Commentary

Target assault weaponsAs yesterday’s panic at a shopping mall in Fayetteville makes clear, average Americans are rightfully terrified at the idea of people openly walking around carrying guns in public venues of this kind. They do no want it and it clearly needs to be unlawful throughout the United States. Moreover, a completely clear and permanent ban on such behavior would have no effect on “concealed carry” holders or hunters or the right of people generally to own guns.

Given this plain and simple reality, the least the NRA and other Second Amendment enthusiasts could do is to loudly and publicly support efforts to prohibit such behavior and the terror it understandably causes in the general public.

Come on, NRA. what do you say? How about helping to find one small island of common ground?

News

Ohio’s charter schools—many of which are run by for-profit education management corporations—are notorious for misspending tax dollars and producing poor academic results. Lawmakers there had a chance to do something about it this summer by passing legislation that would strengthen charter school oversight—but that legislation ultimately failed.

From The Washington Post:

What happened? The bill — which, again, had the votes to pass — was tabled because, apparently, some lawmakers still want to make changes. The bill is supposed to come up again in September, but who really knows, given tepid efforts in the past to improve schools. Even if a bill passes later, implementation will be significantly delayed.

You’d think that the lousy state of Ohio’s charter system would have set a fire under everyone with even half a fingerprint on it. How bad is it? A June story in the Akron Beacon Journal started this way:

No sector — not local governments, school districts, court systems, public universities or hospitals — misspends tax dollars like charter schools in Ohio.

The newspaper had reviewed 4,263 audits released last year by the state and concluded that charter schools in the state appear to have misspent public money “nearly four times more often than any other type of taxpayer-funded agency.” It says that “since 2001, state auditors have uncovered $27.3 million improperly spent by charter schools, many run by for-profit companies, enrolling thousands of children and producing academic results that rival the worst in the nation.”

So what does the state of Ohio’s charter schools have to do with North Carolina?

It’s worth taking a closer look because, according to the Akron Beacon Journal, “only Michigan and Texas have a greater portion of charter schools [than Ohio] operated by private, for-profit companies, which are not compelled to disclose how they spend public money.

In North Carolina, lawmakers lifted the cap back in 2011 on the 100-charter school limit—and since then, more and more private, for-profit education management companies have been making their way into the state, some of which have sought to hide how they spend tax dollars. Read More

Commentary

KeoughAt task force or committee meetings there is sometimes a strategy guiding where you sit. If an important legislator is in the room, for example, people will try to sidle up next to him or her to influence the policymaker’s thinking. As stakeholders gathered at the North Carolina Institute of Medicine for a seemingly endless series of meetings on implementing the Affordable Care Act in our state I often moved my name marker around to sit next to Michael Keough.

Folks outside of the worlds of state government or health insurance may not recognize Michael’s name, but he was an important leader and manager for many years in North Carolina. Most recently he ran the state and federal high-risk pools (called Inclusive Health in our state) that were created to help people with pre-existing conditions access health insurance until full implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Before that Michael ran Senior Care, which helped low-income seniors access prescription drugs before the implementation of Medicare Part D.

The high-risk pools shut down in 2014 because the Affordable Care Act banned the use of pre-existing condition exclusions, and Michael worked with partner organizations to start a health insurance CO-OP in North Carolina. CO-OPs are consumer centered health insurance plans that are up and running in several states. Congress killed CO-OP startup funding before our state’s plan could get approved.

You should start seeing a pattern here: Michael Keough cared about helping people access health care. That was the focus of his career. And he knew that prescription drug assistance and high-risk pools were only stopgap measures. He didn’t think of them as permanent solutions to our health care crisis.

I didn’t only sit near Michael at meetings because he was enormously knowledgeable about insurance and health policy, or because he fought for average North Carolinians. I sat near him mostly because he had a great sense of humor and he didn’t mind me passing him sarcastic notes.

I’m referring to Michael in the past tense because a few weeks ago we lost him much, much too young. In losing him the health advocacy community in our state lost a friend. I hate that he didn’t get to see the Supreme Court ruling in King v. Burwell because he would have been elated to see that the protections afforded to people with pre-existing conditions will continue.

You can watch some NC Policy Watch interviews with Michael and get a sense of the great work he did. We are a better state because of it.

Commentary

In one of the myriad unexplained “special provisions” buried deep in the its version of the 2016-17 budget, the North Carolina Senate takes the remarkable and destructive step of repealing the state Fair Housing Act. As Sarah Ovaska-Few reported last week:

“The provision, which would repeal the State Fair Housing Act and shut down the state office that investigates discrimination complaints, was buried deep in the 500-plus budget (pages 390-391) that was made public and quickly passed the chamber last week.

The elimination of the state anti-discrimination measures got no attention during debates when the budget passed the Republican-controlled Senate last Thursday.

The move to repeal the state’s Fair Housing Act would also eliminate the N.C. Human Relations Commission, which is funded partly with federal funds and tasked with investigating and pursuing legal claims of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or disability when it comes to housing, employment and civil rights violations.”

One can only hope that this outrageous provision gets deep-sixed in the negotiations over the final budget. And if conferees need any reminders about the continued relevance of fair housing laws in 2015 North Carolina, they might want to check out yesterday’s announcement from the good folks at Legal Aid of North Carolina detailing the terms of a settlement in a fair housing case involving demands of sex for receipt of housing vouchers brought in Scotland County.

Read More

Commentary

Editorial writers have penned several good ones across North Carolina in recent days.

This morning’s Winston-Salem Journal is on the mark when it reminds the state Senate that driver’s education should remain in the public schools. As the editorial notes: “It’s not just a matter of money, but of public safety.”

In an editorial entitled “There’s a better way than political gerrymandering,” the Fayetteville Observer says this:

“In one of its final decisions before ending its term this week, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s use of an independent commission to draw congressional districts.

We hope the leaders of the N.C. Senate took note. The decision gives them one less reason to resist a bipartisan initiative to create a redistricting commission here.”

An editorial in Raleigh’s N&O comments on native daughter Loretta Lynch’s return to the state yesterday by noting her sterling qualifications to be the nation’s new Attorney General and blasting the GOP Senators who filibustered her nomination:

“Disgracefully, both of North Carolina’s Republican U.S. senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, opposed Lynch’s nomination on thin and blatantly partisan grounds. They embarrassed themselves more than they did Lynch, and Tillis as a freshman failed the political character test.”

The Charlotte Observer expounds thoughtfully on “Three more Supreme Court decisions that could – and should – have an impact on North Carolina.”

And, finally, in case you missed it, a Tuesday editorial in the Asheville Citizen-Times gets it right with this take on the Affordable Care Act:

“The Affordable Care Act is here to stay. It’s time for critics to stop trying to repeal it and start trying to improve it.

The Supreme Court put the final nail in the repeal-ACA coffin last week when it upheld health-care subsidies in states that have not set up their own insurance exchanges. By a 6-3 vote the justices recognized a drafting error for what it was and rejected the notion that Congress would have deliberately written a law to guarantee it would not work….

The ACA is not perfect. The unwieldy law is too complicated for many Americans and it faced an embarrassingly rocky rollout as thousands were unable to access the website. Its effect on the labor force is yet to be fully ascertained, but there’s always the threat of reduced employee hours and a smaller workforce if people don’t need a job for benefits.

We’re all up for discussing ways to improve the ACA. But the opposition is going to have to bring concrete solutions to the table to build off of the plan instead of continuing to face a fruitless battle to tear it down.”