Gov. Jim Hunt returned to the Legislative Building this week to join me and my colleagues who are lobbying to protect Smart Start and More at Four, the state’s early childhood education initiatives.
Hunt was the driving force behind the creation of Smart Start in the early 1990s and the program has proven to be a model for early childhood education around the world. A study released by Duke University last week found that standardized test scores for third-graders were higher in North Carolina counties that received more money for Smart Start and More at Four when the children were younger. The study also found that those counties had lower rates of special education placements.
Budget writers this session have threatened to significantly cut funding for Smart Start and More at Four. Hunt has said a 5 percent reduction, as Gov. Perdue suggested to balance the budget, would be acceptable but said cuts beyond that would damage the effectiveness of the programs. I am working for you, and for the young people of our state, to mitigate these proposed cuts and preserve as much of the funding as possible.
We are also preparing in the legislature to draw new districts for members of Congress and the state General Assembly. This will be a particularly critical exercise this year as the new majority tries to draw districts that will give them a competitive advantage in next year’s elections. The first meeting of the redistricting committee is scheduled for next week and I hope that you will follow our progress as you are able.
In the meantime, I also want to update you about some of the bills that we considered in the House this past week.
As always, please contact me if I can be of service to you.
A proposed law approved in the House this week will toughen the conditions of probation by requiring probationers to undergo testing for drugs or alcohol when instructed by their probation officers. The bill (H270) also adds specific instructions for probationers to not associate with street gangs and to be more readily accessible to their probation officers. The bill must pass the Senate before becoming law.
Another proposed law approved in the House this week was (H 215) UNBORN VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE ACT/ETHEN’S LAW. The new law allows a person to be charged with murder in the death of a fetus regardless of the stage of development. Even the destruction of a day-old fetus could result in a murder charge. Not even the mother — let alone the assailant — has to know she is pregnant for a murder charge to be levied for the death of the fetus. There is no knowledge of pregnancy required for the murder charge to be filed.
The new law strikes the “injury to pregnant woman” statute from the books. This is a law favored by women’s rights advocates and those who work in the anti-domestic violence community. The law allows defendants to be charged at a higher level whenever they commit a crime against a pregnant woman. The law has worked well and no one has asked for its repeal.
The State Board of Education would have to provide a yearly update on physical fitness testing done in the schools under a bill approved by the House. The state already performs fitness testing for students in grades kindergarten through 8. The new measure (H334) would require those results to be submitted to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee. The bill now goes to the Senate.
The House approved a resolution this week to recognize Diabetes Alert Day. More than 1.1 million people in North Carolina are diabetic or pre-diabetic, according to the most recent statistics. It is the seventh-leading cause of death in the state. The resolution (H404) encourages people to have their blood sugar levels tested by their health care providers.
Members of the General Assembly recognized the one-year anniversary of the federal Affordable Care Act this week by holding a press conference to point out some of the ways the act helps women. The new law prohibits insurance companies from charging higher insurance premiums to women of childbearing age, those who have had Caesarian births or those who have been victims of domestic violence. All are currently considered pre-existing conditions for the purposes of health coverage. Insurers will also be barred from charging more for coverage for small employers with a predominately female workforce. Women will face fewer barriers to see the obstetricians and gynecologists of their choice, and will no longer have to make copayments for mammograms and preventive care for children.
Please remember that you can listen to each day’s session, committee meetings and press conferences on the General Assembly’s website. Once on the site, select “Audio,” and then make your selection – House Chamber, Senate Chamber, Appropriations Committee Room or Press Conference Room.