Political Notebook: Majority of likely voters, local legislators support school reopening bill

Published 6:07 pm Monday, March 1, 2021

A Civitas Flash Poll conducted over the weekend found widespread support for Senate Bill 37, “In-Person Learning Choice for Families.”

Of the 600 likely voters surveyed, 60% indicated they supported the measure, while 28% oppose it, 7.9% neither support or oppose and 4.5% are unsure. The poll shows that support runs along party lines, with 80% of Republicans, 56% unaffiliated voters and 43% of Democrats backing the measure.

Of likely voters surveyed in the poll, 77% believe schools should be either partially or fully reopened for in-person instruction, and only 18% believe schools should be closed with virtual instruction only.

The bill passed in the state House on Feb. 17 with a margin of 77-42. Eight Democrats joined all 69 Republicans in supporting the bill.

Rep. Wayne Sasser, a Republican who represents Rowan and Stanly counties, told the Post that North Carolina “needs to get these kids back to school.”

“If we’re going to follow the science, then we need to open these schools back up,” Sasser said. “If anyone has chronic conditions, they can work it out with the school system.”

Sasser added the state has provided schools across the state with more than $1 billion in COVID-19 relief for reopening measures, which he says is sufficient to implement safety measures.

Sen. Carl Ford, another Republican who represents Rowan and Stanly counties, told the Post the S.B. 37 ultimately gives the final decision to the parents as it should be.

The bill passed the Senate on Feb. 16 with 28 Republicans and three Democrats voting in support, and 16 Democrats opposing the measure.

But last week Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the measure, stating that it falls short in two critical areas. Though Cooper said he wants children back in classrooms and that by mid-March districts representing over 95% of students will be offering some in-person instruction, he opposed the measure due to how it treats middle- and high-school students.

“First, it allows students in middle and high school to go back into the classroom in violation of N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and CDC health guidelines,” Cooper said in his veto message. “Second, it hinders local and state officials from protecting students and teachers during an emergency.”

Cooper added that he would sign the bill into law if both problems are fixed. The bill, as currently written, allows local boards of education to provide either minimal social distancing (Plan A) or moderate social distancing (Plan B).

Cooper clarified his veto of the bill on Monday, saying it removes the authority from state and local officials to put students in remote learning in the event of an emergency such as a new COVID-19 variant reaching schools across the state.

“The question on S.B. 37 that I vetoed is not whether our children should be in the classroom in person. They absolutely should. The question is whether we do it safely,” Cooper said. ” I will continue talking with legislators and I will work diligently with the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction to make sure all of our children and educators are in the classroom, in-person and safe.”

Following the disclosure of Cooper’s veto, 49% of the likely voters polled with Civitas indicated they oppose the veto, while 41% support it, with a similar amount indicating the General Assembly should override the veto (49%) and a similar amount who feel they shouldn’t override (40%).

State lawmakers attempted an override of Cooper’s veto Monday night but did not muster the necessary votes.

North Carolina’s federal lawmakers oppose Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package

Over the weekend, the U.S. House passed “The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021” along party lines by a narrow margin of 219-212. All eight of North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers opposed the bill.

Just two Democrats joined the 210 Republicans who voted against the act, including Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Kurt Schrader of Oregon.

In a speech to the House floor, Rep. Ted Budd, a Republican representing North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District, told fellow lawmakers he would oppose the $1.9 trillion package out of concern for the price tag to taxpayers.

He said the government has already allocated more than $4 trillion in COVID-19 relief, with up to $1 trillion remaining unspent in total from the last two stimulus packages. He called on President Joe Biden’s administration to cite how the remaining unspent funds would be spent before “we toss another $2 trillion into one pile.”

Budd also called the package “another partisan wishlist,” as it initially included a minimum wage increase that Budd says would kill more than a million blue-collar jobs and an increase in unemployment benefits that he said would incentivize workers to stay home.

“Bottom line: We are again debating a liberal wish list disguised as COVID relief,” Budd said in his speech. “The American people aren’t fooled by any of this. They see through the game. And they know that this town can and should do better.”

But this round of COVID relief is a widely popular piece of legislation among Americans, according to polls from Qunnipiac University, Pew Research Center, Yahoo News/YouGov and CBS News. More than two-thirds of respondents among all of those polls indicated they supported such a measure and find it necessary.

Included in Biden’s plan is an estimated $422 billion for direct payments of $1,400 to Americans to top off the $600 issued earlier this year. The bill also increases unemployment insurance benefits from $300 per week to $400 through Aug. 29.

In an effort to make a dent in child poverty, the bill also expands the Child Tax Credit to provide $3,000 per child and $3,600 to children younger than 6, which would arrive in $250-per-month installments beginning in July.

About $50 billion would fund COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, $19 billion would help increase the size of the public health workforce, $16 billion will fund vaccine distribution and $350 billion would be earmarked for state and local governments, territories and tribes.

Additionally, $90 billion in the bill would go toward various transportation and infrastructure causes, $47 billion would increase the Disaster Relief Fund managed by FEMA, $28 billion would go to transit agencies in the form of grants and $11 billion would go to airports and aviation manufacturers.

Almost $130 billion is for K-12 education. Another $40 billion is earmarked for child care providers, with $1 billion set aside for the Head Start program. The bill also provides more than $5 billion in pandemic-related EBT funds and $800 for WIC program, or Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

The bill includes $30 billion in emergency rental assistance, $10 billion for mortgage assistance, $25 billion for bars and restaurants that have lost revenue due to the pandemic and $15 billion will fund Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance grants of up to $10,000 per business.

Though Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican who formerly represented parts of Rowan County, did not formally make a formal statement about his opposition to the bill, he said on Twitter while touring vaccination sites in North Carolina last week that “getting doses to communities that need them should be among our top priorities, not a #BidenBailout.”

Like Budd, Hudson has maintained his opposition due to a majority of the bill not being directed to COVID-19.

The bill now heads to the Senate. Despite the Republican opposition, it’s still likely the bill will passed, even if it excludes the $15 minimum wage.

Gov. Cooper signs H.B. 4 into law, extending ABC permit renewal fee deferral

While local lawmakers say it’s not uncommon for bills to pass in North Carolina in a bipartisan fashion, House Bill 4 is an example of a measure that has passed with unanimous support on both sides.

H.B. 4 allows bars and restaurants that have been subject to a closure as a result of the state’s executive orders to defer ABC renewal fees until 90 days after all executive orders related to the COVID-19 response are lifted. The bill passed 118-0 in the House and 47-0 in the Senate nearly two weeks ago. On Thursday, Gov. Roy Cooper signed the bill into law.

Both Reps. Sasser, who represents Rowan and Stanly counties, and Harry Warren signed on as sponsors of the bill. Sasser told the Post the bill was widely supported as it’s “more of a fairness issue than anything” for bars and restaurants closed down but still being charged ABC permit renewal fees.

“The pandemic has hit bar owners hard, and this bill offers needed relief from the burden of fees as they work to keep their businesses afloat and create more jobs,” Cooper said.

About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com or call her at 704-797-4246.

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