New faces at the legislature: Q&A with State Rep. Amber Baker

Rep. Amber Baker, a Democrat from Forsyth County. (Photo: NCGA)

Editor’s note: Policy Watch sent a questionnaire to all new state lawmakers about their plans for their first legislative session. Their unedited responses will be published as the questionnaires come in.

Name:  Amber M. Baker

District: 72nd /Forsyth  

Occupation:  Educator

Lives in:  Winston-Salem

Previous elected offices?  No

Contact information: [email protected]

What do you think will be the biggest issue at the legislature this year?  

Ongoing issues related to COVID-19 pandemic, to include but not limited to vaccinations, testing, contact tracing, education, housing and small business relief.

What’s a specific campaign promise that you’d like to deliver on?

Advocate for public education.

Do you anticipate another round of state COVID relief funding? If so, what should the amount be?

As a new member, I am still learning the on-going budgetary considerations and am still familiarizing myself with those considerations.

What groups should be prioritized for relief funding?

Vaccinations and ongoing testing remain a high concern for multiple interest groups.

The pandemic has revealed the weaknesses in support systems for people in need. This includes social services, health care, rural broadband, unemployment benefits, and more. What needs fixed most urgently and how — not just during a pandemic, but permanently?

As part of federal funding received by the state, SB36/HB42, specifically allocates funds to address rural broadband, as well as funding to the local educational agencies to address learning loss.

Do you support Medicaid expansion? Why or why not?

It is extremely important to address the concerns around the hesitiancy of moving forward on Medicaid expansion, especially given the exacerbation of healthcare related issues due to COVID-19.

Is the state’s funding for public education enough? Why or Why not? If you believe funding is insufficient, what budgetary amount would you recommend and how should the money be used?

COVID-19 has emphasized a need to address additional funding of public education in all areas. However, it is a discussion that needs to be expanded beyond taxpayer dollars being used to address the need for budgetary expansion. Serious consideration and conversations should be had with business partners for possible collaborations to increase funding public education in conjunction with using state funds.

DEQ’s budget and staffing has been deeply cut over the past 10 years, which has affected environmental protection, particularly in terms of inspections and enforcement. How should this be remedied?

As a new member, I am still learning the on-going budgetary considerations and am still familiarizing myself with those considerations.

 

New faces at the legislature: Q&A with State Rep. Terry Brown Jr.

State Rep. Terry Brown, Jr., who represents part of Mecklenburg County (Photo: NCGA)

Editor’s note: Policy Watch sent a questionnaire to all new state lawmakers about their plans for their first legislative session. Their unedited responses will be published as the questionnaires come in. State Rep. Terry Brown, a Democrat, works as an attorney in Charlotte.

Name:  Terry Brown Jr.

District:  House District 92

Occupation:  Attorney

Lives in:  Charlotte, NC

Previous elected offices?  N/A

Contact information: [email protected]

General:

What do you think will be the biggest issue at the legislature this year?  

Our biggest challenge as a body will be ensuring that we continue to adequately address the COVID-19 pandemic while still passing an equitable budget that addresses the economic, educational, and environmental needs and values of North Carolinians across the state. This means making compromises and being judicious yet forward thinking with the additional revenue our State has produced in the years since the General Assembly was last able to pass a budget. 

What’s a specific campaign promise that you’d like to deliver on?

I will continue to listen to the needs of my constituents and make good on the promise to work with all members of the General Assembly to introduce forward-thinking legislation targeted at their specific goals, including teacher pay and addressing food insecurity and broadband expansion.

COVID relief/budget:

Do you anticipate another round of state COVID relief funding? If so, what should the amount be?

Another round of COVID funding is absolutely necessary for our state. This funding should be focused and supplement federal funding to address the biggest sources of disparities across the state. 

What groups should be prioritized for relief funding? 

As mentioned above, COVID-19 legislation needs to be specifically tailored to support those in our communities who have struggled over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We must address the concerns of our small business community (including sole-practitioners), PPE funding for our front line workers who continue to put themselves at risk in service to our community and  our educators as they chart new territory in virtual/hybrid learning environments. We also must bolster long term rent and mortgage relief program as we continue to deal with the pandemic. 

The pandemic has revealed the weaknesses in support systems for people in need. This includes social services, health care, rural broadband, unemployment benefits, and more. What needs fixed most urgently and how — not just during a pandemic, but permanently?

If nothing else the COVID-19 pandemic has given us the opportunity to collectively examine our vulnerabilities as a state and formulate ideas on how to deal with weaknesses. Much of the legislation introduced this year must focus on the lessons learned from COVID including expanding our unemployment benefits, addressing paid sick leave, and addressing sources of food insecurity. The pandemic has also shown that regardless of whether you live in an urban or rural area we have several gaps in our internet coverage. Expanding broadband and treating it like a public utility is a necessity especially as more of our neighbors work from home and participate in remote learning. 

Do you support Medicaid expansion? Why or why not?

Absolutely. Medicaid transformation is not a red vs. blue issue and it is not just a health care issue. I support Medicaid transformation because not only will it provide healthcare access to our most vulnerable neighbors, it will be an economic boost to our counties as well. 

Education:

Is the state’s funding for public education enough? Why or Why not? If you believe funding is insufficient, what budgetary amount would you recommend and how should the money be used?

I believe that the state should devote more resources into our public education system, including raising teacher pay to the national average, providing for more teachers assistants and support staff, as well investing into our students health and well-being with increased per pupil spending on mental health counselors. 

What can the legislature do to help students recover/catch up from learning loss during the pandemic?

We must work with individual school districts to ensure that the diverse needs of students are addressed. No one sized fits all quick fix is available, however by having a combination of remediation sessions during the summer and examining flexible scheduling we can reduce the amount of learning loss our students will undergo. Our top priorities are to make sure that our students are ready for the next grade level and matriculation so that they are competitive on the next level and in the job market.  

Environment:

DEQ’s budget and staffing has been deeply cut over the past 10 years, which has affected environmental protection, particularly in terms of inspections and enforcement. How should this be remedied?

We must examine the needs of DEQ and work with the new Secretary to determine and  focus on our most pressing environmental needs. As a state that relies economically in large part on our environment and natural resources to fuel our economy and tourism this is essential. We need to reinvest into environmental protections and think long-term regarding funding. 

There has been no meaningful legislation passed to address the widespread PFAS, including GenX, contamination of drinking water. What legislation would you support to address the contamination? (This could include clean ups, source control and stiffer penalties.)

We must take a serious look at environmental regulations regarding contamination of our drinking water. It is not just an environmental issue, but a serious health issue that will have an effect that we may not discover for years. I support legislation to place stringent requirements on the maximum contaminant levels for PFAS. We also must work with DEQ to examine how we can avoid these contaminants all together. 

Communities of color are particularly hard-hit not only by COVID-19 but by environmental degradation and pollution. What legislation would you sponsor and/or support to address the racial, ethnic and income disparities in environmental protection? 

The systemic problems that have historically affected communities of color are still persistent today. From treating predominately Black neighborhoods as dumping grounds for waste to red-lining policies that have isolated communities of color from fresh, healthy foods we must think creatively to address these disparities. I look forward to introducing legislation that is directly targeted at addressing sources of food insecurity which creates long term health issues as well as addressing predatory home buying and rental practices across our state. 

New faces at the legislature: Q&A with State Sen. Sarah Crawford

Editor’s note: Policy Watch sent a questionnaire to all new state lawmakers about their plans for their first legislative session. Their unedited responses will be published as the questionnaires come in. First, up State Sen. Sarah Crawford, a Democrat representing Franklin and parts of Wake counties.

Name: Sarah Crawford

District: Senate District 18

Occupation: CEO, Tammy Lynn Center for Developmental Disabilities

Lives in: Raleigh

Previous elected offices? N/A

Contact information: [email protected]
919-733-5850
300 N. Salisbury St, Raleigh, NC 27603

What do you think will be the biggest issue at the legislature this year?

There are many challenges that the legislature will be facing this year. One of the biggest issues will be continuing to navigate the public health challenges related to COVID-19, equitable distribution of the vaccine, and support for individuals and businesses that have been impacted economically by the pandemic.

This is also a redistricting year, and we will be working to ensure a fair process with fair maps and representation heading into 2022.   

What’s a specific campaign promise that you’d like to deliver on?

Even before COVID-19, there were hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians without necessary healthcare coverage. I have been a champion for Medicaid expansion; however, with the make-up of the legislature, it remains to be seen what might be able to be accomplished on Medicaid expansion specifically. Regardless, it is necessary to find a bipartisan solution to secure adequate healthcare coverage to North Carolinians that have an even greater need for it today.

I am also committed to supporting public education from preschool to higher education, specifically focusing on our community colleges and ensuring North Carolinians have affordable opportunities to obtain higher education by minimizing barriers to degree and certificate attainment.

Do you anticipate another round of state COVID relief funding? If so, what should the amount be?

In addition to North Carolina’s allocation of the federal stimulus package that was passed at the end of 2020, I do anticipate North Carolina will consider additional state COVID relief funding and am working closely with colleagues on this.

What groups should be prioritized for relief funding?

We have to do everything we can to support North Carolinians who have been hardest hit during this pandemic. We know that many businesses and educational institutions have additional COVID-related expenses and several organizations and businesses have also experience loss of income due to COVID. We have to ensure that we invest in high-speed internet access, which was an issue prior to the pandemic and has had a light shown on the inequity of broadband access across the state.

The pandemic has revealed the weaknesses in support systems for people in need. This includes social services, health care, rural broadband, unemployment benefits, and more. What needs fixed most urgently and how — not just during a pandemic, but permanently?

All of these services are tied to each other. First and foremost, it’s important that each North Carolinian has the healthcare coverage available to be able to receive quality care. It’s time we stop partisan politics and expand Medicaid, which would bring access to health care to hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians.

In regard to broadband, some people have the luxury of working from home; however, even before the pandemic, the internet is a tool most of us use every day not just to connect with one another but to pay our bills, work, and now, it’s used for students to receive an education. Broadband is a critical service and should be treated like other utilities such as electricity or phone service.

And finally, our social services and unemployment benefits have been providing necessary and critical support to North Carolinians during this difficult time. We must continue making investments in these services, expand unemployment to levels before Republicans gutted unemployment in the last decade.

Do you support Medicaid expansion? Why or why not?

I do support Medicaid expansion. The Republican-led legislature has repeatedly refused billions of dollars to extend healthcare coverage to more than 500,000 North Carolinians through Medicaid expansion. This has cost the state $6 billion and countless jobs.The need for Medicaid expansion has only grown during the pandemic. From my experience at Tammy Lynn Center, I have seen firsthand the important role that this needed coverage plays in providing families the care they need and deserve.

Is the state’s funding for public education enough? Why or Why not? If you believe funding is insufficient, what budgetary amount would you recommend and how should the money be used?

North Carolina has a constitutional responsibility to provide a sound education for every child in the state.  We know that North Carolina’s public schools are not adequately funded.  The WestEd Report’s Action Plan for North Carolina details recommendations for meeting our responsibility to provide a sound, basic education for all, which will require additional funding and a more equitable distribution of resources to meet the needs of student populations. Additionally, with the pandemic, teachers and other school personnel are frontline, essential workers and need to be paid as the professionals that they are.

What can the legislature do to help students recover/catch up from learning loss during the pandemic?

Not knowing when we may be able to return to the classroom safely, we need to further invest in the equitable distribution of remote learning devices as well as increased access to broadband. The pandemic has served to highlight areas in which we have educational disparities. Students of color are more likely to be learning online and are less likely to have access to devices or consistent internet.In addition to investing in remote learning technologies now, we must also look ahead at the equitable distribution of resources so that those who are likely to have experienced a greater loss of learning are able to recover more quickly.

DEQ’s budget and staffing has been deeply cut over the past 10 years, which has affected environmental protection, particularly in terms of inspections and enforcement. How should this be remedied?

DEQ must be adequately staffed and funded to respond to requests from the regulated community, and to ensure that polluters are held accountable for violating environmental laws. 

There has been no meaningful legislation passed to address the widespread PFAS, including GenX, contamination of drinking water. What legislation would you support to address the contamination? (This could include clean ups, source control and stiffer penalties.)

I support strong water quality laws.Included in that, it should be noted that local governments are also important partners in environmental protection, able to craft protections that are responsive to the needs of their own geography and communities.Yet, in recent years, the state has severely limited the capacity of local governments to adopt restrictions that are more stringent than state law, including measures designed to protect drinking water from fracking. Additionally, we need to repeal the Hardison Amendments that prevent the state from passing laws that are more stringent than the federal government’s.

Communities of color are particularly hard-hit not only by COVID-19 but by environmental degradation and pollution. What legislation would you sponsor and/or support to address the racial, ethnic and income disparities in environmental protection? 

Governor Cooper along with DEQ Secretary Michael Regan have formed the Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board to ensure the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.  This is important step in the right direction ad it will be critical for the legislature to heed the legislative recommendations of the board and ensure adequate and equitable distribution of funds to support communities of color.

“Without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury” — excerpts from President Joe Biden’s inaugural speech

President Biden speaks at an event in Jackson, Miss. He was inaugurated today as the 46th president. (Photo: Whitehouse.gov)

Below are excerpts from President Joe Biden’s inaugural address, following his swearing-in as the nation’s 46th president:

We’ll press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities. Much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, and much to gain. Few people in our nation’s history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we’re in now.

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We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome this deadly virus. We can reward work, rebuild the middle class and make health care secure for all. We can deliver racial justice. We can make America once again the leading force for good in the world.

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We can see each other, not as adversaries, but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature. For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury.

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And so today, at this time, in this place, let us start afresh. All of us. Let us listen to one another. Hear one another. See one another. Show respect to one another. Politics need not be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war. And we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated, and even manufactured. 

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Here we stand, looking out to the great mall where Dr. King spoke of his dream. Here we stand where, 108 years ago at another inaugural, thousands of protesters tried to block brave women marching for the right to vote. Today, we mark the swearing-in of the first woman in American history elected to national office, Vice President Kamala Harris. Don’t tell me things can’t change!

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And here we stand, just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy and to drive us from this sacred ground. That did not happen. It will never happen. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever. Not ever.

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We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.

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My fellow Americans, in the work ahead of us, we will need each other. We will need all our strength to persevere through this dark winter. We are entering what may well be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus. We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation.

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Now we must step up, all of us. It is a time for boldness, for there is much to do. And this is certain. I promise you, we will be judged, you and I, by how we resolve these cascading crises of our era. 

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Before God and all of you I give you my word. I will always level with you. I will defend the Constitution.I will defend our democracy. I will defend America.

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So, with purpose and resolve, we turn to the tasks of our time, sustained by faith, driven by conviction, and devoted to one another and the country we love with all our hearts. May God bless America and may God protect our troops. Thank you, America.

Cooper: Help is on the way. But first we have to dig deep

By Gov. Roy Cooper

When I announced North Carolina had its first known COVID case on March 3rd, most of us didn’t expect to be living like this in December. Instead of preparing for beloved holiday traditions, we’re making virtual gathering plans and mourning the loss of more than 290,000 Americans from COVID-19.

As tough as this is, especially at the holidays, the sacrifices we’re making now will ensure that our loved ones can gather again at next year’s Thanksgiving and Christmas tables.

Our COVID-19 numbers are dire, and we need North Carolinians to take this virus seriously. A month ago, daily case counts above 3,000 were troubling. Recently, we’ve had several days with more than 6,000 new daily cases. Hospitals and health care workers are feeling the strain. More than 80% of North Carolina counties have been designated as red or orange, meaning their community spread is way too high.

Until vaccines are widely available, we have a few tools that we know can keep people safe while also boosting our economy — wearing our masks, staying socially distant and keeping any gatherings small and outdoors, or better yet, online.

We have put in place a new, modified Stay at Home Order that requires people to be home between the hours of 10 pm and 5 am. This builds on strong safety protocols like the mask requirement and capacity limits we already have in place, and we will continue watching our trends to see if more is needed.

We don’t want to implement tighter restrictions. Too many small businesses and families are struggling to make ends meet as it is. They need significantly more financial support from the federal government, and I’ve repeatedly urged Congress and the President to pass a stimulus package that helps families and businesses before 2020 ends.

But our top priority will always be saving lives. We’ll do what’s necessary to protect North Carolinians and make sure anyone who needs a hospital or ICU bed gets one, whether it’s to treat COVID or a heart attack.

Advances in vaccine technology and concentrated efforts by our scientists have given us hope that new vaccines will get us to the other side of this pandemic.

North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services has been working hard for months to develop a vaccine distribution plan so we can hit the ground running once vaccines arrive. Quantities will be limited at first, but trusted hospitals and health care providers will be ready to vaccinate priority populations — those who are at-risk of exposure like health care workers and North Carolinians at risk of severe illness.

I have confidence in this process and plan to roll up my sleeve when it’s my turn to get the vaccine.

But for now, we have to work together and tap into the resiliency that defines our state. Whether it’s helping our neighbors rebuild after a hurricane or coming together to support our loved ones who are most vulnerable to this virus, North Carolinians are best at looking out for each other when times are tough.

That spirit is still in us, no matter how tired or frustrated we are. Dig deep and don’t let weariness win. Together we will beat this thing.

This essay and image appeared originally on Cooper’s Medium page.