The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

1. Experts warn of pandemic-relatedeviction tsunami

Another round of stimulus payments or more creative solutions are essential to thwart a social crisis

With the first shipments of a second COVID-19 vaccine arriving as early as next week, many North Carolinians are feeling a new kind of hope as the pandemic stretches into 2021. But without swift government action at the state and federal levels, the new year could usher in an “eviction tsunami” and economic devastation, according to experts who gathered to discuss the problem Tuesday.

The virtual discussion, sponsored by the Duke Law Global Financial Markets Center and the North Carolina Leadership Forum, brought together subject matter experts from across the ideological spectrum to discuss the crisis of rent moratoriums and aid programs expiring in the new year.[Read more…]

2. DEQ’s Michael Regan is Biden’s nominee for EPA administrator

NC Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan is the President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for EPA administrator, according to multiple news sources.

Policy Watch reported yesterday that Regan was the leading contender for the job. A Goldsboro native, Regan has been DEQ secretary since 2017; he was appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper.

A DEQ spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

Regan worked at the EPA for nine years in the late ’90s and mid-’00s before joining the Environmental Defense Fund.

EDF issued this statement from Hawley Truax, Southeast Regional Director of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Regan previous served as EDF’s Southeast regional director. [Read more…]

Bonus read: Supporters, detractors grade Regan’s performance as NC DEQ secretary

3. Treasurer’s office, state auditor eyeing 100-plus cities, counties, utilities on “Distressed Unit” list

In a budget crisis, these entities can lose control of their finances to the state 

Janet Gerald, mayor pro tem of Kingstown, knew high sewer costs were a financial strain for the town when she was took office three years ago. Still, the realization that the town needed to relinquish control of its spending hit her hard.

“I was a little disappointed,” she said. “I was sad. I was heartbroken. I was embarrassed. I was crushed.”

Like dozens of towns and a couple of counties in North Carolina, Kingstown landed in financial trouble over problems paying for sewer services. The town, whose 680 residents live in a two-square-mile rectangle in Cleveland County, owes the city of Shelby upward of $200,000 for sewer services, Gerald said.[Read more…]

4. Black Americans are reluctant to take a COVID-19 vaccine. Efforts to build trust are underway.

A history of unethical medical experimentation on Black people has raised vaccine concerns among communities of color.

Coronavirus vaccines were a topic of the day for volunteers at Global Scholars Academy in Durham last Saturday. The church across the street, Union Baptist just north of downtown, was hosting a coronavirus testing site on one side of the school, and volunteers were distributing meals and Christmas gifts on the other side.

The FDA had authorized the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use the night before. Public officials and some residents have turned their hopes to science to help lift the country out of the deadly and economically devastating COVID-19 pandemic.[Read more…]

5. COVID-19 vaccine could be less effective in people with high PFAS levels in blood

The COVID-19 vaccine could be less effective in people with high levels of perfluorinated compounds — PFAS — in their blood, several scientists announced today.

High levels of PFAS exposure is known to be linked to a “plethora of adverse health effects,” including immune system disorders, said Linda Birnbaum, a toxicologist and former director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Science.

That means people with high levels of PFAS in their blood could have a weaker response to the COVID-19 vaccine, and build up fewer antibodies to the vaccine.

“It’s not that you won’t get any response, but that it could be decreased,” Birnbaum said.[Read more…]

6. Vaccine miracle offers model for tackling another giant crisis (commentary)

There are a lot of important lessons that Americans should glean from the mostly awful year that will soon and mercifully come to an end – some of them quite sobering.

We must recognize, for instance, that we still have many miles to travel in conquering the nation’s original sin of racism and that the ground on which our democracy rests is not as rock-solid as we long assumed.

And then there’s the painful reminder that mass willful self-deception — in which millions of humans are driven by fear and mistaken perceptions of self-interest to believe and repeat demonstrable lies —  must still be combated at every turn.

Happily, however, we’ve also received some more hopeful lessons, most notably about the power of truth and love and coming together as a community. [Read more…]

7. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos heads for the exits, leaving a legacy of turmoil

WASHINGTON— During her four years in office, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos failed to broaden her appeal beyond the moment she won a wild Senate confirmation fight by the closest of margins. She didn’t even try.

Instead, the billionaire Michigan native and Republican megadonor championed private and charter schools, often trying to funnel federal funding toward them. Her full-throated support outraged Democrats in Congress, riled the nation’s powerful teachers unions and never registered as a major priority for the Trump administration.

In higher education, she resuscitated for-profit colleges and wrote sweeping regulations on campus sexual assault to give more weight to the accused, generating an onslaught of criticism.[Read more…]

8. Mark Johnson’s rocky tenure comes to a close in familiar fashion

State Superintendent Mark Johnson will end his tenure this month the same way he started it four years ago – at odds with the State Board of Education.

The state board’s decision to require high school students and some middle school students to take End-of-Course exams in person during the pandemic is the most recent point of contention between the controversial superintendent and the board.

Johnson believes the tests should be waived, along with the rule that makes the exams 20% of a student’s grade.

“[SBE] Chairman Eric Davis and the next State Superintendent, Catherine Truitt, disagree with my position and have declared that the State Board’s EOC rule is in effect regardless,” Johnson wrote in an email he shared this week. “This has put your local superintendents, school boards, and principals in difficult situations without consistent guidance on how to proceed.” [Read more…]

9. Gov. Cooper’s pardons correct wrongful convictions of five innocent men

Gov. Roy Cooper issued pardons of innocence to five men, Ronnie Long, Teddy Isbell Sr., Kenneth Kagonyera, Damian Mills and Larry Williams Jr., according to a release from his office yesterday. It marks the first time he has used his constitutional power to pardon during his governorship.

Long, whose case has received the most public attention, spent the longest time — 44 years — incarcerated among the five clemency recipients. He was originally convicted of rape and burglary by Cabarrus County Superior Court in 1976 has already been released from custody but expected the pardon of innocence. The pardon clears his name and makes him eligible to seek compensation under state law. [Read more…]

10. Contamination prompts Colonial Pipeline to buy three homes near Huntersville gasoline spill

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12. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

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