Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch


1. U.S. Supreme Court agrees NC legislative districts were illegally gerrymandered based on race

The U.S. Supreme Court is sending a clear message to North Carolina lawmakers: racial gerrymandering is unconstitutional.

The nation’s highest court handed down its third decision in three weeks regarding a North Carolina racial gerrymandering case — North Carolina v. Covington. This time, justices affirmed that 28 state House and Senate districts were unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered when Republicans drew new maps in 2011 but sent back to the lower courts a remedial order for special elections to be reconsidered.

Republicans have been put on notice that they cannot pack black voters into districts, but they won’t necessarily have to hold a special election later this year – though that decision will ultimately be in the hands of the lower court. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: New motions filed seek to set deadlines for state to redraw racially gerrymandered legislative maps

*** Bonus video: House Minority Leader Darren Jackson on the remedy to the GOP’s racially gerrymandered legislative maps and the need for special elections in 2017

2. Law enforcement officers voice concern as NC House considers allowing concealed guns without permits

As an omnibus gun bill heads to a full vote of the N.C. House today voters, gun control groups and some of the state’s most popular Republican sheriffs are all saying it goes too far.

House Bill 746 would, with a few exceptions, remove the state’s requirement for a concealed carry permit, allowing anyone 18 or older who legally owns a handgun to carry to conceal it except where expressly prohibited.

The bill does away with a requirement for state approved safety courses required by sheriffs’ offices, which issue concealed carry permits under the current law.

The North Carolina Association of Police Chiefs came out against the bill this week, as did some of the state’s most prominent law enforcement officers. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: Bill allowing concealed guns without permit tentatively passes N.C. House

3. State Superintendent may be violating law by ignoring public records request

***Update: After Policy Watch’s Tuesday report, Superintendent Mark Johnson’s office said they were ready to turn over some emails.

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson’s inaction on a long-standing public records request from Policy Watch may be a violation of state law, a prominent North Carolina media attorney says.

“Public records laws say public agencies have a responsibility to respond as promptly as possible,” said Amanda Martin, general counsel for the N.C. Press Association and an attorney with Raleigh-based Stevens Martin Vaughn & Tadych. “There is almost no interpretation of which I would agree they are doing that. For that reason, I think they are violating the law.”

Policy Watch submitted a request for the new superintendent’s emails on Jan. 26, more than three weeks after the Winston-Salem Republican took office following a surprise defeat of Democrat June Atkinson in November. [Read more…]

4. Thinking about rooftop solar? Here’s the nitty-gritty on the renewables bill

House Bill 589 is not a perfect bill. It may even be distasteful, especially for progressives impatient with the pace of renewable energy development. But considering the anti-renewable  tenor that has characterized the legislature for the last six years, this bill is likely as good as it gets — for now.

Republican bill sponsors Rep. Dean Arp and John Szoka have heralded the legislation as a fundamental change in the state’s energy policy. House Speaker Tim Moore said yesterday that it is an “example of how legislation should be done.”

Certainly, there are some seismic shifts in the bill — leasing solar systems finally would be legal — but the goals are modest, hardly the hallmark of a state that is among the leaders in solar energy. And the measure was fast-tracked — introduced, jammed through two committees and on to the House floor — in just two days. [Read more…]

5. Reconciling the anemic spiteful budget of the Senate and the anemic dishonest budget of the House

House and Senate leaders are now meeting behind closed doors trying to work out the differences between the budgets passed by each chamber and come up with a final spending agreement.

It is an annual ritual that usually takes weeks, sometimes months, as the two budgets are often far apart in tax policy and spending priorities. It is not likely to take long this year—and that is not good news.

Both budgets fall woefully short of making the investments in education, human services and environmental protections the state needs.

That was preordained by the $2.8 billion in tax cuts mostly for corporations and the wealthy passed by Republicans since 2013 and it was confirmed not long after this session began when legislative leaders agreed to overall spending levels well below historic averages as a percentage of the state’s economy. [Read more…]

*** Upcoming event on Tuesday, June 20: NC Policy Watch presents a special Crucial Conversation luncheon. The crises surrounding the Trump presidency:  A conversation with nationally acclaimed scholar, author and commentator Neil Siegel. Learn more and register today.

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