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Allison Lee Isley/Journal  

Brandon Ward leads the way down the front stretch in the 100-lap modified race on Saturday, June 22, 2019, at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Winston-Salem Journal/Allison Lee Isley) 20190623w_spt_bg


Local
Electric scooters to return under new regulations in Winston-Salem

Scooter fans will be happy to know that the power-assisted travel devices could be back on the streets of Winston-Salem, but the scooters won’t be Birds.

City officials said five companies have applied to put electric scooters back on the streets of Winston-Salem under new regulations that the city council adopted in March to give the city more control.

The Bird company that dropped its scooters onto city streets in August 2018 isn’t coming back, at least not yet. Matthew Burczyk, the city’s point man on biking (and now, scooters) said Bird was not among the five companies applying.

“At the beginning of May, we launched the permit application and invited firms to submit an application,” Burczyk said. “Our selection committee will make a decision in the next two or three weeks.”

No more than two companies will be allowed to put out their scooters for rent. Once a company is picked, it must have scooters on the streets and ready to rent within a month.

Actually, the city is potentially picking both scooter and bicycle providers. The “micromobility device” ordinance passed by the city regulates both power-assisted scooters and rental bikes of the type that are left undocked for people to rent and ride.

Five companies submitted applications, Burczyk said. They are Blue Duck, Slidr, Spin, VeoRide and Zagster.

Slidr also submitted the only entry in the biking category. But Burczyk said that doesn’t mean the company will be selected, since there’s no requirement that any company be chosen.

“Most of them are companies that reached out to us when they found out that we were going through an ordinance process,” Burczyk said. “Most of them are companies I am not familiar with. I’m happy to see there is as much competition as there is.”

Some of the potential scooter providers show where they are operating now on their websites. Blue Duck is active in a string of states along the southern tier of the country, including South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Arizona.

Slidr is mostly in the Southeast, with scooters or bikes in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Oklahoma.

VeoRide also provides both bikes and scooters, but it has a wider footprint across the nation: It has outlets in New England and California, as well as in a swath of states stretching from the Midwest to Texas.

Winston-Salem’s ordinance governing scooters and dockless bicycles sets a fee of $1,000 to apply for a permit. That fee is not refundable and is meant to cover the city’s cost of managing the permits. When selected, a company must also pay a fee of $100 per scooter, $50 per bike when the bikes are electric-assisted, and $25 per bike for ordinary bikes.

The permits last a year and can be renewed for $500, assuming a company gets picked for renewal.

The scooters can’t be ridden on greenways, public parks, public sidewalks, in parking decks and in Old Salem. Nor can they be ridden after 9 p.m. Companies have to be able to determine when scooters are being ridden in prohibited areas and electronically notify the customer.

People riding scooters must be at least 16 years old. Helmets are encouraged but not required. Companies have to tell people how and where to ride, and must have a 24-hour hotline people can use to contact the provider.

Because people have been killed in scooter-related incidents in places across the country where they are in use, the city of Winston-Salem is requiring that each scooter or bike company selected must relieve the city of any liability for injuries.

The return of the scooters to the city will come after a ban that was put in place last fall. Although the scooters were popular with some people, others complained that those using them were being unsafe by riding on sidewalks and weaving through traffic.

The council members who pushed for a ban were also upset that the scooters were put into operation without giving the city advance notice..

Burczyk said that going into the permit-application period, he didn’t know what to expect.

“I didn’t know whether we would get one application or 10,” he said.

“I don’t know what their internal strategies are,” Burczyk said, referring to the companies

The Associated Press reported in April that people took an estimated 38.5 million trips on electric scooters in 2018, more than the 36.5 million trips people took on shared bicycles. There were some 85,000 rental scooters available across the country.


Z-no-digital
Festival-goers flock to Juneteenth Festival in downtown Winston-Salem at Wake Forest Innovation Quarter

In his motivational youth session on Saturday at the 15th Annual Juneteenth Festival in Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, Geno Segers told his audience to stop dreaming, hoping and wishing.

“Because to believe in a dream, you’ve got to be asleep to believe,” said Segers in a booming voice. “You have to wake up and put something real down on paper.”

Several children listened closely with their eyes fixed on Segers as he told them that now they had steps to accomplish their goals.

“Write a goal down, whatever it is,” he said. “I don’t care what it is. Write the goal down and get your little steps in place to achieve your dream.”

Segers, a native of Winston-Salem, is an actor and voice artist. He has played the role of Mufasa in Disney’s Australian stage production of “The Lion King” and is best known for the role of Chayton Littlestone in “Banshee” on Cinemax. He is one of the stars of “Perfect Harmony,” an NBC comedy debuting in the fall.

He told them that if they look at their steps daily, “it will echo in your mind what it is that you want, how you want to do it.”

He warned them that they would probably make mistakes and “bump their heads,” but that’s when they needed to duck.

His youth session was one of a number of presentations held inside Biotech Place or outside in Bailey Park during the Juneteenth Festival. Offerings included music, food, a variety of vendors, health information sessions, arts and crafts, book signings and sales, a fashion showcase and heritage displays and demonstrations.

There was a shotgun house project exhibit and a 1967 Safe Bus.

The Safe Bus Co., which operated in Winston-Salem from 1926 to 1972, was formed to provide transportation to African American workers in Winston-Salem.

Cheryl Harry, the founder and director of Triad Cultural Arts Inc., a nonprofit organization that sponsors the local Juneteenth Festival, estimated more than 6,000 people attended the event this year, compared with an estimated 5,000 people in 2018.

She said she is happy with this year’s turnout.

“I think something is going on across the nation in terms of recognizing Juneteenth,” Harry said.

She said that Juneteeth is getting more media attention and she doesn’t get the repeated question from people: “What is Juneteenth?”

“It’s becoming a mainstream event,” Harry said.

Juneteenth commemorates the June 19, 1865, announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas, and the emancipation of enslaved African Americans throughout the former Confederate States of America.

Harry said that the roots of the Juneteenth celebration in Winston-Salem go back to 1998 at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church when Jerrilyn Jenkins Johnson organized the city’s first Juneteenth celebration.

The first Juneteenth Festival put on by Triad Cultural Arts was in 2005. The organization held the festival in various locations on the years before moving to the Innovation Quarter four years ago.

The Innovation Quarter area is the former location of a thriving black business community.

Several festivalgoers spoke of the importance of the festival and Juneteenth.

“It’s our history,” said Zena Moreland, referring to African Americans. “It goes back to our roots. People often will do July 4th, the United States/America’s independence, but this is about us as a people. This is our independence. This is what we need to recognize.”

Maria Blake was at the festival with her sister, Monta Ervin and her nephew, Brennan Ervin, 5.

Blake said she and her sister, who are both teachers, wanted Brennan to experience the festival and learn about black history.

“You need to know your history,” Blake said. “That’s what we are trying to get him to understand. Know your past so that we can go forward.”

Monta Ervin said that the festival is good for Winston-Salem.

“I’ve seen a diverse culture and groups of ethnicities that are here participating as well,” Ervin said. “It’s great to see that the city of Winston-Salem truly values this opportunity and the activities for all ages.”

At the festival, Richie Williams of Mocksville was helping a vendor grassroots group that raises scholarship money for students at historically black colleges and universities.

Williams said she has been to the festival at least five times and enjoys it every year, saying that it’s always uplifting.

“It’s a very good event,” Williams said. “You have small vendors and large vendors. You have people coming together. That’s what’s really uplifting.”

Lisa Sykes of Winston-Salem and her husband, Dennis, decided to come back to the festival for their second year.

“We’ve mainly been looking at the vendors,” Sykes said. “I bought a couple of books.”

She said they had interesting conversations with folks.

“We’re having fun and we’re trying to learn,” she said.

Lafayette Jones of Winston-Salem talked about the festival as he and his wife, Sandra Miller Jones, were near some of the food vendors.

He said it was appropriate for the festival to be in the Innovation Quarter.

“This is home territory to a lot of African Americans,” Lafayette Jones said.

He praised Cheryl Harry and the volunteers who work to put on the festival, saying they have brought a lot of light to Juneteenth.

“What I mean by that is many people did not know about Juneteenth,” Jones said. “This has not only been a fun event but it’s educational as well. It has all the elements of success — family, good food, camaraderie, health education, services.”

“And they have baby back barbecue ribs,” he said smiling.


Local
State budget delay would affect about 10% of state government

The prospects are looming large of a protracted state budget dispute — primarily over whether to expand Medicaid — that could last weeks, if not months.

Initial talks between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican legislative leaders and budget writers may have served more to harden wills than soften negotiating stances.

House and Senate budget writers are expected to unveil a compromise next week. Analysts say it is unlikely Cooper would sign a budget without some form of Medicaid expansion to between 450,000 and 650,000 North Carolinians.

Unlike federal budget fights that often lead to government shutdowns, the vast majority of state government — estimated at 90% — would operate on a status-quo basis via recurring funding at 2018-19 levels, according to the governor’s office.

However, planned pay raises for public school teachers and other state government employees would be on hold until Cooper signs the budget into law.

Funding to pay for new equipment, facilities and repairs would be unavailable.

The high-profile rollout of prepaid health plans (PHP) for Medicaid recipients could grind to a halt or be significantly delayed, rather than debuting in November in the Triad and Triangle, and in February for the rest of the state.

“Funds needed to keep our disaster response moving forward are in jeopardy,” said Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, and a key House budget writer.

“Our Medicaid reform plan will stop and be unable to move forward on our timeline, risking major improvements in care to Medicaid patients who need medical care.”

Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with the John Locke Foundation, a Libertarian think tank, said Cooper “paved the way for a veto by tying his budget so closely to Medicaid expansion — a goal key (Republican) legislative leaders never have endorsed.”

The PHP contracts will represent a $6 billion expense annually for three years, followed by two one-year options, so the total contract could be worth $30 billion.

Medicaid recipients will be enrolled in PHPs, tentatively starting in July. If a recipient does not choose a PHP by Sept. 30, one will be chosen for them. In most instances, recipients will be able to be seen by the same providers they have now.

“In a nutshell, all non-recurring funds stop June 30,” Lambeth said. “Ten percent of operating funds is $2.5 billion not available for routine operating, plus reserve items like disaster relief allocations.

“If there is a veto that could push negotiations well into next fiscal year, school, local governments and protective services will all be compromised.

“It’s a big deal.”

Leverage

Except, it may not be given recent state budget approval timelines.

The November 2018 ending of the GOP super-majorities in both chambers, particularly in the House, is likely to give Cooper leverage with GOP legislative leaders and potential Democratic legislative flippers.

Interestingly, the longest traditional legislative sessions this decade involved former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican super-majorities.

In each case, McCrory did not veto the budget bill.

However, the 2012-13 budget was not signed into law until July 26, the 2013-14 budget on Aug. 7, the 2014-15 budget on Sept. 18 and the 2015-16 budget on July 14.

It took the House and Senate budget writers between five and eight weeks for the 2013, 2014 and 2015 budgets to generate a concurrence report. In 2016, it took 19 days.

McCrory needed between two to five days to sign the concurrence budget for 2013 through 2015, as well as 13 days for 2016.

In contrast, the previous four budgets presented to Democratic governors Beverly Perdue and Cooper were vetoed, then overridden by the Republican-controlled legislature.

It took Perdue 10 days to veto the 2011-12 budget and eight days for the 2012-13 budget.

Perdue’s 2011 veto was overridden in three days on June 15, while her 2012 veto was overridden in four days on July 2.

Meanwhile, Cooper vetoed the 2017-18 and 2018-19 budgets five days after they were presented to him.

Cooper’s 2017 budget veto was overridden in one day on June 28, while his 2018 veto was overridden in six days on June 12.

Dueling statements

Cooper administration officials and legislative budget leaders met for the third time Friday.

Similar to the previous meetings, both sides stressed their priorities and appeared little swayed by the other side.

The groups issued dueling statements following the meeting.

“Governor Cooper and Democratic leaders again made clear to Republican leaders that they oppose corporate tax cuts, unaccountable school vouchers and the SCIF slush fund, and that any budget compromise has to include discussion of Medicaid expansion, a school and infrastructure bond and significantly higher teacher salaries,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said.

“Governor Cooper indicated these items are negotiable, but Republican leaders have nearly completed their budget and are unwilling to discuss all of these important priorities that benefit our state.”

Meanwhile, Berger and House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said they “brought a list of negotiating positions on topline budget targets, capital spending, taxes, teacher and state employee salaries, public education, and the rainy-day fund.”

“Despite repeated requests, the governor did not come to the meeting with any specific positions on anything other than Medicaid expansion.”

Cooper’s office said in a memo posted Thursday that he hosted Republican House and Senate budget writers and Democratic leaders at the mansion Wednesday.

Cooper offered his proposal of one negotiating track focused on health care issues, including Medicaid expansion, with state health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen in charge.

The other track would be “on the larger budget framework.”

The GOP legislative leaders said “we offered to include in the budget a provision to convene a special session to address health access issues, including Medicaid expansion.”

“The governor previously proposed a ‘two-track’ solution and wants Medicaid to be ‘part of the conversation.’ This meets both of those requests. The governor rejected the proposal.”

Berger and Moore said Cooper “did take our opening positions back with him.”

“Legislators asked that he fill out his compromise offers, and hopefully he shares them quickly. We need specifics. We hope he responds soon.”

Negotiating

Lambeth said there are understandable give-and-takes in the state budget negotiating process.

“While it may not be perfect, it does reflect the priorities of the General Assembly and the various agencies of government,” Lambeth said.

“There are economic realities that we have to manage within our resources while positioning the state for success in the next few years.”

Lambeth said budgets can be used to leverage priorities.

“In the case of the governor, he has his set of priorities,” Lambeth said. “In many areas, they match up well with the General Assembly.

“But certainly, there are areas that do not, and he has a limited number of options to have his priorities debated.”

Lambeth said both sides “need to reach an agreement, and not leverage to the point it delays state operations.”

Statewide plans

On Feb. 5, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services selected AmeriHealth Caritas N.C., Blue Cross and Blue Shield of N.C., UnitedHealthcare of N.C., and WellCare of N.C. to provide statewide (PHP) plans.

DHHS has called the $30 billion PHP initiative the largest procurement in its history.

PHPs represent a major reform in how the state pays for Medicaid patients’ care. Currently, health providers are paid under a fee-for-service system.

PHP plans, by contrast, will pay providers a set amount per month for each patient’s costs, and DHHS will reimburse the plans. If a PHP provides the required services for a lower cost, in part by emphasizing wellness and preventive care, the PHP will be able to keep a certain amount of funding as profit.

The plans will assume financial risk in their contracts with providers to provide services for beneficiaries. If the care per individual exceeded the set (or capitated) amount, the PHP absorbs the loss.

The PHPs will oversee behavioral- and physical-health care for individuals considered “mild” to “moderate” for behavioral health-care purposes.

Meanwhile, seven behavioral health managed-care organizations (MCOs) would continue for up to four years to oversee individuals with severe behavioral-health symptoms or episodes.

Those managed-care organizations, including Cardinal Innovations, would pick up responsibility for those individuals’ physical well-being.

Schools

Extended state budget negotiations are not expected to hamper public school systems, such as Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, from filling teacher vacancies for the 2019-20 school year.

“The law makes it clear what the allotments (class size and teachers per class, etc.) will be, so we know where we will have open positions so we can begin to fill them and already are,” said Brent Campbell, WS/FCS’ chief marketing and communications officer.

“We are guaranteed funding based on the state’s allotment formulas, so having a budget doesn’t impact the formula for what it takes to gain or lose a position.

“What it impacts is how much we can pay (employees), as we won’t have confirmation on any kind or raise or increase,” Campbell said.

Campbell said teachers would be paid salary increases retroactively once the 2019-20 state budget goes into effect.

“What we can’t promise candidates is exactly what their pay rate may be if the state has not approved it,” Campbell said.

“We always begin the new fiscal year’s operations under the projections and planning allotments given to us earlier this year by the state Department of Public Instruction.

“Once the budget is approved, we adjust as necessary if there are significant changes to those,” he said. “There typically isn’t too much of an impact on the front end in those areas.”

What’s ahead

John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University with an expertise in state legislature, projects that a state compromise budget will be passed without Medicaid expansion and Cooper will veto it.

“The governor will demand that Republican legislators include Medicaid expansion in the budget or he will not sign it,” Dinan said.

“Republicans (will) argue that the issues should be separated and that the governor should sign the budget without Medicaid expansion, and that Medicaid can be discussed and dealt with separately.”

Cooper has proposed two tracks of budget negotiations, one focused on health care and Medicaid expansion, and other on the remaining budget issues.

The reality of that scenario is that GOP legislative leaders have chosen not to address two Democratic-sponsored bills that would expand Medicaid, nor the Republican option introduced by Lambeth that has gained bipartisan support.

House Bill 655 contains two controversial elements: a work requirement for some Medicaid recipients between ages 19 and 64; and an assessment for health care systems and PHPs to pay for the state’s 10% share of additional administrative costs.

Health-care systems and PHPs operating in the state would pay $758 million annually.

The federal government would pick up the remaining 90%, although Berger and other key GOP Senate leaders have tried to cast doubt on the sustainability of those federal funds. Berger released a statement March 11 in which he called the health-care assessment a tax that he claimed would be passed on to patients.

The N.C. Healthcare Association said it supports HB655 “as a common-sense option” to close the coverage gap and increase affordable access to health insurance for working individuals and families in North Carolina.”

Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, said the GOP “has always been willing to compromise with the governor. Many of his recommended budget items were included in the House and Senate budgets.

“We hope to reach a final compromise. Otherwise, teacher raises will not happen and many other important budget items will not take place.”

Sen. Paul Lowe Jr., D-Forsyth, said that “I believe that the veto being sustained is significant.”’

“I’m not sure If it will encourage the governor to veto the budget proposal; however, I certainly hope he does.

“Democratic blocs will always hold in the House, Senate or both in the face of legislation that is redundant, as the “Born Alive” legislation was.

“I hope the failure to override encourages the majority party to work with us in the minority party and the governor so that we can come up with a budget that delivers for the people of North Carolina and Forsyth County,” Lowe said.