Interim committees continued this week covering a wide range of topics. School data security and Innovative School Districts were discussed. A report on the state of North Carolina’s rape kit backlog came out, indicating North Carolina may be among the highest in the country. The opioid crisis is being tackled on a number of new fronts at the local and state levels. Unemployment Insurance changes are coming to the state, as well as improved broadband infrastructure and a new wave of finance tech, or Fintech.

State and Local Government Get Creative on Opioid Crisis

As the opioid crisis continues to grow out of control in North Carolina, state legislators as well as local government leaders are looking for solutions. A new legislative committee has been formed to address the sentencing and incarceration issues surrounding the crisis, while a Wake County town takes on a new approach to battle the epidemic.

New Opioid Conviction Task Force Dives into Sentencing Reform

A new task force, chaired by Rep. Greg Murphy (R-Pitt), a surgeon from Greenville, and Sen. Jim Davis (R-Macon), an orthodontist from Franklin, met for the first time this week to explore yet another facet of the opioid crisis: the rapidly rising number of North Carolina’s inmates suffering from addiction and mental illness. According to presentations from the task force, the two problems often accompany each other, creating a large population of inmates that North Carolina’s prisons and judicial system are unequipped to handle.

What was covered?

The North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission provided an in-depth overview of current sentencing laws and data. The overarching issue is that data on opioid-related crimes is fragmented and hard to find, making it difficult to understand the challenges facing the state through the restructuring process.

Next, Joe Prater of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety presented a snapshot of current incarceration statistics. He discussed the limited treatment options for inmates with addiction or mental illnesses and the need for continuing treatment after reintroduction to society.

The final item was a panel explanation of the Sequential Intercept Model and various options for preventing the initial involvement of people with behavioral health problems and addiction illnesses in the criminal justice system. Presenters discussed how recovery courts as well as diversion and intervention tactics before someone lands in jail may be the key to treatment, decreasing recidivism, and reducing the cost on society.

What Else?

The Town of Cary is taking a new approach to tracking down opioid use: testing wastewater. Cary has been selected as one of four municipalities in the US that will receive a $100,000 grant to test for various drugs in Cary’s wastewater and determine which neighborhoods have the highest concentration of opioid use. This reverse approach is theorized to provide critical demographic data to get a better understanding of who is using opioids in Cary. After analysis, the City hopes to be able to set up more tailored programs to combat drug use in the town and continue to monitor the wastewater to determine the effectiveness of these programs.

Rape Kit Report

AG Josh Stein’s office released a report on March 1st on the state of North Carolina’s untested sexual assault evidence kits. The study was conducted from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2017. Of the state’s 563 agencies, 92 percent responded. By law, all law enforcement agencies were required to provide the NC DOJ with a report of their untested sexual assault kits earlier this year.

What Were the Results?

The report showed the Durham Police Department holds the most untested sexual assault evidence kits of any law enforcement agency in the state. Raleigh and Winston-Salem were not far behind Durham, both with over a thousand kits sitting untested. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg police received two grants to help pay for testing of their kits.

What Next?

The audit revealing more than 15,000 untested rape kits across the state making North Carolina one of the worst offenders in the country. The AG’s office made a few recommendations to cut down on that backlog, including developing protocol to test all new kits going forward, institute a kit tracking system statewide, and test all kits currently in custody.

Unemployment Insurance Oversight Committee Discusses Proposed Changes Requested by Division of Employment Security

Lawmakers met Wednesday to hear from Lockhart Taylor, Assistant Secretary at the North Carolina Division of Unemployment Security, on a few changes requested by the agency that will, if approved, go into a technical changes bill in the upcoming short session.

What’s Proposed?

One of these requested changes would extend the effective date of a provision passed last session that will reduce response time for employers to respond to a notice of claim from 14 to 10 days. The North Carolina Division of Employment Security requested to move that effective date from 7/1/18 to 1/1/19.

The second request was for a requirement that all employers with ten or more employees to file wages and taxes to the Division electronically rather than on paper to cut down on the Division’s workload. The current limit is set at employers with 25 or more employees.

The third provision requested was to reduce the number of job search contacts claimants must make from five to the federally required three, again, to cut down on the Division’s workload. Several years ago that number was raised from two contacts to five, but according to committee presentations it has proven difficult and time-consuming for the Division to audit.

The final provision requested would put a time limit on how long a claimant has to withdraw their claim in order to file a second claim to prevent people from filing new claims in order to get a higher check.

Trust Fund Status

Staff informed the committee that in order to prevent a deficit in the trust fund like the $2 billion deficit the state suffered after the 2008 recession, the trust fund balance would need to be around $4 billion. It is estimated the fund will reach that number around 2020.

IT Oversight Committee Discusses Broadband, ERP

The Information Technology Oversight Committee heard from a number of presenters Thursday on topics ranging from Fintech to Department of Social Services Software to rural broadband access.

Enterprise Resource Planning Update

The committee received a lengthy presentation from Mike Guay, Research Director at the consulting firm Gartner, on the State of North Carolina’s enterprise resource planning, or ERP, which is the integrated management of core business operations of all state agencies through the use of software and technology. Guay covered the current state of North Carolina’s outdated ERP system, past successes and failures, and where the state is headed as it navigates a major change in the system.

Carolina Fintech Hub

Next, committee members heard from Charlotte City Councilman and Executive Director of the Carolina Fintech Hub (CFH), Tariq Bokhari. His presentation explained Fintech as an organization that is trying to be a cutting edge disrupter in the financial tech market. He gave a strategic update on CFH’s program and told the committee that with the right tools and support, North Carolina can become the worldwide leader for Fintech.

Rural Internet Access

Jeff Sural, Broadband Infrastructure Office Director at North Carolina Department of Information Technology (DIT), gave the committee an update on the state of rural broadband in North Carolina. According to Mr. Sural, there are many rural and low-income areas of the state that are still struggling to get connected which exacerbates existing problems facing those communities. Mr. Sural explained what DIT and private sector partners are doing to help fix that deficit.

Social Services Software Update

Last, the committee heard from NCDHHS on the NC FAST Program, an enterprise software solution that delivers state benefits and services at the county level for all 100 of North Carolina’s local departments of social services.

Education Oversight Discusses School Data, Innovative Schools

Education leaders in the legislature met Tuesday to discuss school data systems and connectivity. They also spoke at length about Innovative School Districts and Cooperative Innovative High School funding changes.

IT in the Schoolroom

Phil Emer, Director of Technology Planning and Policy at North Carolina State University’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation spoke to the committee about its School Connectivity Initiative. Karl Pond, Enterprise Data Manager at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and KC Elander, Senior Data Analyst at DPI presented on the NC P-20W System and the issues facing data collection and analysis in schools. John Correllus, Chief Data Officer and Director of the North Carolina Government Data Analytics Center spoke on NC Longitudinal Data Systems through the North Carolina Government Data Analytics Center and the related student data security concerns.

Innovative Schools

There was a lengthy conversation around North Carolina Innovative School Districts (ISD) after a presentation from Dr. Eric Hall, ISD Superintendent. The committee discussed ISD framework, goals, and outcomes.

Finally, the committee heard from Sneha Shah Coltrane, Director of the Division of Advanced Learning and Gifted Education at DPI and Lisa Eads, Program Coordinator for the North Carolina Community College System, about Cooperative Innovative High School funding changes.

A Look Ahead to Next Week

Monday, March 12

10:30 AM Social Services Regional Supervision and Collaboration Working Group

Tuesday, March 13

9:00 AM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services

1:00 PM Joint Legislative Study Committee on the Division of Local School Administrative Units

1:00 PM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Medicaid and NC Health Choice

1:00 PM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources

Thursday, March 15

9:00 AM Joint Legislative Emergency Management Oversight Committee

9:30 AM Committee on Access to Healthcare in Rural North Carolina

10:00 AM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety, Subcommittee on ABC Permitting & Enforcement

10:00 AM Committee on Private Process Servers

1:00 PM Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform

1:00 PM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety