North Carolina will follow federal recommendations and pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after reports that six women, none of whom were from North Carolina, had severe reactions after vaccination. While the vast majority of people in the country who received the J&J vaccine have reported only minor, transitory reactions, the state will wait until the FDA and the CDC complete an investigation and provide further guidelines about this single-shot vaccine. Experts at UNC Health and Duke Health told reporters that the pause in administering the J&J vaccine is proof that the system for monitoring of possible COVID-19 vaccine side effects is working.
Fair Representation and Voting Rights
NC House Democrats introduced the Fix our Democracy Act (HB 542), which includes provisions to facilitate voter registration and access to voting, creation of a NC Citizens Redistricting Commission, and reforms aimed at ensuring fair and impartial courts and government accountability and transparency. NC Senate Democrats introduced a companion bill (SB 716).
The NC House Education Committee backed 17 bills that would give a number of individual school districts more flexibility in determining the start and end dates for the school year. The tourism industry has expressed concern about the economic impact of shortening summer vacation time, and the NC Senate leadership has said school calendar legislation is unlikely to be considered this session.
HB 32, a Republican-sponsored bill that increases the amount of taxpayer money families can get for vouchers to cover private-school tuition, passed the NC House along party lines. Republicans in the NC Senate have proposed legislation (SB 671) that goes further than the House bill in expanding the voucher program, and they are expected to try to work out a compromise between the two bills in hopes it will get enough Democratic support to override a potential veto from Governor Cooper.
State university leaders would have more power to cut employee salaries and potentially to lay off workers under HB 243. The bill, which had received unanimous approval by the NC House, has now received support from a key Senate committee, albeit with several changes. It will now be voted on by the full NC Senate. If the bill passes in the Senate, the House would need to approve the Senate version of the bill before it could take effect.
Economic and Housing Policy
The NC House gave near unanimous preliminary approval to HB 334, which gives tax breaks to businesses that received federal Paycheck Protection Program loans. Businesses that received PPP loans to help pay expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic would be able to deduct these expenses from their state taxes. The bill does not address whether individuals who received unemployment benefits during the pandemic will have to pay state taxes on these benefits. The federal government is waiving federal taxes on these benefits.
Health Care Policy
“Key House members filed (HB 535) Tuesday to provide lump-sum payments between $25,000 and $50,000 to firefighters diagnosed with cancer, plus $12,000 to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses.” Currently, firefighters diagnosed with cancer must prove their disease is related to their occupation. The bill makes coverage of several types of cancer presumptive.” There is bipartisan support for similar legislation in the NC Senate.
On April 7, NC House and Senate Democrats filed companion bills (HB 507, SB 632) aimed at reducing the disproportionately high rate of Black maternal mortality. The North Carolina Momnibus Act would address not only social determinants of health that increase the risk of pregnancy-related complications among expectant Black parents but also the implicit bias in health care professionals long believed to play a role in higher mortality rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Black women are three to four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women nationally, regardless of socioeconomic status or education level. In North Carolina, Black women are more than two and a half times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications.
NC jails are required to undergo twice-annual inspections by the Dept. of Health and Human Services to ensure compliance with health and safety requirements. Under a bill filed by Republicans in the NC House (HB 561), sheriffs would be able to challenge findings of violations, potentially triggering an appeals process that would delay implementation of changes recommended by DHHS.
Three criminal justice reform bills were filed this week, all with bipartisan support. HB 536, a “duty to intervene” bill, would require a police officer to intervene if he or she witnesses a fellow officer using force that “exceeds the amount of force authorized” for the situation. If intervention is not possible, they must at a minimum report the event up the chain of command within 72 hours. HB 547 would require state boards that oversee police and sheriffs to use the National Decertification Index to identify officers who were banned from law enforcement in another state but then apply for a job in North Carolina. HB 548 would make it more difficult for an officer who falsified evidence or lied under oath in one NC county to conceal this information when applying for a law enforcement job in a different NC county. State police chiefs and sheriffs have offered qualified support for the bills.