Commentary, News

This Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

mc-ash-4001. The widening scandal in the McCrory Administration about coal ash

The headlines in Raleigh these days have been dominated by the landmark ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturning much of the North Carolina’s massive voter suppression law with the court citing stunning evidence that state lawmakers asked for data about African-American voting habits and then changed the law to make it harder for African-Americans to vote.

Also in the news have been the constantly changing explanations of Gov. Pat McCrory about HB2, the sweeping anti-LGBT law McCrory signed that continues to damage North Carolina’s reputation around the world and cost the state thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue. The NBA’s recent decision to move the 2017 all-star game and its $100 million economic impact out of Charlotte because of the law is the latest blow.

But now another blockbuster story that has been in the background has exploded, the rapidly widening scandal starting with sworn testimony from the state toxicologist that key officials in the McCrory Administration rejected his analysis and told people living near leaking Duke Energy coal ash ponds that their drinking water was safe when there was scientific evidence that it was not. [Continue reading….]

Rudo_byCanaryCoalition2. State toxicologist assailed by Gov. McCrory has lengthy record of research and public service

He’s testified against Dow Chemical. He’s faced down ExxonMobil. His testimony helped two farmworkers whose baby was born without arms or legs reach a settlement with Ag-Mart over pesticide exposure.

In comparison, Governor Pat McCrory could be described as a relative small fry in some respects.

Ken Rudo, the state’s toxicologist, has been under attack by McCrory, who, earlier this week, tried to discredit him. At a last-minute, late-night press conference, McCrory, through a spokesman, alleged Rudo had lied under oath about the governor’s involvement in misleading private well owners about coal ash contamination in their drinking water.

But an interview with a member of Rudo’s Ph.D. committee, as well as a review of scientific papers, federal and state court cases and expert testimony, all reveal that Rudo’s bona fides are unassailable. (Some academics and scientists contacted for this article could not speak to NCPW because of their institutions’ media policies.) NCPW found that, until he crossed swords with the McCrory administration, Rudo has never been accused of lying under oath or fabricating data.[Continue reading.…]

***Bonus read: North State Journal, staffed by former DEQ and McCrory employees, joins governor in attacking Ken Rudo

sm_52920143. Now do you understand why the courts are so important?

Fourth Circuit decision on voting rights should convince progressives, once and for all, of the need to fight for good judges

In some ways, it’s not surprising that American progressives – even activists – are prone to be blasé or MIA when it comes to the selection of federal judges. After all, it’s one thing to get fired up and become an activist over who gets elected president or even to rally for or against a controversial law. It’s quite another, at first blush anyway, to devote one’s time and passion to the matter of who serves in that most staid and aloof of public institutions – the federal judiciary.

How do you get people revved up to do battle over which successful, middle-aged lawyer will be plucked from his or her successful, high powered job and given a life appointment to wear a black robe and write book-length “opinions” about legal doctrines that most average Americans have never contemplated? It’s just so far removed from most people’s experience and…unsexy.

Well, here’s one way to tackle the problem: Tell them about last Friday’s ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that struck down North Carolina’s “monster” voter suppression law. [Continue reading….]

NC_DPI_ED4. Budget cuts take a bite out of DPI’s ability to support local school districts

As enrollment rises, legislature slashes agency budget

“People in North Carolina, if they knew how little was spent on administration, they should be sending us ‘thank you cards’ for doing the work to support teachers in the classroom.”

June Atkinson, superintendent of public instruction in North Carolina, is talking about the latest cut to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), a $300,000 reduction that, all things considered, will deal relatively minor damage to the state department charged with providing support and oversight for local schools.

Last year’s cut, a $2.5 million slash in DPI coffers, did the real damage, forcing the department to once again shed dozens of jobs and services.

Since 2009-2010, student enrollment in North Carolina has grown by nearly 5 percent, with public schools accounting for more than 70,000 additional students. Yet, DPI records show, the N.C. General Assembly has handed down $19.4 million in cuts, forcing the agency to jettison more than 200 administrative jobs. [Continue reading….]

hunter-8015. HB2 update: Inside the federal courthouse at Monday’s hearing

With elbow-length winter-white hair, and wearing black shorts and a sleeveless shirt, Hunter Schaefer looked vaguely Nordic. Her celery-thin legs were jammed into thick-soled, black platform shoes, and, like many girls and boys in their early teens, she seemed coltish.

“She knows who she is, at core of her very being,” said her father, Mac, a Presbyterian minister, as they faced a battalion of television cameras outside the federal courthouse in Winston-Salem. “She is my first-born daughter and she is loved beyond her wildest imagination.”

A transwoman, Hunter is one of several LGBTQ people represented by the ACLU and Lambda Legal who are suing state officials on constitutional grounds over House Bill 2. Now the law in North Carolina, the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act orders government agencies, such as public schools, universities and cities, to ban people from using public bathrooms, locker rooms and showers based on their gender identity. Instead, transgender people — there are roughly 40,000 in North Carolina — must go to the bathroom based on their gender assigned at birth, or as listed on their birth certificate.

The law also fails to protect gays and lesbians against discrimination and bars local governments from taking action to do so. [Continue reading.…]

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