Jennifer Weiss | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Jennifer Weiss

Candidate for N.C. House, District 35


Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Jennifer Weiss

Party: Democratic

Date of Birth: 10/29/59

Campaign Web Site:

Occupation & Employer: State legislator, State of NC

Years lived in North Carolina: 1991-Present (College- 1977-1981)

1) What do you see as the most important issues facing North Carolina? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

I feel that the most important issues facing NC are the need to continue to improve our education system, to maintain and improve our quality of life and to protect our environment.


Education is the key to preparing residents for the changing economy. Great schools, community colleges and universities are critical for North Carolina to have a well-educated, highly skilled workforce that can compete in the 21st century.   Strategic planning and investment in education will attract business and industry to North Carolina, bringing good jobs to our area. Higher education must be affordable to enable all of our citizens to reach their potential. I will help improve public education, with a focus on:

  • Keeping young people in school;

  • Providing training for displaced workers and for people seeking additional professional training; and

  • Attracting and retaining excellent teachers

Quality of Life:

I believe that quality health care and support for public health are essential for our state's well-being. In addition to supporting wellness and disease-prevention initiatives, I will continue to work towards providing North Carolinians with access to:

  • Affordable health care and prescription drugs; and

  • Essential services for children, senior citizens and people with disabilities or mental illness

I will keep advocating for consumer protection, corporate responsibility and open government.

Protection of the Environment:

I will continue to support:

  • Clean air and water standards;

  • Preservation of open space;

  • Additions to our state's parkland; and

  • Sustainable energy initiatives.

I will also advocate for improvements to our area's transportation network, including better funding for public transportation, bike paths, and pedestrian safety.

2) Are there specific needs in your district that you would add to that list? How do you propose to address them?

Our area needs major improvements in our transportation infrastructure, particularly in the area of mass transit. The state transportation funding formula is wrong on 2 counts -- it does not properly account for transportation needs due to traffic congestion and it primarily funds roads and highways and not 21st century multi-modal transportation forms such as bus, light rail, bike paths, sidewalks, etc. I will work with my colleagues to try to make the transportation funding formula fairer and to try to devote a larger share of it to transit. In addition, I am open to looking at various local options to help pay for transit in our area. Finally, I believe that we ought to rethink our state's economic development policies and use investments in transportation infrastructure, e.g. support for transit in our state's urban areas, rather than corporate incentives to attract and retain businesses.

3) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the issues you've identified? Please be as specific as possible in relating past accomplishments to current goals.

I have sponsored and supported a number of (somewhat controversial) bills to reduce child fatalities in our state and to improve health and safety, including changes to child safety seat and seat belt laws, All Terrain Vehicle Safety legislation, raising the minimum age for young people to ride in the back of pick-up trucks, legislation to implement a rating system for adult care homes, requiring carbon monoxide detectors in rental properties and legislation to make state government buildings and vehicles smoke free. These bills have required a tremendous amount of negotiation and compromise to get out of committee and to pass the House and Senate. I have been able to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, with industry and with the advocacy community to gain passage of these bills. I look forward to continuing to fight for important policies to make North Carolina an even better place to live and work.

4) How do you define yourself politically, and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I am not a fan of labels but if I had to choose one, I would say that I am a moderate progressive. My past achievements have included: successfully sponsoring legislation to provide for a smoke free workplace for our state employees, improving our system of early intervention services for children with special needs, supporting a high risk insurance pool, supporting mental health parity, supporting tax credits for small businesses that provide health insurance to their employees, supporting an increase in the state's minimum wage, supporting an increase in the number of children covered by the Children's Health Insurance Program and as a Finance co-chair, championing a state earned income tax credit.

5) The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. Please point to a specific position in your platform that would, if achieved, help further that goal.

I support increasing access to health care for people in our state. We have approx. 1.5 million North Carolinians who do not have health insurance. I will continue to work with my colleagues to build a better system of expanding access to health insurance and health care for those individuals.

I am also committed to helping the working poor in our state and will continue to advocate for increases in our state's earned income tax credit and for investments in our state's Housing Trust Fund.

6) Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

I am known for taking principled stands while serving in the NC House. I voted against the lottery and more recently, I voted against the boat trailer bill because of safety concerns, even though it had the support of a vast majority of my colleagues. I expect that there will be other situations in the years ahead when I will feel compelled to speak and "swim upstream" on controversial issues.

7) If these issues haven't been addressed above, would you please comment on:

a. Poverty: What steps, if any, do you advocate to lift up the poor in North Carolina?

I have successfully sponsored legislation for a state earned income tax credit and to raise the base salaries for our state employees. I also support increasing investments in our state's Housing Trust Fund. I will continue to advocate for fairer taxation policies and for better services and educational opportunities to help lift people out of poverty.

b. Transportation needs in the state, including roads and transit in the Triangle?

I believe that the Triangle area desperately needs a comprehensive transit system and I will work with my colleagues to advocate for a larger portion of the state's transportation dollars to be spent on transit, and for fair local option funding for transit.

c. Crowded prisons: Should we be moving toward more alternative-sentencing programs instead of prison time?

The NC Sentencing Commission has provided the NC General Assembly with various alternatives for reducing crowded prisons that would ensure safety of our citizens but also reduce the need for additional prisons. I support these proposals.

d. Health care: What should the state do next to address the problem of adults and children without adequate health care or insurance?

I worked with my colleagues to expand Health Choice coverage for more children in last year's budget. I also supported giving tax credits to small businesses that provide health insurance coverage to their employees. Recently, a legislative study commission on access to healthcare was formed and I look forward to seeing the recommendations that it makes. I am hopeful that we will get more support from Washington, DC as we work to try to ensure access to quality health care for more North Carolinian's next session.

e. Foreclosures: What more should the state be doing to help consumers avoid foreclosure and hold onto their homes?

NC has strong anti-predatory lending laws and is recognized as a leader in this effort. I have served on study commissions dealing with home foreclosures and we have initiated a number of programs working in conjunction with the Commissioner of Banks and the Attorney General's office to prosecute illegal conduct by mortgage servicers, appraisers and others involved in unscrupulous dealings with homebuyers and to try to help counsel prospective homeowners and to work with homeowners who are in danger of losing their homes. We have also enacted legislation to try to keep homeowners who have lost their jobs due to plant closings in their homes. I will continue to support these efforts and will work my colleagues to develop other strategies for protecting homeowners.

f. Energy: Do you support off-shore drilling in the state's coastal waters? Other state initiatives to reduce gasoline and other energy costs?

I do not believe that we can drill our way out of our energy crisis. Even the Bush administration has indicated that any oil gained from new off-shore drilling exploration is not likely to affect production for the next 20 years. Our country and state should be supporting the use and development of clean energy alternatives in order to break our dependence on oil and to reduce our carbon footprint. In this year's budget, we passed a sales tax holiday for energy efficient appliances, to try to encourage NC residents to increase their energy efficiency.

g. The mental health crisis: Everyone agrees it's a mess. Now what?

I have consistently fought to keep Dorothea Dix Hospital open and feel that it is a terrible mistake to close the hospital, particularly when there is uncertainty about the safety and quality of care at Central Regional Hospital. We should not be closing state hospital beds until we have adequate services and a continuum of care, including housing, for people with mental illness, in our communities. In addition, we need to ensure that our state mental hospitals are properly staffed and are safe, and that there are enough beds to meet the needs of people with mental illness in our state. The legislature recently passed a mental health parity law, which will help people with mental illness who have health insurance get access to the mental health services that they need. We have a long way to go to improve our mental health system in N.C. and I am committed to working with my colleagues to try to address this critical issue.

h. Taxes: Given the needs, are they too high? Too low? Too regressive? What direction should the state be taking on the revenue side?

NC has consistently been recognized as one of the best places in the United States to do business, to start a business, etc. It is the quality of life, our educational institutions and the quality of the workforce, as well as our tax structure, that bring new jobs to NC. As a co-chair of Finance, I will continue to advocate for tax fairness. I strongly supported the enactment of an Earned Income Tax Credit for our state which will help our hard working families make ends meet and which will counter some of the regressivity in our tax code. I am concerned about our state's dependence on the sales tax because with the change in our economy from a goods based economy to a services based economy, the sales tax has become a shrinking source of revenue that tends to disproportionately burden low-income people. I support efforts to modernize and revamp our tax structure to broaden the base by closing tax loopholes, etc. and to potentially reduce the rate. The bottom line on taxes: the bulk of our state budget goes to education, health care and crime control and public safety. It is our responsibility to determine the essential needs of the state, the revenue that we need to address those needs and to raise the revenue in a way that is fair.

i. School vouchers: Should the state provide vouchers to parents who choose private (K-12) schools for their children? If so, for what amount?

As a general rule, I do not support vouchers. A strong, well-funded public school system is in the best interest of everyone in our state. We need to ensure that we plan and invest in our schools so that all children receive a high quality education. I am aware of concerns about the quality of special education for some students and I feel that the state should address the problem by examining and improving our special education program.

8) What is your position on capital punishment in North Carolina? If in favor, will you support a moratorium on executions while the question of whether the death penalty can be administered fairly is studied by the General Assembly?

I have concerns about the way the death penalty has been administered in our state and about situations where innocent people have been on death row and later found not to have committed the crime. I support a moratorium on executions while the General Assembly addresses whether the death penalty can be administered fairly.

9) What is your position regarding LGBT rights? Please address whether gay marriages or civil unions should be made legal in North Carolina; also, whether sexual orientation and identity should be added as a protected class under state anti-discrimination laws, including state personnel laws.

I believe that people should not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. I supported the bullying bill in its original form.

10) Do you support women's reproductive rights, including the "right to choose" as set out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade? Given that North Carolina has the ninth highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation, do you support medically accurate sex education that includes information about birth control?

Yes, I support women's reproductive rights. I believe that young people should be discouraged from engaging in sexual activity and should also have medically accurate information so they can make wise, informed decisions about their personal health and safety.

11) Should public employees have the right to bargain collectively in North Carolina?

North Carolina is one of only 2 states in the country that do not currently permit some type of collective bargaining for their public sector employees. In state government, we have employee morale problems and a high turnover rate and we are often faced with the situation of hiring new employees, training them and then losing them to the private sector. The high cost of this turnover rate is borne by the taxpayers of our state. Collective bargaining may be a way to address the problems of morale and turnover in state government. I think that we should examine this issue and consider restoring this important right to the public sector workers of our state.

12) One of the most controversial issues in this election year is illegal immigration. Recently, several N.C. counties—including Alamance, Johnston and Wake—have employed the 287(g) program, which streamlines local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement. What is your assessment of the success, or failure, of these programs?

It is unfortunate that the Federal Government has not enacted comprehensive immigration reform and that a patchwork of state and local enforcement policies have sprung up as a result. I believe that people who commit serious crimes should be prosecuted to the fullest extent and that people who are not in this country legally who commit serious crimes should be prosecuted and deported. However, I am very concerned about the implementation of the 287(g) program in certain cases, e.g. children being separated from their parents and left unattended in dangerous situations, assumptions being made about people's immigration status based on their appearance or accents, etc. I am also concerned that immigrants will develop a distrust of law enforcement because of the implementation of the 287(g) program and the result will be more crimes being committed and an unwillingness for victims and witnesses to seek help or come forward.

13) Despite the Department of Homeland Security's finding that admitting Illegal Immigrants to college did not violate federal Immigration law, the N.C. System of Community Colleges ruled to maintain a moratorium on admitting Illegal Immigrants to degree-granting programs. How will you vote on legislative proposals to either ban, or permit, Illegal Immigrants attending college In North Carolina?

I was disappointed by the decision of the NC Community College system to maintain this moratorium. We have in our midst a population of undocumented workers and their children because of a failure of our Federal government to implement a comprehensive immigration policy. Teachers are required to educate all children and the goal is for all of them to graduate from high school. N.C. has a high dropout rate from high school and the opportunity for higher education is one of the incentives for young people to apply themselves and to stay in school. Our 21st century economy requires a well-educated workforce, and with the aging and retirement of baby boomers, we will be facing a brain drain. We can not afford to write off a segment of our state's population, many of whom were brought here as children and are here through no fault of their own. I believe that to deny educational opportunities to qualified graduates of our high schools who want to become citizens and contribute to this state is not only immoral, it makes no business sense. The alternative is the growth of an underclass that will lose hope, will not contribute to our economy in a positive way and may be more likely to become involved in crime.

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