|Briefing on Coronavirus|
|If you wish to receive this newsletter via email, text “RAYRUSSELL” to 22828. Please forward this email to others you think will be interested.|
Previous editions of this newsletter are available at https://www.facebook.com/RayRussellforNC (scroll down the timeline).
This newsletter is published once per week, usually on Fridays. While the newsletter highlights issues related to Coronavirus, other important issues from the week in Raleigh will be covered as well.
Spread of Coronavirus
Across the United States, as of Saturday afternoon, June 20, the number of people who are confirmed to have coronavirus is 2,317,558. We are sure more people have the virus who have not been tested. That’s 200,000 more than one week ago. It’s becoming too easy to let these large numbers go by unnoticed. Here’s a comparison… The number of new infections this week nationwide is slightly less than the population of Winston Salem. Sadly, 121,741 people have died from coronavirus (5000 more than last week at this time).
I remained concerned about the gradual but continued increase in spread of Coronavirus across North Carolina. In North Carolina the number of people who are “laboratory-confirmed” to have coronavirus is 51,389, 10,000 new cases in the past week. Currently, 883 people are hospitalized with coronavirus, up 120 from a week ago. To date, 1,250 North Carolinians have died from coronavirus (about 130 in the past week). 29,219 are presumed to have recovered.
Much more data is available at the NC DHHS “Dashboard”. See https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard.
Locally, the number of people who have tested positive for coronavirus in Ashe County is 45. The number of Watauga County residents who have tested positive is 39. That is an increase of 4 in the past seven days. Five people in the district are currently hospitalized. One person has died in Ashe County from coronavirus.
In Ashe and Watauga Counties, 31 residents are currently being monitored, and 15 residents are currently in isolation who have tested positive.
You can get more local data from the AppHealth Care Dashboard at https://www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-information/covid-19-data-dashboard/.
The best news in North Carolina’s fight against Covid-19 is that testing continues to increase rapidly and our capacity for tracing continues to improve.
Our prayers are with all these people affected by coronavirus along with their families.
The Short Session
Traditionally, even-numbered years in the NC General Assembly are called “Short Sessions” running from late April to late June. This year is especially challenging because of the pandemic crisis. Pushing back tax deadlines to July 15 makes budgeting difficult accurate fiscal data depends largely on how much money comes in around tax deadlines. A third challenge is that confusion exists over exactly how states can use CARES Act money–we still await clarification from the U. S. Congress.
This short session’s plan includes pausing at the end of next week. We may then come back in the the second half of July to finish budget items based on tax receipts data around July 15.
Below are the most news-worthy bills and news from this week in the State Legislature.
Every Child’s Right to a Sound, Basic Education
North Carolina’s courts and state constitution guarantee that every child has a right to a sound, basic education. Today, the truth is we are failing too many of our children particularly those who are African-American, Hispanic, and Native American. Lack of state funding is a big part of the problem. After ten years of Republican state budgets, North Carolina is now in the lowest tier of state spending per-pupil. Our courts have ordered us to act.
What can we do? House Democrats have introduced two bills that adopt common-sense, proven approaches to make sure every child has the opportunity to succeed.
HB 1129 reforms under-performing schools, allows teacher salary increases based on experience and performance, increases the racial and ethnic diversity of teachers in schools, and rebuilds the state’s capacity to provide turnaround assistance in the state’s chronically low-performing schools by providing funding and funding flexibility.
HB 1130 makes the investments necessary to rebuild the teacher pipeline, train and keep the best teachers in North Carolina, and expand Pre-K, infant-toddler and Smart Start programs that benefit our children early in their development.
The events of the last few months – from COVID-19 to the killing of George Floyd –have laid bare the disparities in our education system. How do we begin to fix these disparities? For our schools and for our students, HB 1129 and HB 1130 are a good place to start.
For more background on these topics see https://www.ednc.org/leandro-action-plan-for-next-year-how-will-the-state-ensure-a-sound-basic-education-for-all/.
I’m proud to be one of the primary sponsors of these bills. I and two other sponsors wrote the following op-ed this week: “26 Years After Leandro, These Lawmakers Say This is How to Fix Educational Inequality in NC”. See https://cardinalpine.com/story/26-years-after-leandro-these-lawmakers-say-this-is-how-to-fix-educational-inequality-in-nc/
Senate Bill 818
SB 818 passed the General Assembly this week and heads to the Governor for consideration. The bill’s title describes what it does pretty well: “An Act to Provide for the Compensation of Certain Public School Employees.” In spite of this being a terrible bill, I voted for it simply because it’s the best public school employees are going to get from the majority party. We attempted twice to amend the bill, providing more money for teachers and extend raises to non-certified employees. They would not even give our amendments a vote, blocking them with procedural maneuvers. The majority party’s neglect of education continues.
SB 818 gives Public school teachers a $350 one-time bonus. Some (not all) teachers receive a “step increase” in pay as they move up a year in the established salary schedule. What happens to non-teachers who work in our schools, such as custodians, bus drivers, or teaching assistants? They receive nothing! I will continue to fight for higher pay for all public school workers as the budget process continues.
If the paltry raises are not bad enough, the bill raises the cost for health insurance for state employees. To make matters even worse, two other bills this week took money from the State Health Plan to pay for unrelated projects. Essentially, state employees will be footing part of the cost for these unrelated projects. Read the bill: https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2019/Bills/Senate/PDF/S818v4.pdf
School and Transportation Bonds
In better news, with a 113-4 vote, House Bill 1225, a bipartisan $3.1 billion transportation and education bond package passed the NC House on second reading this week and will advance to the NC Senate next week. Any bond package approved by the General Assembly would also have to be approved by the voters in a statewide referendum. The bond money would pay for public school construction and university projects. In particular, $20 million for the renovation of Wey Hall is included in the package. The bond package also includes a number of highway projects across NC.
With extremely low interest rates and surging unemployment, now is a great time to use bond financing to get moving on critically-need infrastructure projects and create good-paying jobs. The cost of borrowing now is extremely low thanks to low interest rates and North Carolina’s AAA bond rating.
This bill will be in the NC Senate next week. Please call and email them in support of this bill.
Governor’s Veto of Gym Bill
Friday, Gov. Cooper vetoed House Bill 594 which sought to reopen gyms and fitness centers across the state. I voted against this bill two weeks ago and will vote to sustain the veto if it comes to the House Floor next week. SB 599 to reopen bowling alleys and skating rinks also passed the House this week. I voted No. As a guiding principle, I will vote against bills that attempt to: 1) circumvent public health professionals and scientific data on bills related to relaxing physical distancing rules or 2) take the decision-making authority from the Governor’s Covid-19 Task Force.
Cases of the coronavirus continue to increase and the number of available ICU beds continue to decline as more people are being hospitalized with Covid-19. Now more than ever, we have to make sure that our NC Covid-19 Task Force and local governments have the power to respond quickly to events to protect the well-being of all North Carolinians. Decisions like this should not be the subject of political opportunism that threatens the health of citizens across the state.
The current crisis is a health crisis that produced an economic crisis. We cannot solve the economic crisis until we have adequately addressed the health crisis.
If You have Coronavirus Symptoms…
If you believe you have symptoms of coronavirus and live in Watauga County:
1) Call AppHealthCare at 828-264-4995 or (828) 795-1970 during regular business hours,
2) Visit https://apprhs.org/covid19-screening/ online and follow screening instructions, or
3) Call your primary care doctor.
If you believe you have symptoms of coronavirus and live in Ashe County call AppHealthCare at 336-246-9449 or call your primary care doctor.
Our public heath office, AppHealthCare, is the primary local source of information about coronavirus. See https://www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-information/
For more information from our hospitals, see Appalachian Regional’s website at https://apprhs.org/COVID19/ or Ashe Memorial Hospital’s website at https://www.ashememorial.org/ for their updates.
For information specific to North Carolina, the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) provides the latest information on COVID-19 at https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/. Also, North Carolina coronavirus updates are available by calling 888.892.1162 or by texting COVIDNC to 898211