Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Education leaders say House budget falls short

Based on the state House budget plan, North Carolina teachers may be virtually assured of at least some raises in the upcoming school year, but the state’s top teacher advocacy organization says state lawmakers have still “fallen short” of their promises to educators.

“This isn’t treating us as a profession,” says Mark Jewell, a Greensboro teacher who serves as president of the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE). “This is a stopgap measure for funding schools.”

Jewell’s comments came hours after state House lawmakers unfurled their full biennial budget, which includes varying raises for teachers and school administrators (page 87 of the House budget) over the next two years. [Read more…]

***Bonus video: NC Justice Center education analyst Kris Nordstrom discusses efforts to ‘over fund’ unaccountable vouchers in the state budget

2. House and Senate differ over budget provision making it harder for judges to waive fees for poor defendants

You can’t get blood from a stone — it’s one of those cliché proverbs that rings especially true when it comes to debt collection.

It’s also a concept that is currently before the North Carolina General Assembly as lawmakers crafting the state budget debate a budget provision that would make it extremely cumbersome for judges across the state to waive court fines or costs for indigent defendants.

The “fee waiver” provision first appeared in the Senate budget and was later adopted in an early version of the House budget. An amendment ultimately eliminated the provision, but lawmakers at a committee meeting yesterday speculated that there would be controversy over the measure when it comes time for the two chambers to agree on a final budget.[Read more…]

3. House reallocates $250K from rural grant program to “protect” rural areas from EPA

Ahoskie, population 5,000, is nicknamed “The Only One,” because it is the only such named town in the world. Located in Hertford County, Ahoskie has seen better days, with its downtown revitalization occurring in very small steps: A coffee shop here, a theater there — and crumbling buildings in between.

Rep. Chris Millis sponsored an amendment to the House budget that would siphon $250,000 from a grant program to revive rural areas like Ahoskie and then funnel it to the Department of Agriculture in order to sue the EPA.

The Agriculture Department could use the money to hire outside counsel to fight the federal Waters of the United States rule, which clarifies the types of waterways that are regulated under the Clean Water Act. These include streams and wetlands that contribute to “navigable waters” already under CWA jurisdiction. [Read more…]

4. The conservative assault on freedom and liberty
The Right’s dishonest effort to appropriate and pervert some core American values

Here’s one thing you’ve got to hand to the modern American Right: these people can sell. Maybe it’s the presence of so many shameless TV preachers and corporate bosses within their movement. Maybe it’s the “message discipline” that comes more easily with being a mostly top-down movement. But whatever the root cause, there’s no denying that conservatives are often much better at packaging their ideas for public consumption than progressives.

For a classic case in point, consider the Right’s dogged, destructive and often successful effort to appropriate and pervert the word “freedom.” For decades now, conservatives have sought to package virtually every policy stance on their agenda as a defense of “freedom” and/or its close cousin, “liberty.” This is especially true in and around red, white and blue holidays like Memorial Day.

If one goes down the list of issues, you can almost hear the right-wing propaganda rap.[Read more…]

5. State treasurer responds to criticism of state health plan audit

When Charles Kurzman received a letter last month announcing an audit of the State Employee Health plan, it didn’t much worry him.

A similar audit had been done back in 2010 and Kurzman, a professor of sociology at UNC, had provided information about his dependents and kept everyone in the family insured.

But Kurzman quickly realized this audit was different – and more complicated.

“It took me an hour to figure out how I was supposed to comply with the treasurer’s demands,” Kurzman said. “In part because it was challenging to find the user interface that the instructions referred to.”

Navigating that interface was a whole other matter – and it had to be done. In 2010 the independent company performing the audit allowed plan members to mail in copies of supporting documents – birth and marriage certificates, adoption papers, tax returns. That was the most popular method used by respondents. This year, that option was gone. [Read more…]

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