Each week, staff at Carolina Journal looks back at the week in N.C. politics and chooses what we think are some interesting, relevant stories you may have missed. Here’s a week in review:
Comments on Kay Hagan’s death: Former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., died Monday, Oct. 28, at the age of 66. Hagan died after a three-year battle with encephalitis caused by the Powassan virus. Here’s what some prominent North Carolinians had to say about the late senator.
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC: “Susan and I are absolutely heartbroken by Senator Kay Hagan’s sudden passing and we extend our condolences and prayers to her loving family and many friends. We join all North Carolinians in remembering her dedicated and distinguished record of public service to our state and nation.”
House Speaker Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland: “Senator Hagan represented the very best of North Carolina both as a committed public servant and an accomplished executive in the private sector. Her tragic death is a shock to the citizens she served faithfully in the General Assembly and the U.S. Congress. I join millions of her fellow North Carolinians remembering her immense contribution to our state and sending her family our deepest condolences during this tragic time.”
UNC system interim president Bill Roper: “Kay Hagan’s bright spirit and charisma was always welcome and deeply inspiring. As both a N.C. and a U.S. senator she was a champion for the military and their families, for those seeking health care, for consumers and for those less fortunate. She was a fearless public servant for the people of North Carolina, and a true friend. Our sincerest condolences go out to her family during this time. We will remember her fondly and miss her greatly.”
Gov. Roy Cooper: “Kristin and I are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our dear friend Sen. Kay Hagan. I’ve known Kay since our days in the legislature together. Kay was a fierce advocate for North Carolina, and she represented our state with courage and grace her entire career. She made it a mission to inspire young people — especially young girls — to enter public service, and she served as a role model to so many. North Carolina is mourning one of our best today.”
Warren visit: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, is coming to Raleigh to make the case for why she should be the Democratic presidential candidate for 2020. The town hall is Nov. 7 at Needham Broughton High School. Doors open at 4:30 p.m., and the event starts at 6:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. This is Warren’s first campaign stop in North Carolina.
National Education Assessment: Recently released national assessments showed reading scores dropped since the state introduced a statewide K-3 reading program. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, otherwise known as The Nation’s Report Card, released its report Wednesday, Oct. 30, showing how each state performed on reading and math tests. Fourth-grade reading scores haven’t changed much over the years, despite the introduction of Read to Achieve in 2012. The K-3 literacy program is aimed at ensuring students are reading proficiently by the third grade. Millions have been spent on Read to Achieve but significant improvements in K-3 reading have proven elusive. Nationwide, reading and math scores also saw little to no improvement.
Hurricane disaster recovery bill: The N.C. House unanimously approved a disaster relief bill during the Oct. 30 evening session. House Bill 1023 promises about $280 million for repairs, disaster relief, and disaster mitigation projects. But the Senate had other ideas. Instead, the Senate pursued a different disaster recovery House Bill 200 that didn’t have the same focus on resiliency as the House version. The Senate proposed $70.8 million in matching dollars for FEMA Hurricane Florence recovery projects, and $31 million for similar projects for other recent hurricanes. The House voted unanimously Thursday, Oct. 31, not to concur with the Senate bill. The bill now goes to a conference committee so the House and Senate can hash out their differences.
Early voting hours: The General Assembly passed a bill restoring early voting on the final Saturday before an election and extending hours. Senate Bill 683 passed the Senate unanimously; the House, 114-1. If Cooper signs the bill, early voting hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. S.B. 683 also provides safeguards against absentee ballot fraud, including requiring more stringent record-keeping and making absentee ballot fraud a criminal offense.
Motor Fleet Management audit: A newly released report from the N.C. State Auditor’s Office found the Department of Administration’s Motor Fleet Management Division failed to provide sufficient oversight of the state’s permanently assigned state-owned vehicles aligned with state statute and best practices. The report said the MFM didn’t take steps to ensure permanently assigned state-owned vehicles were driven the minimum amount of miles required for assignment. Additionally, the MFM failed to ensure state agencies were complying with commuter use requirements. The audit warned that lax oversight increases the risk that the agency would fail to catch vehicle misuse.
New ECU interim chancellor: Dr. Ron Mitchelson was selected as the new interim chancellor for East Carolina University. Mitchelson is taking over for the previous interim chancellor. Dan Gerlach. Gerlach was placed on administrative leave Sept. 29 after videos and photos surfaced showing him drinking and dancing with students at a local bar. Later a video was anonymously leaked showing Gerlach stumbling down the street and getting behind the wheel of a car. Shortly after Gerlach offered his resignation. Mitchelson has been serving as acting chancellor since Sept. 30. “As a longtime member of Pirate Nation, Ron will do a great job leading the university while the ECU Chancellor Search Committee begins the vital work of identifying the university’s next chancellor,” Roper said in a news release.
Sexual assault bill: The House unanimously passed Senate Bill 199, a bill strenghtening child sex abuse laws and provides additional protections to victims of sexual assault. The bill makes it a Class 1 Misdemeanor for someone 18 or older who fails to notify law enforcement of a violent or sexual offense against a minor. S.B. 199 further strengthens the right to revoke consent and extends the civil statute of limitations for misdemeanor crimes involving abuse against children. “I have received dozens and dozens of letters, emails, text messages, and phone calls, from victims who have followed the progress of our bill,” Rep. Dennis Riddell, R-Alamance, said. “To those victims, I want to say this bill is for you. If you’re a victim of child abuse, this bill is for you. If you’re an adult victim of sexual assault, this bill is for you. If you had your childhood innocence ripped out of your soul by an adult predator, this bill is for you.”