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Anti-abortion bill clears NC legislature, faces likely veto from governor

A Republican-sponsored bill aimed at preventing abortions based on a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome is headed to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper after clearing the state Senate on a party line vote Thursday.

House Bill 453, titled “Human Life Nondiscrimination Act/No Eugenics,” also would prevent women from having an abortion based on the race or sex of the fetus.

The Senate approved the bill by a 27-20 vote with no Democratic “yes” votes.

The House approved the bill by a 67-42 vote on May 6 with six Democrats voting yes.

“The unborn are the most vulnerable among us and should not be discriminated against based on a presumptive in-utero diagnosis,” House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said in a statement.

“This violates natural law and robs society of the blessing each and every child is to all of us. No child should have to be ‘screened’ to be given the chance to live.”

Cooper has 10 days to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature. Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said that “the governor will review this legislation further before commenting.”

Political analysts expect Cooper to veto the bill, as he did the abortion-focused “Born Alive” bill that cleared the legislature in 2019.

The current state legislature is made up of 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats in the Senate. The N.C. House has 69 Republicans and 53 Democrats.

At least 30 votes are required in the Senate to override a governor’s veto, as well as at least 72 in the House.

Eugenics comparison

The three-page bill would require a physician “to confirm before the abortion that the woman is not seeking an abortion because of any of the following: the actual or presumed race or racial makeup of the unborn child; the sex of the unborn child; the presence or presumed presence of Down syndrome.”

Bill sponsors in both chambers, including Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, have tried to frame the debate as an eugenics issue — an intensely sensitive topic in North Carolina.

The state ran one of the most aggressive sterilization programs in the country from 1929 through 1974, rendering barren more than 7,600 men, women and children on often flimsy evidence that they were mentally or physically unfit to reproduce.

Democratic Gov. Mike Easley apologized for the forced sterilizations in 2002, but it took about another 10 years for legislators to set up a compensation program. By February 2018, about 220 applicants had each received three payments totaling $45,000 from those considered qualified by the N.C. Industrial Commission.

Krawiec said during Thursday’s floor debate that she considers allowing abortions to take place for any of the three reasons cited in the bill as “eugenics in its worst form.”

“Nothing could be more stigmatizing than ... for anyone to lose their life because of their race, or because of their disability.

“We want to eliminate this atrocity so that North Carolina no longer participates in that practice,” Krawiec said.

‘Disrespects the trauma’

Democratic opponents of HB453 said the legislation is another strategy for reducing women’s reproductive rights.

Sen. Natalie Murdock, D-Durham, said Thursday that for bill sponsors to use eugenics “to push this bill forward is concerning.”

“To label an individual’s decision to obtain an abortion as eugenics, as this bill does, is offensive, irresponsible and warps the painful legacy of the eugenics movement in North Carolina.

“It disrespects the trauma endured by real victims of forced sterilization.”

Bill opponents said they fear the doctor-patient conversation requirements in the bill could jeopardize women’s trust in medical care, and could lead some women to carry pregnancies to term once they learn of a Down syndrome diagnosis, even if they have other reasons for considering an abortion.

Sen. Sarah Crawford, D-Wake, said Thursday that Republican supporters of the anti-abortion measure should be just as willing to step up to provide consistent funding for health care and education for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities as they grow up.

Crawford pointed out that neither bipartisan Senate Bill 350 or companion bill House Bill 389 have been heard in a committee since they were introduced in late March. Krawiec is primary sponsor of SB350.

The bills would provide $37.5 million for helping provide personal care services for North Carolinians with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The state’s Medicaid innovations waiver initiative allows people with intellectual disabilities to receive services and assistance in their homes and communities instead of in institutions.

The services involve in-home skill building, intensive recovery support and transitional living.

There are more than 15,000 individuals on the waiting list known as North Carolina’s Registry of Unmet Needs, including at least 809 in Forsyth. Some North Carolinians have waited as many as 19 years.

Those efforts “are woefully underfunded for those with the greatest needs,” Crawford said.

Citing Republican leadership’s strong opposition to expanding Medicaid coverage, Crawford said supporters of this latest anti-abortion measure “need to truly value life past birth.”

Liz Barber, policy analyst for the ACLU of N.C., said that the legislation “flies in the face of racial justice and disability rights and casts a person’s reproductive decisions as discrimination to stigmatize abortion.”

“This legislation presents an unconstitutional ban on abortions before viability, and limits people’s access to care based on the government’s moral judgments on personal decisions. Every federal court to consider the question agrees that a state cannot ban abortions based on a patient’s reason,” she said.

“Each and every North Carolinian has the freedom to define their own path, including the right to decide if and when one wants to become a parent. We call on Gov. Cooper to veto HB453 to protect this right.”

Chances of override

Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, an economics professor at Winston-Salem State University, said there is a better-than-even chance of HB453 surviving a Cooper veto because of how sponsors framed the legislation “as one to combat eugenics and sexism, as opposed to restricting all abortions ... since the actual rationale for abortions can depend on multiple factors.”

Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation, said the Senate’s party-line vote on HB453 “suggests it’s not likely to survive Gov. Cooper’s veto stamp.”

“It’s possible that bill sponsors at least contemplated the idea that this measure might not become law this year,” he said.

“But they wanted to go on record — and put their opponents on record — in addressing one of their highest priority issues.”


Education
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'A perfect fit': Salem Academy and College names a new president with extensive health sciences background

As Salem Academy and College turns to preparing its college graduates for careers and leadership roles in health-related fields, the institution has picked a new president who helped start a health sciences school at a New England university.

Salem Academy and College on Thursday announced its 21st president: Summer Johnson McGee, the founding dean of the School of Health Sciences at the University of New Haven in Connecticut. McGee, 40, will start July 1.

In an interview Thursday, Salem trustee Elizabeth Baird said McGee will bring a wide range of skills and abilities to the Winston-Salem women’s college and high school for girls. During McGee’s recent job interview, Baird said, “listening to her speak about her hopes and visions for the Academy and College made me inspired and made me want to go back to school.

Salem Academy and College, contributed 

McGee

“It just gave me the sense that — she might not have known it yet — that she was part of Salem already. She brought that spirit to the forefront,” said Baird, who led the school’s presidential search committee and will become the Board of Trustees chairwoman July 1.

Outgoing board chairman McDara Folan said in a statement that he’s confident McGee is “a perfect fit” for Salem.

McGee will arrive at Salem at a pivotal moment in its history. Not only will the nation’s 13th oldest college this fall begin a year-long celebration of its 250th anniversary, the college division will launch revamped academic and extracurricular programs that mesh Salem’s traditional liberal arts offerings with its new focus on careers in health leadership.

McGee has spent much of her life preparing for a role like this one.

She grew up in a tiny northwest Indiana town of Wheatfield. (“It’s as rural as it sounds,” McGee said Thursday.) Her dad taught junior high social studies. Her mom was a nurse practitioner.

“I tell people it’s no surprise I grew up to be an academic in the health professions,” McGee said.

McGee attended Indiana University Bloomington on a full scholarship. There, she designed her own major in bioethics that combined her long-time interests in policy and ethical issues in health and health care. By age 25, McGee had earned a doctorate in health policy and management from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Her professional career includes faculty and administrative roles at several universities and a four-year stint at an academic journal. In 2013 she joined the faculty at the University of New Haven. Like Salem, New Haven is private, but its enrollment of nearly 7,000 undergraduate and graduate students makes it roughly seven times larger than Salem.

Two years after she arrived in Connecticut, McGee was named the first chair of the university’s new health sciences department. In 2018, she became the founding dean of the School of Health Sciences. For the past year she has been co-chair of the university’s COVID-19 task force and has been interviewed by local and national media about vaccines, mask-wearing and reopening in the waning days of the pandemic.

In her current role as dean, McGee is responsible for an academic division that offers undergraduate, graduate and dual-degree programs in about a dozen areas.

The new health sciences school was part reorganization of existing academic programs, part creation of several new offerings, including bachelor’s degrees in exercise science and medical laboratory sciences and a master’s degree in public health. The school launched one of the nation’s first doctoral programs in health sciences — something that New Haven’s master’s graduates asked for, McGee said — and started the region’s first graduate program in health care administration.

Though McGee hasn’t attended or worked at a women’s college, the health sciences school is the next closest thing: Nearly 90 percent of its students are women, she said.

McGee said Thursday she learned several lessons from her recent experiences that she will bring to Salem as the college embarks on a new health leadership path and the high school looks to modernize its curriculum.

“Part of my philosophy and approach is you build a strong team,” McGee said. “You recruit strong faculty, and you listen to your alumni” as well as the community, both on campus and off.

McGee said she’s especially intrigued by the college’s new focus, especially because women hold most of the jobs in many health professions — but few of the leadership roles.

“I think that’s something that Salem women can do and become,” McGee said. “I think what Salem is doing is bold, it’s innovative and exactly the right thing a liberal arts institution should be doing at this time.”

McGee succeeds Sandra Doran, who led Salem from 2018 to 2020 before leaving Winston-Salem last June to become president of Bay Path University in Massachusetts.

Susan Henking has served as Salem’s interim president since Doran’s departure. Henking, the former president of the former Shimer College in Illinois, had been the interim vice president for academic and student affairs and dean of Salem College before she became the interim president of Salem Academy and College. Henking will be leaving Salem on June 30, a school spokesman said Thursday.


Joy and celebration

Graduates celebrate after receiving their diplomas Thursday during ceremonies at Atkins and Parkland high schools. Walkertown also held graduation ceremonies on Thursday. The events concluded a busy week of graduation ceremonies for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.


Govt-and-politics
top story
Forsyth County approves $500 million budget on unanimous vote, lowers tax rate to 67.78 cents for every $100 of taxable property

The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners quickly approved the 2021-22 county budget on Thursday afternoon, voting unanimously to set the tax rate at 67.78 cents for every $100 of taxable property.

The approved budget totals $500 million and includes $149.5 million for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, a total that is expected to be augmented by $3 million when additional sales tax revenues are accounted for later in the year.

Commissioners had wrapped up budget deliberations on Wednesday by coming up with two alternative proposals, called Option A and Option B.

Option A, proposed by commissioners Richard Linville and Gloria Whisenhunt, would have set the tax rate at 67.18 cents. But Option B, supported by a board majority, was the one that won unanimous support on Thursday as Whisenhunt withdrew Option A, citing lack of support.

The new tax rate is a cut from the current rate of 74.35 cents, but that rate was set before a revaluation of property values was carried out by the county tax office to go into effect this year.

Most properties increased in value through revaluation, although at different rates. To essentially raise the same amount of property tax revenue as in the current year, the county would have to set the rate for 2021-22 at 67.03 cents.

At a rate of 67.78 cents, the owner of a property currently valued at $150,000 would pay $1,016.70 in county taxes.

While support for the budget was unanimous on the county board, commissioners split on a policy statement that was passed alongside the budget and dealing with money the county will later distribute from a pot of $56 million in federal stimulus money.

On a 5-2 vote, commissioners approved a statement suggested by Commissioner Fleming El-Amin that would encourage nonprofits and other groups that apply for the stimulus money to focus their efforts on low-income census tracts, “with the hope that 80% of the funds available in the process will reach our most marginalized populations.”

Although only a recommendation, the measure drew opposition from Whisenhunt as focusing too strongly on parts of the county mostly in Winston-Salem.

Linville also opposed the measure, saying Thursday that he wanted to see how the final rules developed on spending the money before deciding how to spend it.

El-Amin had said on Wednesday that there would still be plenty of money to spend outside the low-income tracts, and noted that the 80% spending for those areas was “for guidance, not a mandate.”

El-Amin was joined on the vote in favor of the policy statement by commissioners Ted Kaplan, Don Martin, Tonya McDaniel and Dave Plyler.

The other policy statements passed along with the budget won unanimous approval:

*The $3 million increase in the schools’ budget, coming from sales tax revenues, will be considered as part of the schools’ recurring budget when the county begins work on the 2022-23 budget. In other words, the starting point for next year’s school budget will be higher by that $3 million.

*A host of community groups that had asked for county funding this year are going to be automatically included in the discussions for spending some of the stimulus money. The groups will not have to re-apply to the county when it starts the process of deciding how to spend the dollars.

The total for public schools is up $11 million over the 2020-21 fiscal year, although the schools had requested $153.5 million from the county for 2021-22.

For the coming fiscal year, the county’s appropriation to schools is not based on a formula, as was done for a number of prior years.

The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office sees an increase of close to $3 million in the new budget, caused largely by two factors: The addition of school resource officer positions formerly provided through Winston-Salem, and higher jail medical expenses rising from a newly contracted provider of jail health services.

Emergency Services is getting about $2 million in increased spending, with almost half that amount for 12 new positions.


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