Each week, staff at Carolina Journal looks back at the week in N.C. politics and chooses several interesting, relevant stories you may have missed. Here’s this week’s review:
Prison lawsuit: The N.C. NAACP, the ACLU of North Carolina, and the Disability Rights North Carolina, have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration, calling for the immediate release of state prison inmates who are critically at risk from COVID-19. Four inmates and a spouse of an inmate are also party to the lawsuit. “North Carolina courts did not sentence thousands of people to suffer and potentially die from a pandemic,” state ACLU legal director Kristi Graunke said in a news release. Many inmates could be sent home to safely live with their families without posing a danger to the public, Graunke said. At least 15 state inmates have tested positive for COVID-19.
Vehicle inspection deadline: Legislative leaders agree that vehicle inspection deadlines should be extended. Senate leader Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and Speaker of the House Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, released a joint statement supporting legislation to make the fix. “Until such legislation passes, we support bureaucratic flexibility on compliance with the existing deadlines,” Berger and Moore said. The General Assembly leadership has spoken with Cooper’s team to tackle problems posed by the COVID-19 outbreak. “Based on our communications with the Executive Branch, we understand that the Department of Public Safety and State Highway Patrol are doing just that by not prioritizing enforcement,” Berger and Moore said.
Hazard pay: The State Employees Association of North Carolina wants hazard pay for essential state employees who can’t practice social distancing because of the nature of their jobs. SEANC sent a letter to Cooper and legislative leaders asking for hazard pay, as well as letting non-essential state employees work from home when possible. “We continue to hear reports from our members that departments and supervisors are prohibiting state workers from working from home, continuing to require non-essential state workers who could work from home to come into workplaces where social distancing is impossible,” Ardis Watkins, SEANC executive director, said in the letter.
Unemployment fiasco: Sen. Jim Perry, R-Lenoir, isn’t happy with how the state has handled the surge of unemployment benefit applications. North Carolinians have reported problems with applying for unemployment benefits, including website crashes and long wait times on the phone. A Carolina Journal report found the N.C. Division of Employment Security is worst in the nation in getting timely payments to applicants. “This is a textbook case of government inefficiency. These citizens don’t have time to wait for benefits, they need them now,” Perry said in a news release. Governor Cooper’s administration should begin flex-training state employees from other departments to address the surge in unemployment applications, Perry suggested. Additionally, the administration should contract with an outside firm to deal with problems with the unemployment benefit website and have call centers open 16 hours a day, seven days a week.
NCLEG Livestream: Meetings of the House Select Committee on COVID-19 will be live-streamed on the General Assembly website via YouTube starting April 14. The public can still listen to audio streaming of the meetings. But video will be an option. “We continue to expand our remote committee capability in the North Carolina House to prepare a legislative response that delivers much-needed help to people who we know are really hurting right now,” Speaker Moore said in a news release. The news comes as several remote meetings of the House committee were plagued with dropped audio and distorted sounds.