Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Jennifer Weiss
Office Sought/District: NC House District 35
Date of Birth: 10/29/59
Campaign Web Site: www.weissforhouse.com
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?
• Jobs & the Economy:
NC ranks as one of the best places to do business. We must continue to invest in our infrastructure: workforce training, transportation, high-speed internet and water and sewer capacity.
Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. To stimulate job creation, we should continue to support business incubators and develop better technical assistance to small businesses, including increased access to credit. When economic incentives are used, I will continue to advocate for transparency, strong claw-back provisions and performance standards.
Great schools and world-class, affordable community colleges and universities are critical for a competitive workforce. Strategic planning and investment in education will attract business and industry. I will help improve public education, with a focus on:
- Attracting and retaining excellent teachers
-Keeping students in school
-Investing in STEM education and academically gifted programs
-Training for workers seeking new skills
• Quality of Life:
A good quality of life is critical to our well-being. I advocate for disease-prevention initiatives and essential services for children, seniors and people with disabilities/mental illness. I support consumer protection, corporate responsibility, ethics reforms and open government. And I promote community sustainability measures, including:
-Improvements to our area's transportation network, e.g. public transportation, bike paths and pedestrian safety
-Sustainable energy initiatives
-Wise water use, e.g. conservation, alternative water supplies, assisting local governments with water planning and promoting regional cooperation
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. 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. During the last legislative session, I helped improve legislation that gives local options to help pay for transit in our area; I worked with my colleagues, consumer advocates, the leadership of Research Triangle Park and the primary sponsors to amend the intermodal bill to provide a better link between transportation planning and housing and to include additional authority for RTP businesses to tax themselves for transit improvements both within RTP and that connect RTP to surrounding communities. Finally, I believe that we ought to rethink our state's economic development policies and consider using investments in transportation infrastructure, e.g. support for transit in our state's urban areas, rather than corporate incentives, to attract and retain businesses in high growth areas.
In addition to needing better transportation funding, our area needs to work regionally to preserve and improve our quality of life as our region and state grow. The state is expected to add another 3 million residents in the 20 years, with the increase in the Triangle region expected to be over 1 million people. This explosion in population growth is a tremendous challenge for our region and will require better planning and investments in our transportation and water systems and in our protection of open space. I have been a strong advocate for the environment and I have fought to improve and expedite the protection and cleanup of Jordan Lake and Falls Lake to protect our area's water supply. For the past 2 years, I have participated in "Reality Check", a collaborative exercise designed to bring people from across the Triangle together to determine our infrastructure priorities and encourage regional planning for the future. As a co-chair of the Joint Select Committee on Urban Growth and Infrastructure Issues, I am working with my legislative colleagues to enable our local governments to work together and plan better and to position NC to be eligible for Federal sustainability grants. Locally, I have been working with legislative colleagues, area residents and businesses, state agencies and the City of Raleigh to plan for cooperative improvements in the Blue Ridge Corridor area, from Hillsborough St. to Edwards Mill Road, to address the challenges and opportunities presented by the planned transit improvements and increased public and private development in the area.
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 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 resulting in CO detectors in new homes, legislation to improve nutrition requirements in daycares to reduce childhood obesity and legislation to make state government buildings and vehicles smoke free. Last session, I was a primary sponsor of H2, which resulted in smoke free restaurants and bars in NC, protecting over 360,000 employees and millions of residents who work, eat and drink at these businesses. 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 bills to provide for a smoke free workplace for our state employees and for employees of restaurants and bars, 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, a tax credit for long term care insurance and a tax credit that will help 125,000 small businesses in our state.
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 additional funding for drop out prevention grants to help communities address the specific barriers that keep our young people from staying in school and completing their education.
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. I have successfully sponsored legislation for a state earned income tax credit and to raise base salaries for our state employees. I will continue to advocate 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 have voted against economic incentives packages on numerous occasions, even though the majority of legislators supported giving incentives to attract or retain businesses, because I feel that a far better way to attract businesses to NC is to invest in having the best educated workforce, the best quality of life and the best transportation system. 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) The current state budget was balanced with approximately equal amounts of spending cuts "primarily to human services and local school districts) and tax increases. Another very tough budget battle looms ahead next year. Will you support: (a) deep spending cuts? (b) greater tax increases" (c) another mix of the two? Please tell us what you'd cut and which taxes should be raised, if any.
The 2009-2010 session was extremely difficult because of the global recession and the resulting revenue shortfall that NC and almost every other state encountered. We were faced with difficult choices and ended up making deep spending cuts and increasing revenue to try to protect education and critical human services programs as best we could. NC spending per capita was cut so deeply that it is currently at the same rate as in the mid-1990's.
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. Because of the projected budget shortfall, we will be forced to go back through the budget and find ways to trim programs and still provide essential services. I supported discontinuing in-state tuition treatment for out of state athletes in our public universities. On the revenue side, I support closing tax loopholes, eliminating certain economic incentives that are not effective at creating jobs and reducing the value of other tax credits. 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 when necessary, to raise revenue in a way that is fair.
8) North Carolina is sending record numbers of people to prison, and when they're released, they're often lost and get in trouble again. The Governor's StreetSafe initiative is aimed at breaking this vicious cycle and reducing the recidivism rate. As a legislator, what would you propose that she and the General Assembly do to help?
Our laws are and should be tough on violent crime. However, we are spending millions of dollars each year to incarcerate non-violent offenders, many of whom have mental health and/or substance abuse problems; we would be better off addressing mental health and substance abuse needs with treatment and advocating for meaningful community service and restitution requirements rather than incarceration, in certain cases. I support treatment programs, like Summit House, that take non-violent female offenders who have children and work to break the cycle of incarceration by working with the women to teach them how to parent, how to be good employees, how to be successful, and work with the children to ensure that they get the care and nurturing they need to grow up to be healthy, safe and productive. The legislature has the opportunity to change the age of juvenile jurisdiction: Only 2 states in the U.S. treat 16 and 17 year olds as adults in the criminal justice system, and NC is one of them. The juvenile justice system is a better place for non-violent juvenile offenders to get the hands-on structure and treatment they need to be successful upon release. We need to commit the necessary resources to the juvenile justice system to ensure that it can handle these offenders and turn their lives around. I also support more preparation for the "outside world" for people who are incarcerated and more structure and guidance upon release. I am a firm believer in the old expression, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". To the extent that we can better fund afterschool programs, dropout prevention programs, substance abuse prevention programs, child abuse prevention, mental health treatment, etc., our state's residents would be far better served and we would have less of a need for prisons.
Finally, 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.
9) Health care: What should the state do next to address the problem of adults and children without adequate health care or insurance? What do you propose to do to address the mental health crisis?
Over the years, I have worked with my colleagues to expand Health Choice coverage for more children. I have supported a number of other legislative initiatives to expand health care coverage in our state including: giving tax credits to small businesses that provide health insurance coverage to their employees and establishing a high risk insurance program in NC to enable people with preexisting health conditions such as MS, diabetes, etc., who have not been able to procure insurance, to purchase insurance.
I have consistently fought to keep Dorothea Dix Hospital open for mental health treatment. 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.
10) 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 were 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.
11) 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 school bullying bill and am pleased that we were able to pass it during the 2009 session.
12) 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.
13) 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.
14) The latest figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 11.2 percent of North Carolina's workforce is unemployed. Please state specifically what the state should and can do to create new jobs, describe the kinds of jobs the state should support and what your role will be in creating them.
Despite the challenges we are facing, it is important to remember that 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. Closer to home, the Triangle area is renowned for the accolades we have received as being a great place to work and to raise a family. People are still choosing to move here because of our well-recognized quality of life.
The best way to create jobs in our state is to create an environment that enables our citizens to start and grow small businesses. More jobs will be created by our small businesses than by the large companies that contact our state in search of lucrative economic development incentives. Our schools can start by fostering creativity, problem solving skills and entrepreneurism in the educational process. Campuses like NCSU's Centennial Campus that bring researchers, students and businesses together and serve as business incubators are invaluable sites that help nurture businesses and create jobs. We have an excellent community college system that stands ready to train workers for new and existing businesses in our state; we need to continue to invest in this critical educational system that serves students from all walks of life and in different stages of their lives, trains workers and provides information and expertise to businesses. I will continue to advocate for strong education policies and funding that will bring down the drop out rate, improve the preparation of students to go on to obtain 2 and 4 year degrees, and will maintain and improve our state's world class community college and university systems.
Recognizing the need to assist small businesses and to help jump start our economy, I worked on legislation last session that provides a refundable tax credit for 125,000 small businesses and reduces the administrative burden on small retailers and small businesses. The legislature also appropriated money to be used to leverage private funds for additional loans to small businesses and passed legislation to spur investment in renewable energy and the rehabilitation of mills. We need to work to find additional ways to loosen the grip on credit so viable businesses can expand and hire new workers. Our state business websites need to be easy to use and our policies should be designed to protect consumers but not be unnecessarily cumbersome.
I strongly support policies that promote green buildings and the development of clean, renewable energy sources. These policies help our state become less dependent on foreign and fossil fuels, result in cleaner air and water and help create jobs.