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Neighbors on Call's Weekly Policy Update for 2/1/21

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

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