The General Assembly kept up a steady pace of meetings this week. Legislators covered student health improvements, opioid crisis management options, education finance, river quality, and judicial redistricting. More legislative recommendations came out as the legislature prepares for the short session to kick off next month.

School Safety

The House Select Committee on School Safety Subcommittee on Student Health met again this Monday to hear from school healthcare providers, teachers, and students. The committee also made available all the information requested by the subcommittee including instructional support and healthcare personnel by local education agency (LEA). The committee agreed to provide more resources to LEAs, including school psychologists, nurses, and anonymous threat reporting apps. The issues facing the state in accomplishing those goals include funding as well as finding a way to incentivize psychologists and nurses to fill those positions in Tier 1 county schools.

Recommendations

Committee members agreed on some improvements they will recommend to the legislature when it reconvenes next month:

  1. NC should accept the nationally certified school psychologist credential as a complete fulfillment of the requirements for licensure as a school psychologist.
  2. NC should continue to work toward a goal of meeting national recommendations for staffing of student support positions to ensure and improve care and intervention for the social and emotional needs of students.
  3. NC should require threat assessment teams in all public schools to better assess and intervene in potential threats within the school setting.
  4. NC should require peer to peer counseling programs in middle and high schools to identify and assist students with social, emotional, and behavioral issues.
  5. Further study is necessary to develop a plan to efficiently coordinate care among mental health support professionals and to train these professionals to identify potentially dangerous mental and behavioral health issues.
  6. The House Select Committee on School Safety should explore expansion statewide of applications that allow anonymous reporting on potential threats, abuse, or related issues.

What Else?

Students from Newport Middle School in Carteret County came to speak to the committee about their experiences. The spoke about how suicide awareness instruction has helped them and changed their lives as well as the lives of their peers. Members were impressed with the impact of the program and indicated that they would like to see a wide proliferation of that program in schools across the state.

Additionally, the committee heard from Deborah Richardson, the School Based Care Coordination Supervisor at Alliance Behavioral Healthcare. She presented on Alliance’s partnership with the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS), called the Alliance-Wake Partnership for Student Mental Health. The program is a public-private partnership with WakeMed designed to divert youth in crisis from the emergency department to more appropriate care settings. It identifies and connects WCPSS students to behavioral health services, help them access assessment and treatment, initiates the process for intellectual/developmental disability service eligibility, and links students with medical care, when needed. The program served 147 students in the 2016-2017 school year and in its short existence has become an award-winning program.

Click here to view all the presentations from the meeting.

Opioid Sentencing Reform Task Force Meets

The Task Force on Sentencing Reforms for Opioid Drug Convictions met again Tuesday to hear about current federal and state approaches to the opioid crisis. Dr. Duren Banks of RTI International presented to the committee on what others are doing to battle the epidemic. Dr. Banks argued that every state must have a variety of options and that there is no one size fits all solution. He told committee members that judges and probations officers must have flexibility for discretion. He emphasized that all decision makers in the process need options because every situation is unique. According to Dr. Banks, all 50 states have a STOP Act, but some states have taken it farther than others.

Executive and Judiciary Perspectives

Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), told the committee that DHHS has been monitoring data since HB 243: Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act went into effect and they have seen improvement with some opioid prescribing. She did emphasize that a pervasive problem in treatment is a lack of insurance in people suffering from opioid addiction. The Honorable Jefferson Griffin, Wake County District Court Judge, has had a different experience with the STOP Act. In his experience on the bench, he explained he has not seen much progress for reoffenders in terms of the STOP Act. He said he and his colleagues are forced to get creative due to the lack of resources provided to them for drug court.

What Next?

The committee voted to recommend to the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore to reconvene the committee in the next interim. Chairman Rep. Greg Murphy also indicated that the committee would look into the precise definition of “trafficking” and the appropriate punishment for such an offense when the committee reconvenes.

Education Finance Reform

Wednesday the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform met again. The chairman, Rep Craig Horn (R-Union), said he suspects there are still people the committee has yet to hear from and he intends to ask the corner offices to allow the committee to reconvene after the short session adjourns so they can continue their work. This meeting, which is the last meeting before the short session begins in May, heard about weighted student funding models.

Dr. Marguerite Roza, Director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University, and Senior Research Affiliate of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell, presented to the committee about weighted student funding models and various options that lead to success. One key point she made is that flexibility in spending for education is critical. She explained to the committee what the superstar schools are doing as well as how states can transition from one funding model to another.

River Quality Committee Considers Reports and Name Change

The House Select Committee on North Carolina River Quality met Thursday to hear from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA), and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW).

DEQ GenX Update

Assistant Secretary for Environment at DEQ, Sheila Holman, presented to the committee an update on GenX testing in water, wastewater, private wells, fish, gardens and soil, rain, groundwater, and air. Overall, she explained, GenX levels have dropped across most media tests. Since November 2017, drinking water levels of GenX have remained well below the current health goal of 140 parts per trillion (PPT). However, she explained that the measured air emissions of GenX compounds are significantly higher than previously understood and reported.

Final Reports and Research

The committee heard final reports that were initiated with the passage of HB 56: Amend Environmental Laws in 2017. Jim Flechtner, Executive Director of the CFPUA, and Dr. Ralph Mead, Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UNCW, provided the committee with their findings. The committee reached a consensus that it is far better to prevent the contaminants from entering the water source than for CFPUA to have to develop the technology to filter them out. The committee directed DEQ and CFPUA to request a list of compounds released by all the entities that have discharge permits for the Cape Fear River. The committee will also be working on getting someone from the Environmental Protection Agency to come present before the committee on what they are doing to help test for new, unknown compounds.

Read the CFPUA report here and the UNCW report here.

Recommendations and Further Study

The committee only had two recommendations for the time being:

  1. Direct DHHS to consult with the Secretaries’ Science Advisory Board in the development of health goals for contaminants.
  2. Direct DEQ to coordinate and share water quality data with states in the region.

The committee will continue to meet and, at the suggestion of Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R-Duplin), will request from the Speaker a name change to better describe the scope of the committee’s study. Suggestions made Thursday included Drinking Water Quality, Water Contaminants, and Water Quality.

Judicial Redistricting

The Joint Select Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting met today to discuss the most recent judicial redistricting proposals and incumbency data as well as two House bills. The committee looked at three proposed options for new maps which can be viewed here. No votes were taken. They also covered House Bill 240, an act to provide that district court vacancies shall be fills by appointment of the General Assembly, and House Bill 241, an act that would allow the General Assembly to appoint special superior court judges. The committee does not plan to meet again before the short session begins next month.

Both bills and their summaries can be viewed here.

A Look Ahead to Next Week

Monday, April 30

10:00 AM House Select Committee on Disaster Relief

1:00 PM House Select Committee on Strategic Transportation Planning and Long Term Funding Solutions

Tuesday, May 01

10:00 AM Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee

1:00 PM House Select Committee on Implementation of Building Code Regulatory Reform

1:00 PM Joint Legislative Administrative Procedure Oversight Committee

Wednesday, May 02

9:00 AM House Select Committee on School Safety

10:00 AM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Unemployment Insurance

12:30 PM Social Services Regional Supervision and Collaboration Working Group