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Education Policy

  • Republican lawmakers plan to introduce a bill that will likely require public schools to offer in-person learning to all grade levels, while still allowing parents the option to continue virtual learning for their children. Under Gov. Cooper’s existing emergency order for the state, full-time classes are only allowed through grade five. Both Republican and Democratic legislators would like local school districts to have more discretion about how and when to reopen schools for in-person learning. While some recent studies suggest there is little evidence the spread of coronavirus is increased by holding in-school classes when mitigation precautions are in place, results from other studies suggest more caution. Gov. Cooper has already said he intends to review the data with the State Board of Education and his health team “… remembering that we do want to get our children back in school as soon as we safely can."

  • Democratic and Republican appointees to the State Board of Education continue to be sharply divided on proposed revisions to the state’s social studies curriculum standards that could be approved by the SBE this week. Led by Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, Republican board members have called language in the proposed revision “divisive” and “politically charged.” Democrats want the new standards to include language and strategies that promote a more open examination of the “nation’s checkered history” including systemic racism. Robinson has said, “The system of government that we have in this nation is not systemically racist. In fact, it is not racist at all.” And newly elected State Superintendent Catherine Truitt, also a Republican, asked the board to delay adoption of the new rules. She has proposed replacing the terms “systemic racism,” “systemic discrimination” and “gender identity” with “racism, discrimination, and identity.” “If the standard specifies gender identity, that doesn’t allow for other kinds of identities such as economic, regional, those types of identities to be included in the conversation and the same is true for various types of discrimination and various types of racism,” Truitt said.

Economic Policy

  • The assistant secretary of the NC Division of Employment Security (DES), in a report to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Unemployment Insurance, indicated that applicant error rather than fraud is the main source of $70 million in overpayments made to recipients of COVID-19-related unemployment compensation programs. More than 1.4 million applications for unemployment benefits prompted by the pandemic have already been received, and DES has paid out over $8 billion in federal and state funds. Several committee members, recognizing the difficulty of navigating a confusing application system, supported waiving recovery of non-fraud overpayments.

Environmental Policy

  • Thirty Democratic legislators have asked the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to deny water quality permits to farms planning to participate in a controversial biogas partnership between Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy known as Align RNG. The partnership plans to build a pipeline network in Duplin and Sampson counties to enable connected farms to ship hog waste-generated methane gas through a central processing plant and ultimately to a natural gas line used by Duke Energy. DEQ has already approved the air permit for the processing facility, but participating farms must obtain their own water quality permits to ensure protection of wetlands and waterways from harmful runoff. Legislators and environmental justice organizations are concerned that the project will increase water pollution unless the company commits to installing technology that mitigates this and possible additional problems.

Criminal Justice

LGBTQ Rights

  • Following the expiration of a statewide ban on local non-discrimination ordinances last month, multiple North Carolina towns, cities, and counties have passed non-discrimination ordinances that protect LGBTQ people. The Orange County Board of Commissioners passed a non-discrimination policy covering the entire county, and the municipalities of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough passed their own local ordinances last week. On Tuesday, both Greensboro and Durham passed non-discrimination ordinances that, in addition to LGBTQ identity, also protect people with natural hair styles associated with a race or culture. While it is not clear how Republican legislators will react to the new ordinances, NC Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) has suggested that those with complaints may be best served in the courts.


  • On January 14, Governor Cooperannounced a change to the state’s vaccination plan: in order to mesh with new federal guidelines, vaccination – already open to health care providers and people 75 and older - will now be available to people age 65+. This will add as many as a million more people to the priority list. However, there will be a delay of at least several weeks before vaccine supplies can meet the expected increase in demand.

  • North Carolina remains one of the slowest states to distribute the vaccine. Some Republican legislators, critical of the pace of vaccinations, have called for more centralized control, suggesting it was a mistake for the state to rely on local health departments to set up their own vaccination procedures. Dr. Mandy Cohen told legislators, “We needed to rely on the infrastructure we had,” and Sen. Mike Woodward, (D-Durham) reminded Republican colleagues that they are generally opposed to the state using centralized control.

Criminal Justice

2021 NC General Assembly Long Session: What to Expect

The NC General Assembly reconvened Jan 13 for the start to the legislature’s long session. After a largely ceremonial meeting, the legislature adjourned until January 27, when the opening of bill filing will start the process of lawmaking and budgeting. Governor Cooper will be looking to get approval from the NC Senate for four new Cabinet appointees, and some key legislative priorities have already been identified:

  • NCGA leaders have pointed to coronavirus issues, particularly those tied to education, as a top priority, and Governor Cooper has expressed hope for finding common ground with Republican leaders this session.

  • With the impending release of data from the 2020 Census, redistricting will again be on the agenda. The Republican-led legislature will be drawing new maps defining congressional and legislative voting districts. Governor Cooper indicated that while he expects more cooperation between Democrats and Republicans on some issues during this session, he does not think redistricting will be one of them. Public opinion polls have shown that most North Carolinians want to de-politicize the redistricting process.

  • There is some indication that Republicans are now willing to consider Governor Cooper’s request for issuing a major state infrastructure bond for school construction and other infrastructure needs.

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