More than 1,000 demonstrators converged on North Carolina’s General Assembly Monday as lawmakers work to finalize the state budget by the end of the month. For some of the sights and sounds from the 60th Moral Monday protest, click below:
These children end up in detention for various reasons. Sometimes, as they are attempting with their families to cross over, they lose them in the desert and end up on their own. Sometimes they are offered opportunities for sneaking in by drug-smugglers. Sometimes, after waiting for many years to immigrate with their parents, they are prevented from entering on the basis that they are no longer considered children.
It is a great injustice that citizens of the US, who consider themselves to be “civilized,” would engage in demoralizing and devaluing the lives of socioeconomically disadvantaged children. Apart from the deportations, which are unjust enough, those who guard our borders have also dehumanized these children through racist mockery, general mistreatment with bad living conditions and inadequate healthcare, and physical and sexual abuse . These innocent children are merely seeking better lives beyond the violence and poverty they have experienced elsewhere when they are not pursuing reunification with their families.
To make matters worse, Border Patrol agents in Texas were warned by an assistant patrol agent not to speak with journalists who are seeking to obtain more information on the crisis. As in the case with Guantanamo Bay, some government officials have a record for lacking transparency in areas where humanitarian crimes are being committed.
Critics of this humanitarian injustice directed at immigrant victims are encouraging the Obama administration to implement a program of affirmative relief that will dramatically decrease the number of deportations taking place each day. Let’s hope these efforts bear fruit in the very near future as the current situation is clearly intolerable.
If there’s been one area in which the current leadership of the General Assembly has been at its most cynical when it comes to directly contradicting past promises and rhetoric, it’s almost certainly in the area of legislative process. It’s gotten to the point at which it seems that scarcely an important piece of legislation advances on Jones Street without some kind of abuse of legislative rules (or, at least, the spirit thereof). Whether they’re crafting budgets in secret, holding unannounced, middle-of-the-night sessions, providing lack of time and opportunity for public comment or just springing entirely new legislation out of thin air as last-minute amendments, both the House and the Senate have frequently seemed intent of bending every guideline of fair play and open government.
And, of course, the amazing thing about all of this is that it’s not even necessary even from a crass, down-to-brass-tacks political perspective. The leaders in both Houses have huge, rubber-stamp majorities that make such shenanigans utterly unnecessary. Sometimes it feels as if leaders are engaging in such exercises just because they can. See for example, last week’s decision by House leaders to spring a last-minute, out-of-nowhere amendment on Senate Education Committee chairman Jerry Tillman on Common Core legislation.
So, with the final days of the 2014 session apparently upon us, observers of the General Assembly will do well to pay very close attention over the next week or two. Indeed, the House Finance Committee meets at 5:00 pm today to take up a bill that’s been sitting on its calendar since last summer and that will almost certainly be gutted and entirely rewritten with a “committee substitute.”
The bottom line: Notwithstanding the Senate’s just-for-show talk of making budget negotiations open, it’s almost a certainty that the upcoming days will feature loads of secrecy and bad, behind-closed-doors lawmaking. Stay tuned and watch closely if your stomach can take it.
- The Budget – Legislators have just a week left in the fiscal year to reach a compromise on their 2014-15 budget. Click here for a House and Senate Comparison Report on the competing plans. And we should learn shortly whether the budget talks will be open to the public, as Sen. Tom Apodaca suggested to the Charlotte Observer’s Jim Morrill.
- Mega Moral Monday – The NC NAACP and the Forward Together Moral Movement have pledged to stage their largest demonstration of the short legislative session this afternoon. After an abbreviated program at 5:00pm on Halifax Mall, the protesters will head into the Legislative Building, divide up into breakout groups and hold what they are describing as ‘Sit-Ins, Stand-Ins, Teach-Ins, Plan-Ins and Pray-Ins.’ Rev. William Barber offered a preview in this opinion piece that appeared over the weekend in the News & Observer.
- Coal Ash – On Tuesday the full Senate will take up Senate Bill 729, the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014. The measure would require the state’s highest risk coal ash ponds be shut down in the next five years, with all sites shut down within the next 15 years. Some environmentalists worry the bill does not go far enough and allows for the possibility of capping those sites and leaving the ash in place. The meeting gets underway at 10:00 a.m. in Room 1228/1327 of the Legislative Building.
- Opportunity Scholarships – On Wednesday, the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (located in the located in Research Triangle Park) will hold its selection lottery to determine which applicants will get “opportunity scholarships” for the fall. Approximately 2,400 students will receive funding in the first year. Voucher supporters on Jones Street are pressing for another $8 million to expand the program. (For more on the scholarship program, check out this three-part series by education reporter Lindsay Wagner.)
- NC GEAR – Last year state lawmakers approved $4 million to fund the North Carolina Government Efficiency and Reform initiative, or NC GEAR. This afternoon, the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee will hear a presentation by Deputy Director Joe Coletti on NC GEAR’s purpose, cost, and the remaining tasks. (Coletti is the former budget policy chief at the John Locke Foundation.) In advance of the committee meeting, the governor’s office rolled out a press release this morning pledging that:
All [efficiency] proposals will be reviewed by the NC GEAR analysts and consultants. The strongest concepts will be evaluated further and included in the final report to the governor and General Assembly next February. Some proposals will be included in the governor’s budget. Others will be offered to the Legislature for its consideration.
Stay tuned…it’s gonna be another busy week in Raleigh!
In case you missed it, Mike Meno of the ACLU of North Carolina posted the following insightful essay last Friday about action by the state House to allow physicians to recommend an oil derived from marijuana for treating certain epilepsy symptoms:
Yesterday, the North Carolina House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow neurologists to recommend an oil derived from marijuana compounds to certain patients suffering from epileptic conditions. The legislation was inspired in part by 7-year-old Charlotte Figi, who made national news on CNN for a chronic, debilitating condition that could be relieved only through the marijuana-based treatment. Charlotte suffered up to 50 painful seizures a day before her parents discovered that an oil derived from a strain of marijuana that was high in the cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) but low in the psychoactive cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) virtually ended her seizures entirely and allowed her to live a happy and healthy life. Read more