Commentary

This Thursday is “Crossover Day” at the General Assembly — a self-imposed deadline used by lawmakers to weed out some of the hundreds of bills that have been introduced so far this year. Without going into the details, it’s enough to note that the crossover deadline will make for a busy week of sausage grinding on Jones Street. Lots and lots of bills — many of them destructive and counter-productive — will receive only a few minutes’ consideration before being sent long their merry way.

Two destructive environmental policy bills are near the top of the list as the fun gets underway this afternoon in the House.

At 1:00 p.m., the House Regulatory Reform Committee will take up the so-called “Regulatory Reform Act of 2015.” Here’s what the good folk at the Sierra Club have to say about this proposal:

“In the late 1990’s after public outcry, about massive fish kills in the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers, the State developed cost effective and comprehensive strategies to reduce water pollution from all sources.

[The Regulatory Reform Act of 2015] would greatly expand exemptions to North Carolina’s riparian buffer requirements and reduce local control.

Buffers are the most cost effective mechanism that we have to protect water quality in streams and rivers. Since federal and state water quality standards still have to be met, reducing buffers serves only to increase the costs to farmers and local governments.”

A new version of the bill would also allow giant hog farm populations to grow.

Meanwhile, later on this evening, the full House will consider a widely criticized proposal to gut the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA). As Craig Jarvis of Raleigh’s News & Observer reported the other day: Read More

News

It’s crossover week at the legislature – that time during the session that bills that don’t have an impact on spending must pass through one chamber or the other  to remain alive for consideration this year. That means you can expect long hours and a flurry of activity this week on Jones Street.

Here are just a few of the stories we’ll be watching:

Eenvironvironmental Policy Reform – The NC House is slated to vote tonight on House Bill 795 – State Environmental Policy Act Reform. This bill would severely undermine the state Environmental Policy Act (referred to as SEPA). As the Environmental Defense Fund notes under HB 795, “review would only be required for projects that cost at least $20 million in taxpayers’ dollars or that result in permanent changes to more than 20 acres of state-owned land. This would significantly limit the number of projects that require environmental review under state law, even if tens of millions in state tax dollars are being spent.”

(The House meets at 5:30pm this afternoon if you want to contact your representative about the bill.)

Got Milk? Powdered Alcohol? How about your flu shot? –  — More than a dozen bills are on the agenda for the House Health rawCommittee this afternoon. Among the more interesting:
* Got Natural Milk. (H309) – allowing the dispensing of raw milk and raw milk products
* Prohibit Powdered Alcohol. (H290) – making it unlawful for any person to manufacture, sell, transport, import, deliver, furnish, purchase, consume, or possess powdered alcohol
* Pilot Project/Used Needle Disposal. (H712) – directs the SBI to establish a used needle and hypodermic syringe disposal pilot program to reduce the spread of HIV, AIDS, and other bloodborne diseases
*  Require Hospitals to Offer Influenza Vaccine.(H925) – requires each hospital prior to discharging a patient 65 years of age or older a flu shot

tanMembers of the Senate Health Care Committee will consider legislation on Monday to prohibit children under the age of 18 from using tanning bed equipment. The Jim Fulghum Teen Skin Cancer Prevention Act (Senate Bill 125) is intended to honor the former Wake County state representative and neurosurgeon.

A similar bill passed the House in 2013 only to die in the state Senate.

Religious Freedom returns – House Speaker Tim Moore says the Religious Freedom bills are dead for the session but that’s not stopping church groups, Bible study groups, and other conservative organizations from converging on Raleigh Tuesday for the Religious Freedom Day of Action.

Members will start their day at 9:00 a.m. at the Office of Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, 310 N. Blount Street, Raleigh.

Gay marriage 2It’s worth noting as they’re voicing support for RFRA legislation, the nation’s highest court will hear oral arguments Tuesday over same-sex marriage. Specifically, the justices will be considering the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage and state refusals to recognize existing same-sex marriage. A decision in this long-awaited challenge is not expected until June.

Curtailing Teachers’ Political Activities – Also on Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary I Committee will further discuss Senate Bill 480. This bill that passed the Senate Education Committee last week prohibits teachers from campaigning for a candidate during the school day and from using a school’s computers or telephones for campaigning.

Legislative staff may have more details on some of the questions they couldn’t fully answer last week.

Interested in going? The committee meets at 10:00 a.m. in Room 1027/1128 of the Legislative Building.

Big, bad bobcats – On the lighter side, legislators will discuss this bigcatafternoon whether the bobcat should officially be named the state cat. Bobcats, which can weigh up to 40 pounds, can be found throughout North Carolina, especially in the wooded habitats of the coastal plain and the mountains.

The House Wildlife Resources Committee will vote on House Bill 161 today at 5:00 p.m.

And perhaps fittingly, members will also discuss legislation (House Bill 460) requiring individuals to report incidents involving injuries inflicted on humans by domestic or wild animals.  (Note to self: Don’t try to pet the official state cat.)

Commentary

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank is a “hit and miss” columnist who who frequently comes off as the worst kind of D.C. insider, but his latest column on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and the plan to “fast track” approval, which is featured in the morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer, is on the money. The column rightfully blasts the Obama administration for plowing ahead with the agreement despite the myriad potential disasters it holds for American workers and consumers.

“[Elizabeth] Warren is right: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is an abomination – not because of the deal itself, and not because free trade in general is a bad idea. The TPP is an abomination because Obama had a chance to protect American workers from the harm that would inevitably come from such a pact, and he didn’t take it, or at least he hasn’t.”

And for an even more comprehensive and damning take on the whole plan, check out the following two  posts from the good people at the Global Trade Watch section of the national nonprofit advocacy group, Public Citizen:

1. A detailed explanation of why “Fast Track” is a terrible way to approach this momentous agreement, and
2. “50 reasons we cannot afford the TPP” (which leads off by highlighting the situation in North Carolina):

North Carolina: North Carolina has lost more than 369,000 manufacturing jobs – nearly half – since NAFTA and NAFTA expansion pacts have taken effect.  More than 212,000 specific North Carolina jobs have been certified under just one narrow Department of Labor program as lost to offshoring or imports since NAFTA.

The bottom line: Free trade can be a good thing, but it needs to be fair trade too. Rushing into the TPP could be a real disaster — especially for states like North Carolina that have already lost so much.

Commentary, News

1. A stark reminder that the far-right still rules in Raleigh
Just when you think there’s a glimmer of hope that the flood of reactionary ideas in the General Assembly is finally slowing down and the abuse of the democratic process is waning comes a stark reminder otherwise, that folks running things in Raleigh are still far outside the mainstream of North Carolina and are willing to use almost any heavy-handed tactic to advance their far-right agenda.[Continue Reading…]
(Video: Click here to watch Rep. Cotham’s full remarks on HB465.)

2. McCrory’s folly? 
Grim anniversary reminds us that Governor’s proposal for offshore drilling is fraught with danger
In case you missed it (or maybe just tried to forget it), this week marks the fifth anniversary of an especially dark event in modern American history. Five years ago yesterday, the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded and caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people and injuring 17. Two days later, on April 22 (Earth Day), the rig capsized and sank. Soon thereafter, a torrent of oil started streaming in the Gulf – a phenomenon that did not stop for 87 days. It was the worst oil “spill” in American history. [Continue Reading…]

3. U.S. Supreme Court maps out the road ahead for the North Carolina redistricting case
Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court order sending the North Carolina redistricting case back for further review, though encouraging for the plan’s challengers and for voting rights advocates as well, came as little surprise to most legal experts.

After all, the court had done the same thing just a few weeks earlier in a redistricting case out of Alabama, finding in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama that the trial court had applied an incorrect analysis when upholding that state’s most recent redistricting plan.[Continue Reading…]

4. Censorship controversy, thin record spark concerns over McCrory’s State Board of Ed nominee
Governor Pat McCrory’s recent nomination  of J. Todd Chasteen to serve on the State Board of Education has raised the eyebrows of some western North Carolinians.

A Boone resident who appears to have a thin record of experience with public education, Chasteen was deeply involved last year in efforts to ban a book from a public high school English classroom in Watauga County. [Continue Reading…]

5. N.C.’s outgoing higher education leaders on how to keep both faculty and students on campus
UNC President Tom Ross and N.C. Community College President Scott Ralls were joined Wednesday by two state senators for a discussion on the future of higher education in North Carolina.

Ross learned he would be out of a job in January, in a surprise move by the UNC Board of Governors to find a new president that many suspect had political motivations.Ralls announced last week he was leaving his job of 7 years leading North Carolina’s 58-campus community college system for a job leading a Virginia community college. [Continue Reading…]

Commentary

Just as I was getting ready to begin a weekend of fun with my kids and even look forward to a bit of relaxation here and there, I read this blog entry (see below) by Lee Ann Meredith, a former Chicago Public Schools teacher, which was reposted by the Washington Post with permission.

And then I remembered that for many teachers, including the ones I’ve visited as a reporter and the ones to whom I’m related, the weekend just means more time to catch up on the endless amounts of work that stretch before them—but with more pee breaks.

If you’re reading and comprehending this blog post, then you’ve benefited from having a teacher in your life. Take the time to know eight important things about them that they want everyone to know. And then give a teacher a hand this weekend.

1. We are well-educated and specialists in our field. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 52 percent of public school teachers have a master’s degree or higher.  Many teachers I know have more than one master’s degree with specializations such as reading or special education. We don’t stop learning when we become teachers either. We must reapply for our certificates with proof that we have continued our education and professional growth in our field. Grade-school teachers usually teach all subjects and we must have a strong grasp on the underlying themes. We are wildly knowledgeable in many areas.

2. We are communicators, quick decision makers, and creative problem solvers. Teaching is more than lecturing. It is often like being an orchestra director of beginning musicians. We have to be able to have a group working on task while sitting quietly with another small group of four of five pupils. We have to be able to create a working environment where a couple dozen people share an open space. It has to be done in a caring way that supports every child. This is not easy. Teachers might have to choose over Suzy’s bloody nose, Rupert’s hurt feelings, Trevor’s emotional, tear-filled crisis about a math problem, all while keeping the rest of the class at work. If you think this type of scenario never happens, think again. In primary grades some variation of this happens daily. (Two notes about this. First: Blood trumps everything, even vomit. Second: The crazier the situation is, the more likely a fire drill is about to occur.)

[You think you know what teachers do. Right? Wrong?]

3. We are realistic visionaries. We know what our students can do and we push, push, push some more to make them achieve. We celebrate successes and then push some more. We know where our kids are most likely to end up but we attempt to ratchet up the trajectory. We want our kids to beat the odds against them and we try to instill the tools that make it possible. Frequently, we have to hope that something we said one rainy Tuesday, or a hot day in May, made enough of an impact that it changed their most likely path. The joy of seeing a boy who ran on the fringes of a gang, now as a young man in the grocery store telling you that he is in college is breathtaking. Getting a Facebook message from a girl that had a drug-using mama telling you that you got her through those years, that makes it all worth while. I once heard that the most common request for a private investigator wasn’t spying on a cheating spouse but rather tracking down a favorite teacher. I don’t know if it is true but I love the idea of it.

4.We have personal lives that are completely ignored during the day. We simply don’t have a moment to spare when a class of twenty-some kids is in the room. In grade schools, we have bladders of steel because you cannot leave your class to go tinkle every hour or two. (I cringed every time I was told by a health professional to drink more water.) We come to work even when we don’t feel well because it is easier than taking a day off. Unless you are absolutely incapacitated you know the result of having a substitute in your classroom. We make up a year’s worth of doctors appointments in the summer break. We make all our business phone calls then also. We are with kids during business hours and don’t get to make phone calls with them in the room. If you believe we can do it the minute the kids leave for the day you need to read the next item.

5. We do more than “just teach.” Our paperwork load is tremendous. It is way beyond grading papers. We have to document most incidents that might be a reason for concern for all students. We have to document conversations with parents and guardians. We have to record any changes to routines for children who are struggling. This can include such simple things as how often I check in with a child or if I moved their desk. We have to keep track of test scores, comparing them to each other and to past scores. The movement to document every iota of data continues to grow in the current world of testing. Besides paperwork, we also need to meet with other teachers for planning. Oh, and don’t forget bulletin boards certainly need to be changed.

6. We frequently feel isolated in our classrooms. We spend large portions of our day as the only adult in the room. Even when you have an aid or a student teacher, you are simply too focused to visit. There is no water cooler conversation. Perhaps the best example of this was way back on September 11, 2001. With a second-grade class, the only way we got information was by quick whispered conversations while we were taking our classes to the bathroom. It wasn’t until I got home and turned on the television that I had a sense of what happened that day.

7. We are passionate about our kids. Many of us see our job as a calling, not a career. We think about our students’ problems day and night, often more than our own. We come up with ways to deal with a child’s difficulty with a skill while we drive to the grocery store. We devise that perfect lesson idea while walking the dog. I’ve been out of the classroom for three years and I still do this several times a day. I see a new book and want to read it to a class. I hear a new fact about whales and want to add it to the unit I created several years ago. It doesn’t stop. It is a lifelong passion.

8. We are the builders of tomorrow. Our job is creating the future citizens of our country. Yes, we work hard. Lots of people do. Unlike most careers, what we do though is not for today. It is for the future. We know that tests don’t create career-ready people. Basic knowledge and the skills to learn do. Being able to work and communicate with others does. We are willing to do the hard work. We are the planters of acorns, believing the mighty oaks will grow from our work.