By Josh Stein
As we approach the end of summer, we’ve made hard-fought gains in North Carolina against the coronavirus pandemic.
At the Department of Justice, we’ve been working to address the challenges caused by this pandemic and protect North Carolinians. But we’ve also continued to uphold the other responsibilities of our office, which include protecting people’s rights, our environment and our access to health care.
Here are some key updates on our office’s work in 2020.
We are working to reform our criminal justice system.
After the tragic killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Gov. Roy Cooper established the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice and asked me and Justice Anita Earls to lead it. We are considering and implementing measures that can bring about meaningful change in the criminal justice system, and we have been laser-focused on this work over the past few months. Our committed and public-spirited task force members who represent a broad range of perspectives on our criminal justice system have held working group meetings, heard from community advocates and local leaders through a series of listening sessions, and heard from many of you all in public comment sessions.
These conversations have been critical to our work to reform the criminal justice system and address racial inequities. Already, we have made recommendations about law enforcement practices and training, court fines and fees, and court personnel training. But we have much more work to do, and as we continue, your feedback is essential. Please stay updated and share your thoughts with us at www.ncdoj.gov/trec.
We are protecting people experiencing financial hardship during this pandemic.
To help those struggling with the financial burdens caused by this public health crisis, my office launched the Carolina Relief Plan. This is an effort for financial institutions to support customers and members facing financial hardships. I’m pleased that Bank of America and State Employees’ Credit Union have joined this effort, and I’m hopeful that additional institutions will also step up to continue easing the economic hardships that so many of our friends and neighbors are facing.
My office also filed a price-gouging lawsuit against a company that we allege was attempting to sell face masks to government officials and health care systems in our state – and trying to make more than $30 million in profits per transaction. This is illegal and unconscionable, and I will not allow price gouging to go unchecked.
We’re making sure that your vote is counted.
The right to vote safely and participate in free and fair elections is fundamental to our democracy. I sued the U.S. Postal Service and the postmaster general for implementing dramatic restructuring operational changes that delayed timely mail delivery without proper legal authority. Getting mail on time is necessary so small business owners can operate their businesses, rural residents can receive and send essential goods, and veterans and senior citizens can safely get their medications. But in a pandemic when so many of us will be voting by mail to protect our health, receiving and delivering our ballots on time is crucial. I will fight to ensure that the postal service reverses its harmful changes and delivers ballots on time.
I want the people of North Carolina to know this: You can vote safely, your vote will count, and the final results will reflect our collective will. Also – you should vote, but only vote once. No matter what anyone may say, voting or attempting to vote twice in an election is a violation of both state and federal law.
We’re safeguarding North Carolina’s natural resources.
As attorney general, protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink is part of my responsibly to protect North Carolinians. That’s why I launched an investigation into parties responsible for PFAS, or forever chemicals, contamination in our state. These chemicals pollute our environment, build up in our bodies, and cause long-lasting damage to our health. As we learn more about the source of these pollutants, my office will not hesitate to take legal action against polluters.
Our work to protect North Carolinians from scams and fraud, defend their rights, and safeguard our state is never over. As we’ve navigated an unprecedented set of challenges this year, I am more grateful than ever for the honor to serve as your attorney general and work alongside the dedicated public servants at the Department of Justice to keep our people safe. Together, we will continue to build a safer, stronger North Carolina.
Josh Stein serves as North Carolina attorney general.