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]
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.

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