Bill to allow concealed carry at churches with affiliated schools advances from committee

Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Avery, Burke, and Caldwell) is one of SB 43’s sponsors.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill on Wednesday that would allow guns to be carried at religious facilities with affiliated schools. The amendment allows anyone with a “concealed carry” permit to bring a handgun during non-school hours on the property. A similar bill passed both the House and Senate last year but was vetoed by Gov. Cooper. Before that, a similar bill was brought up in 2017 and stopped short of Senate approval after passing the House.

One of the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, said the legislation will exempt places of worship from the ban, even if they have schools onsite. Places of worship without schools on their property can set their own protocols regarding concealed carry under North Carolina state law.

Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg, opposed this bill at the meeting. She voiced concerns for armed individuals leaving behind their weapons, which could end up in the hands of schoolchildren.

Daniel refused to take up another suggestion made by Marcus to include an amendment prohibiting concealed carry guns in churches that also serve as polling places. Daniel said that there’s no law that currently prohibits concealed carry at polling places and doing so will change the current law.

Marcus later said in an email that the bill was “amended without notice during the committee hearing,” and that committee members were not given adequate time to fully analyze its impact.

She referenced a voter intimidation case in Charlotte in 2020 when a gunman showed up at a polling site. She wrote “to the extent this bill would enable similar situations to happen more frequently, either by design or due to careless drafting, I oppose it.”

Four church leaders spoke in support of the bill at the committee meeting. They cited church shootings in other states as reason to support the legislation. Ron Baity, a pastor at the Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem said he’s worried about slow law enforcement response, “If a gunman is in our church, and he’s pulling the trigger, and he’s reloading in 10 minutes — if we don’t take him out, if we’re not able to stop him, he can take out most of our congregations.”

Baity said his church is at a disadvantage to defend congregants when school is not in session.

Other religious leaders disagree. “All churches should be treated equally — no churches should have guns,” Jennifer Copeland, executive director of the NC Council of Churches said in an interview with Policy Watch. The group has long opposed gun violence. Copeland asked faith leaders from different religious groups to sign a letter opposing the bill to key lawmakers.

“The foundation of our faith is, we are people of peace,” Copeland said. “And that’s true for Christians, for sure, but it’s also true for most of the world’s major religions.”

Becky Ceartas, executive director of advocacy group North Carolinians Against Gun Violence told Policy Watch that she’s also concerned that allowing this exception will set a precedent for other schools, especially private ones, chipping away the laws that govern prohibition of firearms in schools under the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act.

Ceartas said the bill potentially puts schoolchildren in danger, noting that numerous studies have shown concealed carry increases gun violence.

The bill will next head to the Rules and Operations Committee of the Senate for review. A similar measure was approved and signed into law in Indiana in 2019 and another divided the Florida committee members along party lines this year.

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.

Pandemic recovery, expanded health insurance are priorities for NC Senate Democrats

North Carolina Senate Democrats who offered a broad outline of their priorities for the legislative session said the state can afford to make meaningful changes with billions in accumulated revenue.

North Carolina has more than $4.2 billion in unspent revenue, mostly due to the lack of agreement on an overall state budget in the last two years, and more than $240 million in unspent federal COVID-19 relief funds.

During an online news conference Wednesday, Senate Democratic caucus leaders outlined their priorities, which include helping small businesses and families hurt in the pandemic, a school construction bond, a redistricting process that includes meaningful citizen involvement, criminal justice reform, and providing more people with health insurance. They did not preview any bills.

Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Senate 28-22. The November election gave Democrats a net gain of one seat.

Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican legislative leaders are talking about more cooperation this term.

The Senate’s Democratic leader, Dan Blue of Raleigh, said everyone is approaching the session with a different attitude.

“We don’t want to run this state without a budget,” Blue said. Democrats are ready to work with Cooper and the Senate Republican leadership, he said. “It’s about compromise.”

Getting more people health insurance remains a top priority for Senate Democrats, Blue said.

An estimated 250,000 people have lost employer-sponsored health insurance during the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of adults in the state would qualify for Medicaid if the state expanded the government health insurance program.

A Council for Health Care Coverage that Cooper brought together in December developed some guiding principles for getting more people insured but did not endorse any specific proposals.

“We have too many people without healthcare coverage and something has to be done about it,” Blue said.