An amendment to the technical corrections bill sponsored by Rep. Grier Martin (D-Raleigh) that eliminates the language repealing the Child Fatality Task Force was adopted in the North Carolina House Friday morning.
Rep. Paul Stam (R-Apex) supported the amendment, which he said “arose like Aphrodite from the sea foam of the Aegean.”
Stam’s seatmate Rep. Charles Jeter (R-Huntersville) also said he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to eliminate the task force.
“I saw in the newspaper the other day something about child welfare in North Carolina and how poorly we rank,” Jeter said. “I can’t imagine that repealing this is the right thing to do.”
The amendment passed 87-4.
By Rose Hoban
Karen McLeod spent the late afternoon Thursday knocking on doors at the General Assembly.
McLeod, who is the co-chair of the legislative Child Fatality Task Force, was looking for Republican lawmakers to help keep the panel from being eliminated as written into the annual “technical corrections” bill.
That bill, which had its debut Thursday morning, is usually reserved for changing grammatical errors deep in statutes or repealing obsolete local laws. But lawmakers often insert small “poison pill” pieces of legislation into the bill: For example, last year’s technical corrections bill changed the structure and completely changed the board of the North Carolina Institute of Medicine, making all of the members political appointees.
This year’s bill repeals the statute establishing the Child Fatality Task Force, sunsetting the body in July 2015.
The body has been in existence since 1991.
“It’s a 55-page bill,” said Rep. Paul Stam (R-Apex), when McLeod asked him to help her save the body. “You can’t fault me for missing a line.”
The task force’s elimination was contained in an innocuous line in the bill that reads: “SECTION 22.(a) G.S. 7B‑1401(4), 7B‑1402, 7B‑1403, and 7B‑1412 are repealed,” and striking through references to the task force in other lines of the statute.
Stam has been a member of the CFTF for the past two years, and he gave McLeod a nod.
The bill will be heard on the House floor Friday morning.
“This was very unexpected,” McLeod said.
During the closing days of the 2013 session, there was also a measure floated to eliminate the task force. But that effort was opposed by several members of the House, including the late Rep. Jim Fulghum (R-Raleigh), who died last week. Fulghum, a physician, was also on the task force.
“Last year, we thought that the legislature had decided that it was of value when the decision was made to continue,” McLeod said. “We were just very surprised to see this language come back.”
McLeod rattled off a list of legislative accomplishments since the creation of the committee in 1991, including regulations around bicycle helmets and seat belts, strengthening the child-abuse response system, anti-poisoning measures and programs to reduce the infant mortality rate.
“It has helped crate a tremendous focus on improving outcomes for kids and reducing fatalities,” she said.
McLeod made the point that all of the members of the task force – including McLeod, who leads a group that advocates for policies to help children and families – are volunteers. The only expenses for the task force are for one employee who has a salary of $62,585.
“We have been able to harness experts from all over the state that give of their time to look at systems and policies and practices to determine what changes are needed to continue to drive down fatalities,” she said. “It would be a huge loss for us to lose the task force.”
Despite a precipitous drop in deaths of children under 17 years old and historically low infant mortality rates, North Carolina continues to lag behind other states in child death.
“To lose the momentum and the energy and the focus that has been created over the years of the task force, would be a tragic loss,” McLeod said.
She also bemoaned the loss of Fulghum, who fought to save the task force last year.
“He was a brilliant man who understood from a medical perspective what was in the best interest of children. In addition, he understood the political as well as the policy components across a myriad of services that drive outcomes,” McLeod said.
“He understood that there’s no silver bullet, you need multiple approaches to change the rate of fatalities in kids.”