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Insider for December 3, 2021

YOU DON’T SAY

“The legislature ironically named this bill ‘The Election Day Integrity Act’ when it actually does the opposite.”

Gov. Roy Cooper, on his decision to veto an elections bill. (THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 12/02/21)



Island Ferry

Travis Fain, WRAL NEWS, 12/02/21

The Local Government Commission is tied up in a long running dispute over a ferry. State Auditor Beth Wood has blasted a pair of appraisals that are key to a state effort to buy the ferry run by the Bald Head Island Transportation System. The appraisals, which influence the sale price, relied on estimates from the seller and don’t provide enough evidence to support the estimated value, Wood says. She’s concerned that the Local Government Commission will blindly approve the sale of $56 million in bonds to finance the deal.

At the same time, the state authority that was created to buy this ferry system, which runs from Southport to the Brunswick County island, is facing competition from a new bidder: the Village of Bald Head Island. So far, the family that owns the boats – heirs of a Texas billionaire – wants no part of the second deal. Meanwhile, at least one state official is suggesting that Gov. Roy Cooper tinkered with the makeup of the Local Government Commission in an effort to sway the sale—a claim Cooper denies.

“This is a mess,” said Susan Rabon, chairwoman of the Bald Head Island Transportation Authority. “We’ve been on hold since January of last year.” The authority hoped the Local Government Commission would resolve the matter next week, approving its bond sale at a Tuesday meeting. But on Thursday, state Treasurer Dale Folwell, who chairs the commission, said that a vote won’t be on the agenda, putting the matter on hold in favor of a side-by-side comparison of the two bids. “The LGC has a responsibility to ‘measure twice, and cut once,’ and it is not intended to function as a ‘rubber stamp,’” Folwell said in a statement announcing his decision.

Wood, a member of the LGC, has been adamantly against moving forward without more due diligence, saying to do so would violate state law. She sent Folwell a letter last month demanding a delay and insisting the issue be taken off the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting. “Until the applications to sell bonds to purchase the assets of Bald Head Island Transportation System is supported by a valuation/appraisal that accurately and reliably sets the value of the assets, no application should be allowed on the Commission agenda at any time,” she wrote in the letter. Wood said “extreme pressure” was placed on Folwell to put the applications on the next agenda. She also says the topic should be delayed because three new commissioners on the LGC will not have had enough time to educate themselves on the issue before making an informed vote.

As the issue has simmered, the normal terms expired for three appointees to the Local Government Commission. They expired June 30, but Cooper let them stay on until last month, days after the village approved its bonding plan. Folwell said in his statement Thursday that Cooper replaced the appointees less than 48 hours after the voters of the Village approved bonds to purchase the system. He acknowledged that it was Cooper’s right, but said the decision “caused the loss of years of combined institutional knowledge on this transaction.”

Folwell said in an earlier interview that he doesn’t know why the governor made changes when he did. But he is suspicious, saying he believes the governor prefers the authority deal. “I think that this move … after the voters overwhelmingly approved this transaction, is the evidence that we need,” Folwell said. “That’s where my hardened instincts are.” Cooper’s office said the decision wasn’t related to Bald Head Island, but that the governor “is concerned about the constant drama” at the LGC and the process for putting things on, or leaving them off, the commission’s agenda, which affects the speed of projects.

Cooper’s decision removed former Concord Mayor Scott Padgett, Currituck Chamber of Commerce President Josh Bass and Edgecombe County Commissioner Viola Harris from the LGC. Bass and Harris told WRAL they didn’t know why they were removed. “Suddenly we all got a call on the same day letting us know we were being replaced and that was the end of it,” Harris said. Padgett said he didn’t think the move had anything to do with the ferry deal, but was “just the normal course of giving somebody else a chance to serve.”

“It’s certainly not over Bald Head,” Padgett said. “I see no ulterior motives at all.”

Nearly three weeks after telling the appointees their time was done, Cooper announced their replacements: Former Wake County Commissioner John Burns, Novant Health executive Vida Harvey and Greensboro City Council Member Nancy Hoffman. Burns said the governor’s office didn’t bring up Bald Head Island in the appointment process, other than noting the appointments had been delayed in hopes the issue would be settled by now. “Nobody asked me my position on any of it, and nobody tried to sway me,” Burns said.

Wood, who like Cooper is a Democrat, said she couldn’t speculate why the governor changed appointees. But she and Folwell, a Republican, said it will take the new members time to get up to speed on the Bald Head Island deal, which is one of the more complicated and contentious issues to come before the commission. [Source]



Election Bill

Will Doran, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 12/02/21

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a Republican-backed bill Thursday that would force elections officials not to count any mail-in ballots that arrive after polls close. “The legislature ironically named this bill ‘The Election Day Integrity Act’ when it actually does the opposite,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “Election integrity means counting every legal vote, but this bill virtually guarantees that some will go uncounted.” North Carolina currently has a three-day grace period for absentee ballots. Nobody can vote after the election is over, but as long as their ballot is in the mail by Election Day or earlier, the state will keep accepting and counting them for three days after the election. That’s meant to account for the slow pace of the U.S. Postal Service.

“I’ve never had an issue I’ve been confronted with more than mail-in ballots,” longtime Republican Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin, said during a debate on this bill earlier in the year. “It was continuous. People asking and wondering because of various reports that they had heard.”

The bill lawmakers passed in November, which Cooper has now vetoed, is Senate Bill 326 or the Election Day Integrity Act. It would require that no mail-in ballot delivered to elections leaders after 7:30 p.m. on Election Day can be counted, no matter when it was put in the mail. Opponents said that would lead to thousands of legitimate votes being thrown in the trash. Republicans dismissed that concern and said the change is needed to improve confidence in elections.

Shortly after the legislature passed the bill, The News & Observer reported, dozens of GOP state legislators from around the country — including 16 from North Carolina — signed a letter that suggested the possibility of overturning the 2020 election results, removing Democratic President Joe Biden from office and reinstating Trump as leader. There is no evidence of any scheme to rig the election with mail-in ballots or any other method, according to even Trump administration officials like former Attorney General William Barr. Numerous courts have also ruled that Trump had no proof for his claims, although Trump and his allies have continued to push the false claims of fraud. [Source]



Judicial Retirement

Gary D. Robertson, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 12/02/21

North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson announced on Wednesday that she won’t seek reelection next year, citing mandatory age limits that would significantly curtail her service if she won. State law requires North Carolina judges and justices to retire at the end of the month in which they turn 72. Hudson turns 70 in February. Supreme Court terms last eight years.

“It doesn’t make sense to spend more than a year running in order to serve only 13 months of a new term,” Hudson said in a news release. “It also wouldn’t be fair to my family, my colleagues and supporters to raise money and campaign under these circumstances. I would much prefer to spend my time devoted to the work of the court, without the distraction that a re-election effort requires.”

Hudson, a registered Democrat, is currently the senior associate justice, with her length of service on the state’s highest court second only to that of Chief Justice Paul Newby, a Republican. She served on the intermediate Court of Appeals for six years before her 2006 election to the Supreme Court. She is among only a handful of women who have ever served there.

Her decision was announced days before candidate filing begins. Two of the court’s seven seats will be up for election next year. Associate Justice Sam Ervin IV, a registered Democrat, said earlier this year he would seek reelection. Supreme Court elections are officially partisan. Democrats currently hold a 4-3 seat advantage.

Court of Appeals Judge Lucy Inman, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for Supreme Court in 2020, confirmed on Wednesday her plans to run for Hudson’s seat. Inman, who described Hudson as a mentor, said she had already been preparing for a run but would have reassessed her plan had Hudson agreed to seek reelection instead.

Two other current Court of Appeals members — Judges Richard Dietz and April Wood — already said publicly this year that they would run for the Supreme Court next year. Wood and Dietz are registered Republicans. [Source]



Redistricting Cases

Brian Murphy, THE INSIDER, 12/03/21

A three-judge panel will hear two challenges to North Carolina’s newly drawn electoral maps Friday morning, just days before the state’s candidate filing period is scheduled to begin. Both cases, brought by Democratic groups and voters, seek to delay Monday’s opening of the filing period and, potentially, the March 8, 2022 primary while forcing lawmakers to redraw the maps, which plaintiffs contend are an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

The three judges in the case, as appointed by Chief Justice Paul Newby, a Republican, are: A. Graham Shirley, Nathaniel J. Poovey and Dawn M. Layton. Shirley and Poovey are Republicans and Layton is a Democrat. Last week, Shirley dismissed a case challenging the process used by lawmakers in drawing the maps, though he did not weigh in on the maps themselves.

“Nothing I have said, nor should this order be construed as any opinion of the court on the constitutionality or validity of the maps that have been passed,” he said. “This is a very narrow issue.”

The maps passed last month on partyline votes and do not require a signature by the governor.



Film Funds

Korie Dean, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 12/02/21

North Carolina has a strong history with the film and TV industries. That’s largely due to the state’s history of offering financial incentives to productions, including through the N.C. Film and Entertainment Grant — a program run by the state film office, part of the N.C. Department of Commerce. The program was created in 2014 with a $10 million allocation from the General Assembly. Since then, the program has experienced several changes, including moves in 2017 to increase the program’s funds and make them recurring, and to avoid a sunset, or expiration, date of July 2020 for the program.

Now, the grant program is changing again as the new state budget, which Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law last month, adjusts the financial qualifications TV and film projects must meet in order to receive financial incentives from the state.

Guy Gaster, director of the state film office, said it will take at least a year to see the full picture of how the changes have impacted the state’s film industry, but he thinks it could expand the pool of productions that consider North Carolina for filming. “By lowering those minimum spend requirements, it does potentially make the program more accessible to additional projects that before would have been excluded, that maybe did not have the budgets that were required previously,” Gaster said. Gaster said the changes could help his office recruit more productions to the state and stay competitive in the film industry, compared to neighboring states and other regions of the country. [Source]

POLICY COVERAGE IN NORTH CAROLINA SUPPORTED BY

North Carolina shifted to Medicaid Managed Care because our state’s leaders know that people’s health needs don’t start or stop at a doctor’s office. A range of social factors, including nutrition, personal safety, and access to reliable transportation, can affect people’s long-term health. The Managed Care system prioritizes comprehensive services that address both beneficiaries’ clinical and social needs, focusing on whole-person health and well-being, rather than clinical care alone.



The North Carolina for Better Medicaid Coalition (NCBM) supports that transition by facilitating collaboration, communications, and the dissemination of research for our state’s decision-makers and the people working directly with beneficiaries. If you want to learn more or join NCBM in supporting a better Medicaid system, visit NorthCarolinaForBetterMedicaid.org.



Energy Bills

Colin Campbell, BUSINESS NC, 12/02/21

Duke Energy customers will see slightly higher bills starting this month as the utility pays off debts from costly hurricane and other storm damage from 2018 and 2019. But the bill increase will be smaller than it could have been, because Duke is for the first time using a new financing tool approved by the state legislature in 2019. Duke announced Thursday that its North Carolina customers will save $300 million from what would have been a $1.6 billion total cost to pay for damage to the power grid from hurricanes Florence, Michael and Dorian and Winter Storm Diego.

The savings is due to a “storm securitization” process approved by lawmakers with bipartisan support through Senate Bill 559, which Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law in November 2019. Previously, electric utilities had to pay off storm repairs using the traditional rate increase process, which requires approval from the N.C. Utilities Commission.

SB 559 lets utilities instead create a new line item on power bills for a “storm recovery charge.” With approval from the Utilities Commission to issue bonds and add the new surcharge, Duke is able to finance the bonds at a lower interest rate because the creditors have the assurance that the surcharge will generate enough revenue to pay off the bond.

The storms in 2018 and 2019 cost Duke about $1 billion in repairs, and the company has now arranged to cover that through bonds that will cost $1.3 billion over 20 years. The previous approach to financing storm repairs would have meant $1.6 billion in principal and interest payments. Duke says it also saved more by using 20-year bonds instead of 15-year bonds.

Duke Energy Progress (the eastern half of the state) will charge typical residential customers who use 1,000 kilowatt hours per month about $2.44 per month. Duke Energy Carolinas (the western half, including the Triad and Charlotte, which saw less hurricane damage) will charge typical residential customers who use 1,000 kilowatt hours per month about 49 cents per month. The amounts could change slightly up to twice a year under the terms of the legislation, allowing Duke to match the revenue from the surcharge to its debt payments. [Source]



Buncombe Broadband

Andrew Jones, ASHEVILLE CITIZEN-TIMES, 12/02/21

Buncombe County Commissioner Terri Wells, a Sandy Mush resident, said she’s been advocating broadband expansion for 10 years. “We’ve been doing this groundwork and we know where the needs are,” she said. “And we’re just tired of waiting.” Sandy Mush, a community in northwest Buncombe County, has a population of about 1,600, according to 2020 U.S. census data. Until recently, however, it barely had any internet.

That’s changing now. After Buncombe leaders hounded broadband expansion in 2021, the new budget, inked by Gov. Roy Cooper on Nov. 18, will give them even more broadband spending power. Just weeks ago, Wells received broadband connections at her home for the first time as part of a French Broad Electric effort to bring fiber internet to Madison County and some of rural Buncombe.

“The budget accomplishes two major things for us,” Buncombe Economic Development Director Tim Love said. “One is it allocates funding toward broadband expansion through a variety of state programs.” He estimated broadband programming money headed to Buncombe could range from $2 million to $8 million, but that’s unclear and subject to further discussion in the coming months. The second major thing that the budget gives Buncombe is the ability to use federal COVID-19 money granted to local governments for broadband expansion. “Something more subtle but equally important is, the way the language in the budget is written, is that it gives local governments the ability to utilize American Rescue Plan Act dollars,” Love said.

So far, Buncombe received about half of the ARPA money it has coming, a total of about $51 million. Nearly $4.5 million of that currently is earmarked for broadband expansion, according to a Buncombe government webpage called “COVID Recovery Funding,” which chronicles its ARPA journey and asks for public input on how to spend the money. [Source]



Harris Visit

Will Wright, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/02/21

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Charlotte on Thursday to promote a newly-approved infrastructure spending plan — a key piece of legislation for President Joe Biden’s administration and one that will bring billions to North Carolina. Her visit also aimed to drum up support for the administration’s next big priority: its $1.85 billion social policy bill. That would focus on reducing the cost of healthcare, child care and address climate change, among other things. The infrastructure bill, she said, was “Part 1 of 2,” with the Build Back Better social bill being the latter.

Build Back Better faces a tough road in the Senate, though, which is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, where Harris can cast a tie-breaking vote. While the infrastructure package received some bipartisan support, the social spending bill appears to face tougher opposition. It passed the House last month. “This is our focus with Build Back Better,” Harris said in an interview with the Charlotte Observer: “Working people right now are finding it very difficult to get through their day given all the burdens that they carry... Let’s make it more affordable.”

Harris celebrated the passage of the infrastructure bill while speaking at Charlotte Area Transit System’s garage and electric vehicle hub in South End, and spoke briefly with the Observer afterward. “People rely on public transit for all kinds of reasons — to get groceries, to get to school on time, to get to work on time, to get to church on time,” she said. “A bus stop within walking distance can make all the difference, versus a bus stop you have to walk for half an hour to get to.”

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg also spoke during the event, saying the bill will help fund more climate-friendly public transportation systems in Charlotte that can connect communities with limited access to good-paying jobs.

Several Charlotte City Council members, Mecklenburg County commissioners and other politicians attended the event, including Mayor Vi Lyles, Gov. Roy Cooper and U.S. Rep. Alma Adams. Cooper praised Biden’s administration for knowing “how to work in a bipartisan way.”

“At the beginning of the last administration, in 2017, we were told (infrastructure) was coming. It never did — until now,” Cooper said. [Source]



Federal Shutdown

Kevin Freking and Lisa Mascaro, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 12/02/21

The U.S. Senate passed a stopgap spending bill Thursday that avoids a short-term shutdown and funds the federal government through Feb. 18 after leaders defused a partisan standoff over federal vaccine mandates. The measure now goes to President Joe Biden to be signed into law. Earlier in the day, congressional leaders announced they had finally reached an agreement to keep the government running for 11 more weeks, generally at current spending levels, while adding $7 billion to aid Afghanistan evacuees.

Once the House voted to approve the measure, senators soon announced an agreement that would allow them to vote on it quickly. “I am glad that in the end, cooler heads prevailed. The government will stay open and I thank the members of this chamber for walking us back from the brink of an avoidable, needless and costly shutdown,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 69-28.

The Democratic-led House passed the measure by a 221-212 vote. The Republican leadership urged members to vote no; the lone GOP vote for the bill came from Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger. [Source]



School Libraries

T. Keung Hui, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 12/02/21

Some parents and community activists want criminal charges to be filed against North Carolina’s largest school system for distributing books to students that contain graphic language and images about sex. Eight criminal complaints were filed Tuesday with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office accusing the school system of distributing obscene and pornographic material.

Some of the books targeted include “Gender Queer,” “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” “George” and “Lawn Boy.” Those books previously have come under fire in North Carolina and nationally for sexual content. The complainants say the language and images in various books depict oral sex and other sexual acts that go beyond what should be acceptable in Wake County school libraries.

Any decision on whether to file criminal charges will be up to Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman. “We have begun an investigation into these complaints and we’re awaiting further evidence gathering before we can proceed to the next step,” Eric Curry, a spokesman for the Wake County Sheriff’s Office, said in an interview. Lisa Luten, a Wake County school spokeswoman, said the district is declining comment on the criminal complaints until it gets more information. She said that the district is following its policies for handling the grievance.

Parents have shown up at school board meetings across the nation, including in Wake County, to object to books they consider to be inappropriate. “We’re seeing what seems to be a loosely organized effort through social media seeking to control what’s available in school libraries and school curricula and to remove books, particularity those reflecting LGBTQA themes and the lives of LGBTQA people,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the American Library Association’s director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, said in an interview. For instance, the Proud Boys, a far-right group, joined efforts to get “Gender Queer” removed from a suburban Chicago school district. The book is an autobiography about how Maia Kobabe dealt with being nonbinary while growing up. “These works in no way meet the legal test for obscenity for minors,” Caldwell-Stone said. [Source]



Overdose Deaths

Clarissa Donnelly-DeRoven, NC HEALTH NEWS, 12/03/21

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs use medications, such as suboxone, methadone and buprenorphine, to help the brain find a new equilibrium after its chemistry has been altered by habitual drug use. These drugs act on the same brain structures that opioids do, but they have different effects. Methadone, for example, stays in the body much longer than heroin or oxycodone, reducing cravings, without altering consciousness the way oxycodone does.

Between April 2020 and April 2021, a year soaked in pandemic-related malaise, 3,332 North Carolinians died of drug overdoses, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number is nearly 40 percent higher than the 2,422 people reported to have died from overdoses in 2020. It’s also higher than the overall nationwide increase of 27 percent, and higher than the rate increases of overdose deaths in more than 30 other states. North Carolina’s state data shows slightly different numbers: the state reports 3,278 overdose deaths from January through October 2021, compared to 2,576 between the same period in 2020, a rise of 27 percent.

Regardless of which numbers are used, the rise has been steep. On the list of reasons why, those who work in the field say there are many causes. One big reason: newer restrictions on prescription opioids meant prescribers started pulling back. “That’s when the heroin moved in, and that just raised the stakes considerably,” said Jana Burson, an addiction medicine doctor in North Wilkesboro. Beyond heroin, much - if not most - of the illicit drug supply is now tainted by fentanyl. There have been long-standing cuts to mental health services in the state, and COVID-19 has wrought havoc on nearly everyone’s well-being. The federal government’s historic approach to MAT is largely to blame for the treatment’s limited uptake, providers say.

Carter said some North Carolina clinics erect high barriers that limit people’s access to MAT. Many programs, she said, which receive state funding through the state’s regional mental health management organizations (known as LME/MCOs), will discharge patients for things such as missing appointments and group therapy sessions, or continuing to use certain drugs. A reason for these strict rules, Carter said, are state Medicaid guidelines, which were updated in 2021. The N.C. guidelines, for example, require monthly counseling, which contradicts standards and guidelines set out by the American Society of Addiction Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences. “I think one reason why providers across the state may be confused about transitioning to low-barrier care, or conflicted about it, is because they’re looking at the state Medicaid guidelines and saying, ‘Well, this is what the state is recommending for me to do,’” she said. [Source]



PTI Project

Richard Craver, WINSTON-SALEM JOURNAL, 12/02/21

The identity of the airplane manufacturer considering a major facility at Piedmont Triad International Airport could be made public as early as Monday. House Bill 334 would appropriate $106.75 million in state Job Development Investment Grant funds for fiscal 2021-22 to “a high-yield project for an airplane manufacturer” at PTI. The N.C. Commerce Department’s Economic Investment committee is required to approve all Job Development Investment Grant appropriations.

The committee is scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. Monday and 10 a.m. Wednesday to “consider one or more economic development proposals.” Committee meetings typically are timed to coincide with local government economic-development efforts. According to Commerce, a high-yield project requires a company to pledge to create at least 1,750 jobs and spend at least $500 million on capital investments.

The project has been identified as “Project Thunderbird” by Reps. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, and Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford. PTI has a nearly 1,000-acre aerospace site available, one of four megasites being marketed by Piedmont Triad Partnership and Carolina Core. Combined, the sites come to 7,200 acres along the U.S. 421 corridor to Fayetteville.

JDIG funding typically is used for projects that have out-of-state competition, either an out-of-state company considering multiple states or a company with an in-state presence considering taking production or moving out of North Carolina. [Source]



Wildfires

WINSTON-SALEM JOURNAL and ASHEVILLE CITIZEN-TIMES, 12/02/21

A wildfire that started Saturday at Pilot Mountain State Park and spread across more than 1,000 acres was 80% contained as of Thursday morning, according to the N.C. Forest Service. That’s up from 50% late Wednesday. The update came during a visit from N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler to the fire response command center set up in a former funeral home in the town of Pilot Mountain, with the peak’s distinctive knob clearly visible to the south. He also noted that a fire in Stokes County at Sauratown Mountain, which burned Nov. 9-14 and reignited this week, was 100% contained. Fire service personnel will continue to monitor the site. The park remains closed, and will remain so until there is no risk of the fire restarting, an N.C. Parks Service spokeswoman said.

The Associated Press reported that the fire was started by and escaped campfire in an undesignated area.

The 300-acre Pogue Mountain Fire near Marion is nearly halfway contained, according to the North Carolina Forest Service, where so far no structures have burned and no injuries have been reported. The fire, also called the Huntsville Mountain Fire, started the night of Nov. 30, though the cause is still under investigation, said Forest Service fire information officer Jeremy Waldrop. Roughly 50 firefighters from the state Forest Service and North Carolina State Parks are working the fire, alongside local fire departments lending personnel and equipment to protect 10 structures that have been threatened, he said. [Source 1] [Source 2]



Winter Wave

Michael Hyland, WNCN NEWS, 12/01/21

An epidemiologist at UNC-Chapel Hill told state lawmakers Wednesday that North Carolina needs to prepare for the potential of a “significant winter wave” of COVID-19 cases but also said he does not believe it’s “the most likely scenario.” Dr. Justin Lessler testified before a legislative committee just before officials announced the first case of COVID-19 tied to the omicron variant had been detected in the United States. “It’s gonna be a little bit before we are likely to see the impact of omicron here,” he said. “When we saw delta, delta was around in detectable numbers for months before we saw those summer delta surges.” He said scientists are still working to learn more about the new variant, including how transmissible it is and how well vaccines and treatments perform.

During a four-hour meeting Wednesday, state lawmakers asked Lessler about the long-term fight against COVID-19. “Can COVID-19 really be defeated?” asked Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga. Lessler said he thinks the goals should be to increase immunity in the broader population and get to the point that when cases surge we no longer see a corresponding surge in hospitalizations and deaths with impacts on the ability of hospitals to adequately care for COVID-19 patients and those dealing with other ailments. “That’s when I start saying we’ve left the pandemic period,” he said.

John Connaughton, an economist at UNC-Charlotte, spoke about the state’s economic recovery as unemployment has dropped since the initial stay-at-home orders. He said the emergence of the new variant could impact the trajectory of that recovery, but there are far too many things unknown about the variant to be able to predict that. “I think it’s way too early to make those leaps as to how things are going to affect the economy when we don’t know how severe that disease is going to be. But, what we did see in those (previous) spikes was a slight downturn in the economy,” he said. [Source]



Cumberland Budget

Kristen Johnson, THE FAYETTEVILLE OBSERVER, 12/02/21

Cumberland County is set to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in the newly passed state budget, lawmakers say. The county will get $412 million in local funding meant to improve the area in higher education, pay wages, healthcare, the environment, veteran’s affairs, and capital investment projects, according to six members of the North Carolina General Assembly who represent the county. The two state senators and four state representatives held a press conference Wednesday at Fayetteville State University to discuss the details of the money and their collaborative effort to help Cumberland County.

In the local delegation of state lawmakers are two Republicans, Reps. John Szoka and Diane Wheatley, and four Democrats, Reps. Marvin Lucas and Billy Richardson, and Sens. Ben Clark and Kirk deViere. “We know that we’ve accomplished something that can really transform and help Cumberland County become what all of us dream,” Richardson said. “We got close to half a million dollars of new money over above what we normally get in the budget in recurring dollars.”

Locally, delegates say the county-wide impact of more than $400 million will touch people all over the county and will have lasting effects on the area’s economic growth. Most specifically, the lawmakers emphasized the importance of capital investments and the millions of dollars in higher education. They held the press conference at FSU since many see it as an economic anchor for the area. Fayetteville Technical Community College will also receive funding in the budget with advancements to their new regional fire training center and a new nursing center, according to Szoka.

Additionally, Szoka said he pushed to assist the area’s veterans. Under the new budget and with the passage of House Bill 83, a state income tax would no longer be collected on military retirement pay to veterans who served at least 20 years or were medically retired. [Source]



Forsyth Expungements

Michael Hewlett, WINSTON-SALEM JOURNAL, 12/02/21

About 30,000 people will get an early Christmas present this year — they will have their criminal records expunged for convictions of minor non-violent crimes they committed when they were 16 or 17, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill announced Thursday during a news conference. The problem, as O’Neill explained, was that these 30,000 people were treated as adults because that’s what the state law dictated at the time. But as of Dec. 1, 2019, with the Raise The Age law, anyone who is 16 and 17-year-old has their criminal case heard in juvenile court first. Any convictions in juvenile court are sealed.

That, however, created a problem — you have one group of people convicted before 2019 who can’t get past their criminal record and another group of people convicted after 2019 who have their criminal record sealed because it was in juvenile court, O’Neill said. A solution was found in a section of the Second Chance Act, which was passed in North Carolina last year and became effective on Dec. 1, 2020 — prosecutors could make a motion on behalf of defendants to have their criminal record expunged. “To get an expungement, most people are going to need a lawyer and that’s costly,” O’Neill said. “You can’t do it by yourself.”

But once O’Neill and others noticed that section in the Second Chance Act, they saw it as an opportunity to help people, he said. O’Neill enlisted the help of Denise Hines, Forsyth County’s Clerk of Court, and worked to identify people who might qualify for expungement under the state law. First, they looked at cases from 1975 to 1999 and identified 15,161 cases. Then, they looked at cases from 2000 to 2019 and identified 15,113. The grand total ended up being 30,274 cases.

In order to qualify, people had to be convicted of non-violent misdemeanors and low-level felonies such as shoplifting, public disturbance, larceny and drug charges. And they had to have been arrested for the crime when they were either 16 or 17 and before Dec. 1, 2019. Convictions of violent crime or any sex crime that required registration would be ineligible.

O’Neill said it took months of work to identify the 30,000 criminal cases eligible for expungement. And without Hines’ cooperation, this wouldn’t have happened. “This is falling in her lap and the laps of her people,” he said. Forsyth County’s district and superior court judges also participated, signing court orders paving the way for the expungements, he said. Those court orders were signed this week, according to O’Neill. [Source]



Capitol Rioters

Michael Kunzelman, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 12/02/21

Federal prosecutors said Thursday that a North Carolina woman deserves a prison sentence for bringing her 14-year-old child into the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot. Virginia Marie “Jenny” Spencer and her husband, Christopher, had the child “in tow” when they joined other rioters who overwhelmed a line of police officers, invaded House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office suite and demanded entry to the House chamber, prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo.

Prosecutors recommended three months in prison for Jenny Spencer, who pleaded guilty in September to parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building. The misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum of six months imprisonment. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is scheduled to sentence her on Jan. 7. Christopher Spencer has pleaded not guilty.

Jenny Spencer is a stay-at-home mother to her five children, according to prosecutors. She was arrested in Durham, North Carolina, in February. Lawyers for the Spencers did not immediately respond to emails or telephone calls seeking comment. [Source]



Watauga Split

Moss Brennan, THE WATAUGA DEMOCRAT, 12/02/21

Watauga County will have different representation after new congressional maps were passed by the North Carolina State House and Senate in early November. The new maps — which separate a portion of Watauga County into another district — are facing multiple lawsuits that allege the maps are unconstitutional and were drawn for political gain. Under the current maps passed by the General Assembly, portions of Watauga County will have different state house and state senate seats as well as a different U.S. House seat.

“In the North Carolina House map, two precincts are in a separate district than the other precincts,” Watauga County Director of Elections Matt Snyder said. “The Blue Ridge and Elk precincts are now part of the district that runs into Caldwell County, while the other 18 districts remain in Watauga County along with Ashe County and Allegheny counties to make up that North Carolina House District.”

Snyder said he and his staff will work hard to train everyone on issuing the proper ballot to the right person since it will be so different this year. “We just have to align all of our existing voters to the new jurisdictions,” Snyder said. [Source]



Atrium Deadline

Claire Donnelly, WFAE RADIO, 12/02/21

Atrium Health has offered “career transition services” to its workers who did not comply with Atrium’s COVID-19 vaccine policy, the Charlotte-based hospital system said Wednesday. Atrium spokesperson Dan Fogleman declined to say whether the employees had been fired. In an emailed statement, Atrium said that “more than 99.5%” of nearly 65,000 Atrium workers had complied with the hospital system’s requirement to either be fully vaccinated or obtain an approved medical or religious exemption by Nov. 30. That would leave roughly 325 workers out of compliance.

In October, Atrium pushed back its COVID-19 vaccine deadline for employees from Oct. 31 to Nov. 30. Four other North Carolina hospital systems also announced over the summer that they would require all of their employees to get vaccinated or obtain a medical or religious exemption. Atrium’s vaccine policy included physicians and nurses as well as remote workers, medical residents, faculty, fellows, trainees, contractors and volunteers. When it initially announced the policy, Atrium called vaccination “the single most effective tool we have to stop the spread of this virus and keep the patients in our care safe from COVID-19.” [Source]



Innovation District

Paul Garber, WFDD RADIO, 12/02/21

The recently approved state budget has funding for one of Appalachian State University’s long-range projects, the planned Innovation District. Budget writers included $54 million to transform the former Broyhill Inn and Conference Center. One of the plans is a Conservatory for Biodiversity Education and Research. It will include classrooms, a nature preserve, and gardens. University officials say it will allow visitors a chance to learn about the biodiversity of the Southern Appalachian region and expand teaching and research opportunities for students. Officials say the full project could take 10 years to complete. [Source]



Lexington Manufacturer

Richard Craver, WINSTON-SALEM JOURNAL, 12/02/21

Egger Wood Products said Thursday it is proceeding with the next expansion of its Lexington laminate-floor manufacturing plant, adding up to 40 jobs and spending $50 million to build a recycling center and add another production line. The Austrian company announced plans in July 2017 for its $700 million, 1-million-square-foot plant, which opened in September 2020. As of Thursday, Egger said its Lexington workforce is at 450 — 50 more than it projected would be created in a $300 million Phase 1 expected to take six years. Overall, it has pledged to have 770 employees at full production capacity in 2035.

Egger said the latest capital investment will be comprised of $30 million for the recycling center and $20 million for the planned third production line projected to be operational by the end of 2022. Egger’s customers include those in the furniture, wood distribution, building and do-it-yourself industries. [Source]



Ferry Power

Kip Tabb, COASTAL REVIEW ONLINE, 12/02/21

North Carolina’s ferry system has a fleet of 21 vehicle ferries, making it either tied with Washington as the largest state system in the country or the second largest and researchers are now looking at how to more sustainably power those vessels’ near-constant runs. “(Washington is) the largest state-operated ferries because of the amount of people they move. We actually have the same number of vessels,” said Catherine Peele, the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Ferry Division planning and development manager.

All of North Carolina’s ferries have one thing in common: Their engines are powered by diesel fuel. While that isn’t going to change right away, the Ferry Division and the Coastal Studies Institute on Roanoke Island have studies underway that may lead to changes in how the state ferries are powered. “The current administration and the IMO, the International Maritime Organization, are really focused on decarbonization of maritime transportation. Ferries, I think, are going to be a start in that direction,” George Bonner, director of Renewable Ocean Energy at the institute, recently told Coastal Review.

The electrification of ferry fleets has already begun. Not in the United States but internationally, especially in Europe. “There’s a lot going on in Europe with electric ferries,” Bonner said. For Bonner, electrifying ferries represents more than a way to recharge a battery using solar, wind, wave power or some yet-undiscovered source of alternative energy. The current research could pave the way for more reliable delivery of new energy sources. “I’m excited about it because it opens up an opportunity. Maybe marine energy could play a part in supporting the shoreside energy needs,” he said. [Source]



Kansas State President

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 12/02/21

A dean at North Carolina State University with extensive experience in agriculture and food sciences will be the next president of Kansas State University, the Kansas Board of Regents announced Thursday. The regents named Richard Linton to replace President Richard Myers, who plans to retire at the end of this year.

Linton has been dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University since 2012. He is also a member of the Food and Drug Administration Science Advisory Board and chairman of the Binational (Israel/U.S.) Agriculture Research and Development Fund. Before moving to North Carolina, Linton was chairman of Food Science and Technology at the Ohio State University and a faculty member in the food science department at Purdue University. [Source]



Bald Head Fire

Jamey Cross, WILMINGTON STAR-NEWS, 12/02/21

A large fire on Bald Head Island last month that destroyed several homes warranted a coordinated response from several area agencies, and officials said they learned some key steps to take to improve emergency response to the island. Alan May, public safety director for the village, said while communication and mutual aid response were strong, the event prompted the public safety department and the island’s ferry system to work to assess what supports should be in place, such as lighting and plans for island evacuation, to better respond in emergency situations.

May said officials utilized a coordinated mutual aid plan – a plan he created in consultation with the Brunswick County fire administrator and the fire chiefs from the surrounding fire departments after he assumed the role just over a year ago. The plan outlines how to get additional help to the island during crisis without completely stripping the county’s other localities of their fire protection. Paul added the impending sale of the island’s ferry system did not impact its ability to provide service in last month’s emergency situation, and does not impact the day-to-day operations of the system. [Source]



Local Commission

Reggie Ponder, THE (Elizabeth City) DAILY ADVANCE, 12/01/21

Pasquotank County and Elizabeth City officials agreed this week to consider transforming the city-county Community Relations Commission into a Human Relations Commission that would be affiliated with a state office. The prospect of forming a Human Relations Commission was a topic of discussion at the city-county joint meeting Monday night. City and county officials heard a presentation by Gene Troy, program manager of the N.C. Human Relations Commission.

Troy noted that the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Community Relations Commission’s bylaws are similar to those of human relations commissions, or HRCs, across the state. HRCs can advise local officials on human relations issues, sponsor training opportunities and public forums on those issues, and recognize individuals and groups working to improve human relations. Troy noted that HRCs also typically work on housing discrimination and help track hate crimes and bias. But the main difference between something like the local Community Relations Commission and an HRC is the latter are affiliated with the N.C. Human Relations Commission, Troy said. He said there are two main types of HRCs, volunteer and staffed. Currently, there are 25 local HRCs in North Carolina, 16 of which are staffed by volunteers and nine that have paid staff and function as departments of the local city or county government, according to Troy.

City and county officials appeared to respond positively to the idea of establishing a local Human Relations Commission. Councilman Johnnie Walton, council’s mayor pro tem, was especially enthusiastic about his support. “If it is a concern for us we can make it happen,” Walton said. “The moral thing to do would be to create it.” [Source]



Legislative Data

House Bills Filed

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Senate Bills Filed

Thursday, December 2, 2021

What Happened in the House

Thursday, December 2, 2021

  • No House happenings

What Happened in the Senate

Thursday, December 2, 2021

  • Vetoed 12/02/2021
    • SB 326 (Daniel) ELECTION DAY INTEGRITY ACT

What Happened in House Committees

Thursday, December 2, 2021

  • No House Committee happenings

What Happened in Senate Committees

Thursday, December 2, 2021

  • No Senate Committee happenings

House Calendar

Monday, December 6, 2021

House Convenes at 3:00 p.m.

Senate Calendar

Monday, December 6, 2021

Senate Convenes at 3:30 p.m.

House Committee Meetings

Senate Committee Meetings



N.C. Government Meetings and Hearings

Items in RED are new listings.

Monday, Dec. 6

  • 9 a.m. | The Department of Administration holds a public hearing via Webex to discuss possible rule changes. Join.

Tuesday, Dec. 7

  • 10 a.m. | The Department of Natural and Cultural Resources hold a public hearing via teleconference to discuss possible rule changes. Call: (919) 814-6771.

Tuesday, Dec. 14

  • 9 a.m. | The Sheriffs’ Education and Training Standards Commission holds a public hearing to discuss possible rule changes, 1700 Tryon Park Dr., Raleigh.

Wednesday, Dec. 15

  • 9 a.m. | The NC Licensing Board for General Contractors hold a public hearing to discuss possible rule changes, 5400 Creedmoor Rd., Raleigh.

Thursday, Dec. 16

  • 9 a.m. | The Rules Review Commission meets, RRC Room, 1711 New Hope Church Road, Raleigh.


UNC Board of Governors

UNC Center for School Leadership Development, 140 Friday Center Drive, Chapel Hill.

Thursday, Dec. 16

  • 9 a.m. | The UNC Board of Governors, C.S.L.D. Building, Chapel Hill.


N.C. Utilities Commission Hearing Schedule

Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury Street, Raleigh.

Monday, Dec. 6

  • Staff Conference


Other Meetings and Events of Interest

Items in RED are new listings.

Friday, Dec. 3

  • 2 p.m. | Gov. Roy Cooper to accept the State Capitol Christmas Trees and Wreaths from NC Christmas Tree Association and Shepherd’s Way Farms. North Carolina State Capitol Building, Raleigh.

Thursday, Jan. 7

  • 10:30 a.m. | The NC Chamber and the North Carolina Bankers Association hold 20th Annual Economic Forecast Forum at Sheraton Imperial Hotel, 4700 Emperor Boulevard, Durham, NC (attend in person or virtually). Register.



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