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NORTH CAROLINA POLICY WATCH – Legislators close to cobbling together major sexual assault reforms

The N.C. General Assembly meets in the State Legislative Building in Raleigh. A conference committee is currently working on a package of sexual assault reforms that would go to lawmakers for an up-or-down vote. Frank Taylor / Carolina Public Press

Two loopholes in North Carolina’s sexual assault laws could close as legislators hammer out last-minute changes to three bills in a bipartisan conference committee this week.

If someone continues with sexual activity after a partner withdraws consent, it is currently a crime everywhere in the United States — except in North Carolina, thanks to a judge’s precedent-setting ruling 40 years ago.

“The General Assembly did not put this into statute,” said Skye David, an attorney for the N.C. Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “With that being said, the General Assembly has had 40 full years to change it.”   Click here to continue Special report: Our wetlands and streams are worth saving. But it’s incredibly hard to do.

Over the next two weeks, Policy Watch will publish a series of stories about a commonly used method of environmental protection for wetlands and streams called “compensatory mitigation.”

The federal Clean Water Act requires developers of residential, commercial, transportation and energy projects to offset “unavoidable impacts” to streams or wetlands. They usually accomplish this by buying “credits” from the state Division of Mitigation Services (DMS) or private mitigation banks, of which there are roughly 20 in North Carolina.

DMS and the private banks generate and sell the credits by restoring, preserving or creating environmental projects in advance within the same watershed. They use the fees in part to fund additional mitigation projects for future projects.

The Policy Watch series will examine the successes and challenges of compensatory mitigation in the Triangle, including the ramifications of environmental policies proposed and enacted by the Trump administration. Click here to continue


Latest GOP trial balloons confirm Cooper has been right to keep pushing for Medicaid expansion

It’s going to happen eventually. It may not be right away and it may not look exactly like it ought to look at first, but at some point in the not-too-distant future, North Carolina is going to expand its Medicaid program.

The momentum to move forward is too strong and the arguments against doing so are just too weak. Consider the following:

  • A growing and overwhelming majority of states – including many dominated by Republicans – have already taken the step and enjoyed extremely positive results.
  • The healthcare community is for it and the future of many hospitals depends on it.
  • A fast-growing segment of the state’s business community supports it.
  • As detailed in a recent, in-depth report, the economic benefits to the state would be huge.
  • Voters want it to happen.
  • Most importantly, it will, quite literally, save thousands of lives.

In comparison, the arguments against expansion look downright pitiful. Continue


Colorado becomes 18th state to outlaw “conversion therapy” as North Carolina’s bill goes unheard

By Joe Killian

Last week Colorado became the 18th U.S. state to outlaw so-called “conversion therapy” — a scientifically discredited practice that attempts to “cure” people of being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Gov. Jared Polis, Colorado’s openly gay governor, also signed a bill that will make it easier for transgender people to get state-issued ID and other documents that correctly reflects their gender identity.

In North Carolina, the Mental Health Protection Act, was filed in March. It would outlaw converstion therapy, part of a rapidly growing national movement.  Despite polls showing overwhelming bipartisan support for the ban, it faced stiff opposition from religious groups and conservative Republicans and did not receive a hearing in this legislative session. No such bill has yet been passed in any state in the Southeast. Continue


“Gerrymander” is much too polite a word for what Trump and the GOP are trying to do

By Rob Schofield

For some time now, it has seemed that the widespread and growing use of the words “gerrymander” and “gerrymandering” was a good thing for our state and nation. A decade ago, these words were insider terms used only by campaign consultants and politics wonks. In recent years, however, as the public has finally started to grasp the reality of how electoral districts have come to be drawn and manipulated, “gerrymander” and “gerrymandering” have, increasingly, entered the general lexicon.

Unfortunately, while it’s certainly positive that lots of Americans now understand what gerrymandering is and that it’s to be combated, there’s a downside to the current widespread use of the term: it’s much too polite a word to describe what the Trump administration and its Republican Party allies are trying to do to our democracy.  Continue


Burr’s “I can’t remember” explanation of Mueller Report revelation strains credulity

By Rob Schofield

Throughout his long and mostly uninspired political career, Richard Burr has filled the role of a classic, inoffensive, modern day American politician. Burr is reasonably telegenic, has an affinity for platitudes, remains an enigma to his constituents, is a reliable vote for the ruling class and, after a quarter century in Washington, appears to enjoy life in the nation’s capital. One quite believable rumor has it that when Burr retires from the Senate at the end of his current term, the one-time lawnmower salesman will transition to a job as a high-priced K Street lobbyist to “cash in” like so many other politicians of both major parties who’ve preceded him.  Continue reading


U.S. Supreme Court taking up LGBTQ discrimination cases

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it will take up the question of whether a federal anti-discrimination law applies to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex. In agreeing to hear two cases dealing with LGBTQ discrimination, the nation’s highest court will address the question of whether that protection extends to sexual orientation and being transgender. Continue reading


Supreme Court weighs its role in limiting partisan gerrymandering

By Melissa Boughton

WASHINGTON – U.S. Supreme Court justices appeared willing Tuesday to rein in partisan gerrymandering — desperate even, for attorneys to give them some sort of manageable numeric standard by which they could determine how much politics is too much when it comes to redistricting.

It wasn’t that simple, though, and after considering three challenges to congressional maps — two to the 2016 GOP-drawn map in North Carolina and one to a Democratic-drawn map in Maryland — at least two conservative justices seemed unconvinced to expend any more judicial energy on the issue. Continue reading


The Cohen hearing: Michigan congresswoman skewers Mark Meadows’ Trump defense stunt

By Rob Schofield

Lawrence ‘insulted’ at GOP congressman claiming Trump isn’t racist since he hired Black official.

The U.S. House Oversight Committee hearing on Wednesday was as circus-like as you’d expect with Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, taking the stand. U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) had a big moment in which she called out a Republican congressman on a stunt during proceedings.  Continue reading


What was missing at Superintendent Johnson’s private education summit

By Billy Ball

There was much talk this week and last about state Superintendent Mark Johnson’s Tuesday night limelight, the “big” announcement you might have missed because you, like most of North Carolina, were not invited.

Public education advocates buzzed with speculation, or was that trepidation? Would the Koch brothers, billionaire union-busting philanthropists, bring their act to North Carolina? Who’s paying for Johnson’s invitation-only event at the Raleigh Convention Center? Has the superintendent found a way to coax more badly-needed infrastructure dollars out of a notoriously parsimonious state legislature? Continue reading


Why North Carolina needs state leaders, not the Koch brothers, to save public education

By Billy Ball

Public education advocates in North Carolina are ablaze these days, after a report from The Washington Post in late January teased a nebulous plan hatched by the conservative Koch network to spend boatloads of cash on a massive, as-yet-unnamed, K-12 initiative in five states.

If North Carolina is one of the five, state leaders and the Kochs are mum, even as Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson promises a “big” announcement later this month with business leaders Continue reading


The inconvenient truth about our so-called “booming” economy

We’re living through the worst “good” economy in generations, a reality that many of the rich and powerful people who have rigged the system are desperately hoping the rest of us won’t notice. The last time rich people managed to siphon off this much of the treasure that our economy generates, handlebar mustaches were a thing, and not just in hipster coffee shops.

Corporations and investors are getting rich, but most North Carolinians are just trying to get by.

Turn on the TV, scan Twitter, or peruse the business press and you’re treated to a conga line of commentators, conservative politicians, and wealthy corporate types going on and on about how great our economy is. But if things are so great, why is it so hard for most of us to make ends meet?

If you’re wondering where all of the wealth is going, two words you need to know: Stock buybacks. Continue reading


Q&A with state Court of Appeals candidates – the Calabria seat

As part of an ongoing effort to inform North Carolinians about the upcoming judicial elections, Policy Watch is publishing a Q&A with each person running for a statewide judicial office. Each of the 11 candidates was asked the same six questions, and their answers will appear throughout the week alongside those of their challengers.                                                                                                                                                                                                    

North Carolinians will get to decide in November who will fill the next three spots on the state Court of Appeals. Two current judges are retiring from the court: Judge Ann Marie Calabria and Judge Rick Elmore – both have served since 2002. The third seat is a vacancy created by former Judge Doug McCullough and filled by current Judge John Arrowood. He was appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper and will be the incumbent in that upcoming race. Click here to continue reading


Guns and gore galore: Hard truths about America’s gun problem

By Lori Bunton and Bonnie Jezior

Americans comprise only 4.4% of the world’s population, but own 42% of the world’s guns (about 300 million). This means we have slightly less than one gun for every citizen – and the U.S. tops the list for gun death percentages. More than 38,000 people died from gunshot wounds in 2016 (no statistics are available yet for 2017 or 2018) and over 30,000 annually since 2012. To put it in perspective, you can sit back and expect a shooting death about every 15 minutes.

Put another way, there are 88.8 guns in the U.S. for every 100 Americans. When it comes to developed countries like Canada, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, England, France, Spain, Australia, and Japan, the closest to us is Switzerland, with a rate 45.7 guns per 100 residents. But while the Swiss own about half as many guns per capita as Americans, their death rate is less than one percent of the U.S. rate.

Japan has the lowest percentage of gun ownership at 0.6% of the population. It is also at the bottom of the list on gun deaths – typically fewer than 10 a year. Some feel that violent video games spur violence, and the Japanese are known for playing those games, but it looks like that contributes little, if anything, to gun violence.   Click here to continue reading


The appalling reality of the Trump presidency and the profound threat it poses to American democracy

By Rob Schofield

For more than a year and a half now, the appalling reality of the Trump presidency and the profound threat it poses to American democracy have combined to spur thousands upon thousands of North Carolinians to lend their time, talents and money to a burgeoning movement that is commonly referred to as “the resistance.” Across the state, in all 100 counties, caring and thinking people who once dismissed or avoided politics and political organizing have become activists for change.

Their common goal: to do something – anything – that will register their outrage about Trump and his policies and to help rescue their country. This imperative has only been heightened by the political reality in North Carolina, in which state legislative leaders have regularly done their worst to out-Trump Trump when it comes to enacting regressive public policies.

The results of the new birth in progressive organizing are apparent in myriad places – from the hundreds of house meetings that have arisen spontaneously in even the state’s most conservative counties, to the growing immigrant sanctuary movement, to the countless marches and rallies that have taken place in the state’s larger cities, to the unprecedented energy Trump critics are bringing to the 2018 elections, to the public opinion polls that predict dramatic change in November.

All that said; one obvious missing element for those who would mobilize is the lack of a central, tangible and nonpartisan objective. Sure, it’s good to be against and respond as quickly as possible to the long and destructive list of policies that Trump and state legislative leaders have advanced in Washington and Raleigh, but it’s also extremely difficult. The proposals are numerous, ever-changing, frequently buried in a haze of confusing procedural votes, and often go from back of the envelope to law in just days. [Read more…]


In this issue:

Teacher authors open letter to sponsor of controversial bill to allow municipal charters

By Stuart Egan

Editor’s note: One of the most controversial bills to come before the 2018 legislative session is House Bill 514, a proposal to allow four Mecklenburg County towns to set up charter schools. Together with language inserted into the budget bill allowing North Carolina municipalities to spend property tax revenues on any public school that “benefits the residents of the city,” including charter schools, the bill represents a potentially “crossing of the Rubicon” moment in the history of public school funding in North Carolina. The following open letter to the bill sponsor, Rep. Bill Brawley, was authored by a Forsyth school teacher and frequent education commentator Stuart Egan.]

Dear Rep. Brawley,

With the impending approval of Bill HB 514 which allows for municipal charter schools in a budget process that is intentionally kept within committee and out of democratic debate, this voter has to ask you one question (actually many): Do you realize what you have championed?

Really. Do you know what Pandora’s Box you have opened and what the lasting effects actually could be just so you satiate your political views?

1. You probably just raised everyone’s property taxes in the state. With the ability to now use local property taxes to help fund local schools (a measure which seems to conveniently appear in the budget to lay a path for HB 514), whatever the state now mandates for public schools and does not choose to specifically fund can now be passed on to local school systems.

Think about the class size mandate that will come around again next year. The reprieve given this year was in part due to the incredible blowback from local districts, which correctly cited the state’s having not funded it. Implementation of the class size mandate would have created a seismic rip in school system budgets. Now it seems that there is an avenue to pass the cost of any state mandate to the local LEA’s. Instead of having to field concerns about whether or not the state will fund certain mandates, the state can now just slide the financial responsibilities to cities and counties, some of whom are already economically challenged. [Read more…]


With HB 514, legislature unambiguously embraces school segregation

By Kris Nordstrom

There’s a word for what happens when majority-white suburbs pull their children from a majority-minority school district and place them into exclusionary, majority-white schools: segregation. With the advancement of HB 514, lawmakers are unambiguously embracing school segregation as state policy.

HB 514 allows four Charlotte suburbs – Cornelius, Huntersville, Matthews, and Mint Hill – the authority to create and operate their own charter schools. These suburbs can then limit enrollment in these schools to municipal residents. Cornelius is 85 percent whiteHuntersville is 77 percent whiteMatthews is 78 percent whiteMint Hill is 73 percent white. Students in these majority-white suburbs are assigned to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), where white students comprise just 29 percent of enrollment.

To facilitate the funding of the schools authorized by HB 514, a related budget provision(Section 38.8) creates a new authority allowing North Carolina municipalities to spend property tax revenues on any public school that “benefits the residents of the city,” including charter schools. As national school finance expert Michael Griffith notes, similar provisions in other states have led to school funding becoming “divided on class lines and on racial lines.”

It’s quite the one-two punch. [Read more…]


Policy Prescriptions

NC officials order dozens of campaigns to forfeit illegal PAC contributions from pharma giant

By Joe Killian 

As state lawmakers convene for the 2018 legislative session, we hope you will continue reading our special series “Policy Prescriptions” researched and written by Samone Oates-Bullock. Today’s installment is on addressing North Carolina’s affordable housing needs.Read the full piece here.

In one of the largest campaign donation forfeitures in state history, 48 improper donations from the Pfizer Inc. political action committee will be forfeited by political campaigns and committees across the state.

The contributions, totaling $53,500 to 36 different committees, were uncovered in a recent audit by the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. They came on June 21, 2016 and October 16 2017 — both days when the General Assembly was in session. Under state law, contributions are prohibited during legislative sessions.  Continue reading


North Carolinians want the legislature’s judicial attacks to end. It’s time for lawmakers to listen.

By Jen Jones 

When the North Carolina General Assembly convenes in a few weeks for the 2018 legislative short session, lawmakers will once again be asked to consider new judicial voting maps. At last Friday’s meeting of the Joint Judicial Redistricting and Reform Committee, members evaluated three proposals that still appear intended, as one high-ranking official said last year, to affect the partisan makeup of our courts. 

Continue reading


Could smaller schools mean safer schools? One of the nation’s best teachers believes so

By Clayton Henkel

As the North Carolina General Assembly House Select Committee on School Safety meets again on Tuesday, one of the the America’s best public school teachers has several suggestions for improving safety.

Gaston County high school English teacher Bobbie Cavnar believes that smaller schools paired with more nurses and psychologists will enhance the safety of our classrooms.

Continue reading


Pioneering women celebrate progress in the judiciary, make the case for more at Supreme Court ceremony

By Melissa Boughton

There have only been seven women to serve on the North Carolina Supreme Court in its 199-year history. In comparison, 92 men have served during that time.

Closing the gender gap on the state’s highest court is a work in progress, but it was clear at an event Tuesday that the women who have already served are trailblazing a path for the future.  Continue reading


Why North Carolina must say “no” to school district secession

By Rob Schofield

Though they are sometimes dressed up in prettified language about “freedom” and “choice” and “market forces,” the main items at the heart of the conservative agenda on public education really haven’t changed much over the last several decades since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling inBrown v. Board of Education. When one really gets down to brass tacks, three principal and closely intertwined objectives stand out: Continue reading


Signs of hope amidst the horror
Cracks are forming in the NRA’s death grip on American politics

By Rob Schofield   2/19/18

At some point, it’s going to happen.

At some point in the not-too-distant future, shifting attitudes in the American body politic will reach a tipping point and the death grip that the gun lobby has on our government will begin to ease and, perhaps, even collapse. It’s not likely to happen right away or be pretty or pleasant – thousands more children, women and men will have to die unnecessarily and prematurely – but, it’s definitely going to happen.

The signs of this gradual change have been visible for some time and are garnering renewed attention in the aftermath of last week’s latest mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Here are five that stand out:

#1 – A growing lack of fear amongst advocates for stronger laws and regulations – For many years – decades really – American supporters of sane gun laws have operated in a meek and fearful posture with an air of defeated resignation.

Part of this has no doubt been the result of repeated legislative defeats; it’s hard to embrace or project an air of chesty self-confidence when you’re banging your head against a wall every day. But another part is clearly attributable to the power dynamics that one would expect when advocates on one side of a debate are driven by a commitment to nonviolence and disarmament and many on the other side are prone to the use of loud, hostile and even apocalyptic language to lift up their devotion to killing machines.

Simply put: it can be frightening to be an advocate for gun control. One will, in all likelihood, be the target of intimidation tactics (name calling, hate mail, threatening social media posts) pursued by people who love weapons and own lots of them. And if you’re a politician, you can almost count on having boatloads of cash spent against you in an effort to ruin your reputation. Here in North Carolina, pro-gun groups have even gone so far as to hold “target practice fundraisers” in which the images of disfavored politicians have been affixed to shooting range targets. Even journalists who merely report on the issue have been targeted.

In recent months, however, one gets the sense that the bullying tactics employed by gun zealots are starting to lose their zip. [Read more...]

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By Lisa Sorg

Gov. Roy Cooper last week brokered a controversial memorandum of understanding with Dominion Power, which co-owns with Duke Energy, the even more controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Under the agreement, Duke and Dominion will pay a total of $57.8 million to a mitigation fund to pay for the “unavoidable” environmental damage caused by the pipeline, as well as for “support and funding” for economic development and renewable energy in the eight counties in eastern North Carolina affected by the ACP: Northampton, Halifax, Nash, Wilson, Johnston, Sampson, Cumberland and Robeson.

To Duke and Dominion $57.8 million is pocket change. Considering the utilities will divide the cost — $28.9 million each – the financial hit is minimal.

Further dwarfing the outlay, only half of the total is due upfront. Each utility will initially pay only $14.45 million until the ACP has begun to operate.

To put the financial “burden” in perspective, consider how $57.8 million compares with these figures:

$6.69 billion: Gross income, 2017, Duke Energy

$6.98 billion: Gross income, 2017, Dominion Power [Read more…]

Progressive Pulse Blog:

Daily Micro-podcast:


Bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake: Why work requirements for Medicaid do not represent a reasonable healthcare compromise

By Rob Schofield

It’s one of the great and bitter ironies of our modern American policy debates that it is conservatives who are often the chief architects of the largest and least useful government bureaucracies. No, this is not intended as a dig at the military or our departments of transportation.  Read more


Hopeful developments in the effort to rein in gerrymandering

By Steve Ford

Progress in rooting out North Carolina’s gerrymandered voting districts hasn’t always occurred in a straight line. But the trend – thanks to federal judges honoring their duty to uphold the Constitution – bodes well for giving all voters an equal chance to help choose their leaders.   Read more


Strange bedfellows? Polluters, environmental groups form new coalition to lobby state government

By Lisa Sorg

On a cozy autumn evening at the luxurious Umstead Hotel in Cary, a medley of corporate luminaries, state lawmakers and environmentalists made small talk and mingled over drinks. The occasion: the formation of a new “unconventional partnership” with a “bold mission.”  North Carolina Forever, said Kathy Higgins, vice president of corporate affairs at Blue Cross Blue Shield, “will bring together diverse interests” to encourage  “reasonable and necessary investments” in land conservation and water protection. Read more


Is Trump [sic] finally approaching his McCarthy moment?
Latest racist attacks on immigrants could be an important tipping point

By Rob Schofield

As bleak as our national political landscape may seem right now, it’s worth remembering that it is far from the only time in American history in which a dangerous, dishonest and delusional con artist has held a position of great prominence. In the early 1950’s, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin rode his paranoid and dishonest witch hunt against supposed “communist subversion” to become one of the most famous and powerful men in the nation.

It seems hard to imagine now, but there was a time during which even President Dwight Eisenhower, the enormously popular and well-respected hero of World War II, lacked the political courage to take on McCarthy in public, even though he knew him to be a dishonest charlatan. [Read more…]


Federal judges stand up for individual rights, nix gerrymandered GOP congressional map

By Steve Ford

Grand constitutional questions in this country aren’t settled until the Supreme Court has its say, either by affirming or reversing the rulings of lower-court judges or simply by declining to hear challenges to those rulings.

So it’s too early to conclude definitively that North Carolina’s Republican-controlled General Assembly has set a sorry standard leading to a national crackdown on over-the-top partisan gerrymandering of election districts. That’s a call surely destined to be made by the justices in Washington.

But the bombshell Jan. 9 decision by three Greensboro-based federal judges upheld every claim that the constitutional rights of a large swath of North Carolina voters have been violated.  [Read more…]


Why North Carolinians are resisting the conservative assault on their courts

By Susan B. McClanahan

Conservative North Carolina lawmakers have pushed through a lot of radical laws and legislative proposals to dramatically remake our state in recent years. From suppressing the vote to gerrymandering legislative districts to privatizing our public schools to discriminating against LGBT citizens to altering the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches: the list is a long and troubling one.

  1. [Read more…]

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