Commentary

Powerful video explains why latest Trumpcare proposal would be a disaster for NC and the nation

On July 28, there was a collective sigh of relief across North Carolina and the U.S. as what was thought to be the last attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and dismantle Medicaid failed. Advocates were hopeful that our lawmakers in Washington would commence bipartisan efforts to strengthen the ACA and improve Medicaid. Unfortunately, the zombie bill known has Trumpcare is back – this time as the Graham-Cassidy bill. Reports show that more than one million North Carolinians could lose coverage if conservative lawmakers are successful in passing this bill.

Despite its new name, the bill has the same damaging effects on Medicaid – a program that matters to North Carolina’s children, older adults, and people with disabilities. The Graham-Cassidy bill would dismantle Medicaid by restructuring the program from the current federal-state financial partnership in which the federal government pays for 67.6 percent of Medicaid costs to one featuring so-called “per capita caps” that provide a fixed amount per Medicaid beneficiary. In other words, caps are cuts to Medicaid funding. Thus, states will have to make decisions on whether to cut services, the number of Medicaid beneficiaries, or provider payments.

As conservative leadership in DC prepares to cut coverage for millions, they would do well to remember the story of Rev. James Brigman. (see the video below). Earlier this summer, Rev. Brigman walked from North Carolina to Washington to stand, walk, and speak for his daughter Lauren Faith who depends on Medicaid. Lauren Faith’s Medicaid coverage allows her to get the nursing care she needs, but also helps her parents to work. Rev. Brigman and Lauren Faith are just a snapshot on why Medicaid is coverage that should be protected. Tragically, once again, our national leaders are preparing to put families like this in jeopardy.

 

Courts & the Law, News

Superior Court judges hire lobbyists; merit selection plan could be unveiled by end of October

Tracy Kimbrell and Nathan Babcock

The North Carolina Conference of Superior Court Judges hired two lobbyists this week to be their “eyes and ears” in Raleigh.

The lobbyists are Nathan Babcock and Tracy Kimbrell, both of the Parker Poe law firm. The president of the Conference, Superior Court Judge Joe Crosswhite, who serves district 22A in Alexander and Iredell counties, said the lobbyists weren’t hired in response to any particular bill or policy decision.

“There’s a lot of talk in Raleigh, and we just needed somebody to be our eyes and ears,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Our judges, we’re out working all the time.”

He added that the Conference hired the lobbyists on a short-term basis, through the end of October. When the group, which has about 120 members, meets again next month, it will decide how to proceed.

The move comes a little over a month after the North Carolina Association of District Court Judges hired two well-known lobbyists, Charles Neely Jr. and Richard Zechini, of the Williams Mullen law firm. That group hired lobbyists in reaction to a judicial redistricting bill that is currently making its way through the House.

Crosswhite said House Bill 717 was part of the reason for the Conference hiring lobbyists, “but that was not all of it at all.”

Before joining Parker Poe, Babcock was the political director for the North Carolina Chamber, where he successfully lobbied for comprehensive legislative priorities including education, tax reform, tort reform, unemployment insurance reform and transportation funding modifications, according to his biography.

Kimbrell served as general counsel for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger from 2010 to 2013. In 2012, she served as the acting chief of staff in the Senate leader’s legislative office.

She also previously worked at the General Assembly in the office of the Senate Minority Leader, researching and monitoring legislative matters on behalf of the Senate Republican Caucus. She later worked on a Republican gubernatorial campaign.

Kimbrell confirmed in an email Wednesday afternoon that she and Babcock did register as lobbyists for the Conference and said neither had a comment to offer at this time.

Judicial redistricting isn’t the only courts-related agenda action item on the General Assembly’s schedule this year. The Senate has been floating a potential merit-selection plan to various groups over the last couple months.

Crosswhite confirmed Wednesday that the Conference is scheduled to meet with Berger’s chief of staff, Jim Blaine, next week to hear a presentation on merit selection. He said it’s something the Conference has talked about but wanted to wait for a lobbyist to get on board before meeting with Blaine.

He also praised the Senate for having a candid process as merit selection is considered.

“They have been very responsive and very helpful and very willing to sit down and talk with us about it,” Crosswhite said.

The Conference has not yet adopted a position on merit selection and Crosswhite said it will wait to see what the actual proposal is before doing so. He added that it’s expected the Senate will unveil its merit selection process by the end of October.

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly, Montgomery) indicated last week that the General Assembly could pass new judicial maps and put a merit selection constitutional amendment on the ballot, which would allow voters to decide which process would go into effect.

Crosswhite reiterated that the Conference is not a political organization.

“We needed help and that’s what this is,” he said of hiring lobbyists. “October will be an active month.”

News

N.C. Historical Commission meets Friday amid Confederate controversy

A reminder: the N.C. Historical Commission will hold its fall meeting Friday.

On the agenda: Requests to Relocate “Objects of Remembrance.”

Under a 2015 law the board must approve moving or removing historical monuments like the Confederate statues that have been at the center of a renewed public controversy for months.

In the wake of deadly violence at a white supremacist rally over a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia and the toppling of a similar statue in Durham, all eyes are on the once utterly uncontroversial board. Its members – mostly historians, writers and college professors – say they aren’t sure what they are empowered to do about the statues or how the board should proceed.

Several members have staked out positions on the issue, but most say the law is so vaguely written that they aren’t yet sure how their recommendation will be handled. The board will meet as the UNC campus at Chapel Hill and the UNC Board of Governors continue to wrestle with the issue of “Silent Sam,” a Confederate monument on the campus’ quad.

The meeting, which is open to the public will be held at 10:00 a.m. at the Archives and History/State Library Building at 109 E Jones St. in downtown Raleigh.

Environment

To get Duke Energy flood maps near coal ash basins, local governments had to sign confidentiality agreements

A page from the Allen coal plant’s Emergency Action Plan (Source: Duke Energy)

Duke Energy won’t tell you if live in an area that could flood if one of its coal ash basin fails. And local emergency managers can’t tell you, that is, if they want a copy of the secret maps.

This secrecy has prompted the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of eight clients, to notify Duke Energy today that it plans to seek an enforcement action against the utility for failing to publicly provide inundation maps for its coal ash sites. As part of the 2015 federal Coal Combustion Residuals Rule, Duke was required to make public Emergency Action Plans — which include flood maps — for each of its coal ash storage sites where a dam failure would likely result in loss of human life or serious harm to the environment.

There are 10 such facilities in North Carolina: Allen, Asheville, Belews Creek, Cliffside, Dan River, HF Lee, Marshall, Mayo, Roxboro and Weatherspoon. Many of these dams are designated as high or significant risk by the NC Department of Environmental Quality.

The purpose of the plans and the maps are to tell residents near the plants if they live within a flood zone or other sensitive area. Residents can then prepare for a possible emergency or evacuation should a flood, hurricane or other disaster occur. Duke Energy, the SELC alleges, is the only utility in the country to withhold its inundation maps.

But Duke Energy counters that the information is confidential under statutes protecting homeland security and critical infrastructure. Duke Energy spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said the utility does provide full versions of the Emergency Action Plans to counties and cities.

But there’s a catch.

Policy Watch called or emailed all of the county emergency management offices in areas where Duke Energy is storing, even temporarily, coal ash. So far, one has responded. Tommy Almond, emergency management director for Gaston County, said his office has the utility’s inundation maps, but could not publicly share them. “To get those, we had to sign a non-disclosure agreement” with Duke Energy, Almond said. The utility instructed him to refer callers to Duke’s corporate offices in Charlotte for more information. However, the Emergency Action Plans tell residents to call their local emergency managers.

The Allen plant is in Gaston County. Riverbend is as well, but those basins are being excavated and don’t require an inundation plan.

To get those, we had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. It puts me in a bad spot Click To Tweet

Almond said that although he receives only one or two calls a year, the agreement “puts me in a bad spot.”

“I don’t know if I’m better off knowing” — and having to tell people that he can’t share the information — “or not knowing,” he said. “I do try to help people out and walk right up to the legal line.”

He told Policy Watch that he has seen the maps and believes there is minimal flood risk from the basins to area residences. Lake Wylie could see a small rise, he said.

Gaston County is sandwiched between two nuclear plants — McGuire in nearby Huntersville and Catawba over the border in York, S.C. Duke has provided pamphlets and other information for nearby residents.

“We’ll tell you if you live within 10 miles of a nuclear plant,” Almond said. “But we won’t tell you if you live in an inundation zone.”

When Policy Watch told SELC senior attorney Frank Holleman of these agreements, he said, “This action underscores the arrogance of Duke Energy and its determination to keep these maps from the public. These emergency responders protect the public and work for the public.”

Sheehan has not responded to questions about the non-disclosure agreements.

Keith Acree, communications director for the Department of Public Safety, said he would check on the state’s legal obligations, but had not responded by press time. (We’ll update the story as the information becomes available.) In the meantime, Policy Watch has filed a Public Records request with state emergency management officials for the unredacted Emergency Action Plan, including the inundation maps.

Sheehan said the Emergency Action Plan is only one part of the utility’s steps “to prepare for an unlikely event.” Sheehan also said that Duke engineers conduct weekly inspections, overseen by state regulators, she said, and the utility maintains the basins.

However, Duke does seem open to reconsidering its stance. Sheehan said the utility reviewed state statutes in managing public information around critical infrastructure. “While that drove decisions,” Sheehan said, “we will review the approach taken by other utilities and ask state regulators for further guidance.

Below: The Emergency Action Plan for the Allen plant. There are many redactions.

 

Allen Plant Emergency Action Plan by LisaSorg on Scribd

NC Budget and Tax Center

Proper planning needed: Within two years there will be more people ‘over 60’ in N.C. than ‘under 17’

The aging of our societies is one of the greatest success stories of the last one hundred years. However, with that success also come new long-term challenges and opportunities. Today, North Carolina is facing an extraordinary demographic makeover in the age of our population. The latest Prosperity Watch analysis from the NC Budget and Tax Center puts it like this:

“In less than two years, in 2019, our state will have a population with more people aged over 60 than under 17. Furthermore, between now and 2027, the proportion of the population aged 60 and over will only continue to grow – rising from 2.2 million to 2.8 million people, an increase of 28 percent.

Ten years ago, in 2007, a total of 31 counties in the state had more people aged over 60 than under 17. Since then, that number has more than doubled, and 78 counties now fit that description. However, what is most surprising is that this trend is not reversing anytime soon – by 2027, a total of 92 counties in North Carolina will have more people over 60 than under 17.”

That the state’s population is aging at this rapid pace requires policymakers and businesses across the state to plan and prepare while we still have the window of opportunity in front of us. If prudent planning in this area is accomplished we can minimize profound negative impacts on our economy and state budget in the coming years.

Policymakers must remember that government can have a constructive role in raising awareness about the implications of an aging society and engaging all sectors in preparing for the associated changes. As North Carolina continues to age here are three basic goals that should be accomplished in order for our state to thrive and be competitive in the coming years:

  • First, we must enable older adults to remain independent and age in the place of their choice with appropriate services and supports that enable a healthy lifestyle. Protecting the safety and rights of older and vulnerable adults, and preventing their abuse, neglect and exploitation is vital.
  • Second, we must ensure adequate investments today in the education of our children and their teachers in order to ensure the state’s workforce of tomorrow is prepared to lead in a complex and global economy.
  • Third, we must realize that migration into our state will be needed in order for us to maintain a strong workforce that will help sustain the state’s economy in the coming years.

Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.