The General Assembly isn't in session right now, but there is still a lot of work happening in Raleigh as committees meet to get updates from state agencies. Last week, the Environmental Review Commission met to discuss pre-regulatory landfills, the Senate Select Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting met to discuss options for implementing legislative selection of judges, and the Joint Committee on Oversight of Health and Human Services met to receive updates on the state's takeover of Cardinal Innovations and the continuing implementation of NC FAST, just to name a few. If you have questions about the happenings in Raleigh, make sure you reach out to my office so we can get you the information you need.
If you’ve ever had to deal with a speeding ticket, you know that court fees are often far more expensive than the actual fine. In fact, court fees for some minor offenses can run into the hundreds of dollars.
Until this year, we allowed judges to waive fees for someone who couldn’t afford to pay them, but leadership here in the General Assembly slipped a provision into the final budget this year that makes it virtually impossible for a judge to do that going forward.
The new rule requires that the judge hold a special hearing to give every governmental unit that would have gotten a share of the fees an opportunity to object. The cost of sending notices and holding additional hearings would overwhelm the resources of our local courts, and the likely result is that judges simply won’t be able to waive those costly fees for folks who can’t afford to pay them. That could spell disaster for families already teetering on the edge of poverty. If you are unable to pay the fee within 40 days, you could lose your license, and for a lot of folks in rural communities without access to public transportation, that could mean losing your job. We shouldn’t punish people for being poor, and that’s exactly what this law does. It’s wrong and the General Assembly ought to reverse it immediately.
Beginning in 2020, federal agencies will implement new, tougher security screenings and you’ll need the new REAL ID to board planes or enter some government buildings. Your state issued driver’s license or ID card can be your REAL ID, but you’ll need to apply for the upgrade at the DMV. You can get a list of the acceptable documentation you’ll need and answers to some other common questions on the DMV’s website.
There are over 7.3 million licensed drivers in North Carolina and only about 200,000 have applied for the new IDs so far. The DMV is encouraging folks to make the switch now so that the other 7 million don’t all show up at the same time in December of 2019!
The Department of Environmental Quality continues to find more drinking water wells contaminated with the chemical GenX near the Chemours plant in eastern North Carolina. There are more than 85,000 chemicals produced in manufacturing processes today that are not regulated by the federal government, and that means we must rely on our state agency to prevent them from being dumped into our rivers and lakes. Instead of working to ensure the department has the resources it needs to do that important work, the General Assembly this year slashed the department’s budget by millions of dollars and laid off experienced scientists and staff. Protecting our mountains and rivers is one of the most important things we do as a government, and we have to make sure we are providing DEQ with the resources and technology it needs to do that.
We'll be back in Raleigh next month for a special session. Unfortunately, as Democrats we are kept in the dark about what exactly is on the agenda until we get to Raleigh. We've heard that we may be voting on as many as 4 constitutional amendments. I hope that instead we will take the opportunity to resolve the crisis being created in our classrooms by the unfunded mandate to reduce K-3 class sizes and fund the important work being done by the Department of Environmental Quality. Watch your email for more updates in January!