budget, it will come to the House for our consideration. After negotiations between the two chambers, and approval by both, it goes to Governor Cooper for his signature. I’m sure you share my hope that our NCGA Leadership and the Governor will work together to find common ground and finalize a sound budget that moves our state forward!
Some Highlights from the Governor’s Recommended Budget

Investing in Our Schools and Teachers

The Governor’s budget would provide K-12 teacher raises of 10% on average over the biennium and ensure that all non-certified school personnel receive a minimum of $15 an hour, on par with other state employees. In addition to pay raises, teachers, principals and all public school employees would receive a $2,000 bonus before June 30 and a $1,000 bonus in the next two fiscal years, a total of $4,000. These employees were left out of previous bonuses provided to other state employees.

The budget also invests more than $78 million in early education and child development so that more children can attend Pre-K, receive high-quality care, and access early intervention services. Additionally, the plan provides $80 million to help school districts hire more nurses, counselors, psychologists, and social workers to support student physical and mental health. Read more about the Governor’s plan for stronger schools.
Increasing Access to Quality Healthcare

Gov. Cooper’s budget provides access to health care for more than 600,000 working North Carolinians, keeps rural hospitals open and strong, reduces the number of uninsured veterans, helps fight the opioid epidemic, and injects over $5 billion in direct investment into the state by expanding Medicaid. No taxes would be increased to achieve this major expansion of health care access, and the American Rescue Plan provides an additional $1.7 billion in federal funds to support Medicaid expansion without the state covering any cost share for up to six years. Read more about the Governor’s plan for health and human services.

Link to other Recommended Budget highlights HERE.
Key Bills I’ve Filed…With More to Follow!
I believe that top priorities for House District 49 and the entire state are strong public education (including early childhood) and access to affordable healthcare. To that end, I recently filed the following bills to address critical needs. I will be filing several other bills this week and more in weeks to come to build the teacher pipeline, address the shortage of school psychologists, ensure fair elections, and other serious needs. In coming newsletters, I’ll continue to share information with you.

HB 347 - Healthy Students - Nurses in Every School. For years, there has been a very critical shortage of school nurses in North Carolina’s public schools, with student-to-nurse ratios far below nationally recommended standards. This bill would ensure that every public school in North Carolina has a nurse. This is particularly important now with the impacts of COVID-19 on our students and school personnel.

HB 365 - Funds for the Expansion of NC Pre-K. Again this year, I joined Rep. Cecil Brockman in sponsoring a bill to help ensure children are fully prepared to succeed both academically and socially as they begin kindergarten. This important bill would fund slots needed for any child in this State seeking to participate in the NC Pre-K program.

HB 371 - NC Teacher Support Program Funds. Teacher effectiveness is the most important factor in delivering positive student outcomes. It is critical that we nurture and retain our newest teachers—especially as half leave the profession after 5 years, at a personnel cost of $12,500 per teacher. This bipartisan bill would fund teacher participation in the highly-effective North Carolina New Teacher Support Program.

Some Important Bills I've Co-Sponsored
HB 261 - Raise Min. Age/Juvenile Jurisdiction - would raise the minimum age from 6 years old to 10 years old for children appearing in our juvenile courts and has bipartisan support. Children under age 10 lack the capacity to formulate criminal intent, nor are they able to understand criminal proceedings.

HB 262 - Smart Start Funds - Would provide additional funds to Smart Start local partnerships to extend the reach of critical child care–related, family support, and health-related activities, as well as offer child care subsidies to more families in need.

HB 269 - Give State Retirees 2% COLA/Funds - would provide a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for teachers and state employees who retired on or before July 1, 2020. Retirees have not had a meaningful COLA since before the 2009 recession.

HB 354 - Hate Crimes Prevention Act - would expand the categories under which a crime will be elevated to a higher level offense as a hate crime to include crimes committed because of the victim’s ethnicity, gender, gender identity, gender expression, disability, or sexual orientation.

HB 420 - K-3 Reading and Literacy Improvement Act - would fund a full-time teacher assistant in every K - 2 classroom and a full-time teacher assistant for every three grade 3 classrooms. Funding for much-needed teacher assistants has declined since 2008.

HB 426 - Independent Redistricting Process - would amend the NC Constitution to provide for an independent redistricting process and to establish the NC Citizens Redistricting Commission. Similar to legislation I co-sponsored in the last legislative session, this bill would shift responsibility for revising electoral districts for the U.S. Congress or the NC General Assembly from our legislature to an independent body.
I am grateful for the opportunity to serve and work on issues affecting you and our state.

Wishing you and your family good health and happiness,
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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