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ICYMI: Last week’s Top Five on Policy Watch

1. Federal court appoints special master to decide if NC racial gerrymanders remain unconstitutional

A federal court has found it to be likely that lawmakers did not remedy unconstitutional racial gerrymanders in nine state House and Senate districts, and has appointed a special master to help it make a final determination.

Stanford Law School professor Nathaniel Persily will “assist the Court in further evaluating and, if necessary, redrawing the [districts in question] by developing an appropriate plan remedying the constitutional violations,” according to an order filed Thursday.

The Senate districts are 21, in Hoke County, and 28, in Guilford County. The House districts are 21, in Sampson and Wayne counties, 36, 37, 40, 41, in Wake County, 57, in Guilford County and 105 in Mecklenburg County.

The three-judge panel in North Carolina v. Covington wrote that, after careful review, it is concerned that the nine districts “either fail to remedy the identified constitutional violation or are otherwise legally unacceptable.” [Read more…]

 *** Bonus read: Berger appoints mostly GOP committee to look at judicial reform, redistricting

2. Missing elephant in the room? State lawmakers to examine education finance without considering overall funding sufficiency

When state lawmakers meet next week to begin the weighty task of reforming North Carolina’s knotty method of financing public schools, the sufficiency of the state’s K-12 funding will not be on the table.

Rep. Craig Horn, an influential Union County Republican who co-chairs a pivotal joint legislative task force on education finance reform, told Policy Watch Tuesday that he considers adequacy to be an altogether “separate issue.”

“In my view, you need a plan on how you distribute the money,” Horn said this week. “Then go fight over how much money there is.”

It’s a contentious point as Horn’s task force begins its work November 1, taking on reforms that most North Carolina political observers acknowledge to be one of the defining public education issues of our time. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: N.C. charter school leader hosts Dan Forest fundraiser attended by controversial evangelical minister

3. Hate rears its ugly head yet again
As Cooper moves to curb discrimination, the Right goes ballistic

In the age of Trump, there seem to be few limits on the depths to which purveyors of fear and hate will sink. Even conservatives who disliked or opposed Trump initially seem to have been emboldened in recent months by the President’s serial dishonesty and willingness to break long-established rules of decency in public behavior.

It is with this backdrop that the saga of North Carolina’s infamous discrimination law, HB2, and the seemingly never-ending conservative war on equality for transgender individuals entered their latest phase last week.

A small step forward

As has been reported by Policy Watch and others, Governor Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein took a modest and positive step last Wednesday to chip away at some of the discriminatory aspects of state law that have remained in effect in the aftermath of last spring’s partial repeal of HB2. This is from Melissa Boughton’s story: [Read more…]

4. Awash in pollution: Restoring North Carolina’s sick rivers to health will require a major policy about-face

Like most people who grow up on the water, Kemp Burdette is different from his landlocked friends. Undeterred by dampness, wary but not terrified of alligators, he is in tune with the calm and the fury of the Cape Fear River. He has paddled its entire 202-mile length. He knows every bend from its headwaters in Hayward, at the border of Lee and Chatham counties, to its mouth at the Atlantic Ocean.

He grew up in Wilmington and has spent nearly his entire life there, drinking the city’s water, which comes from the river, every day. The river literally is part of him. His family is raising their two young daughters in Wilmington. The river is also part of them.

His experience with the Cape Fear brought him to Raleigh yesterday, where he urged the House Select Committee on River Quality to more stringently regulate industry and the contaminants they routinely discharge in the state’s waterways. “The way we regulate contaminants is like Russian roulette,” Burdette said. “We should require industry to show their waste streams don’t endanger human health and the environment. The state may warrant stronger protections than at the federal level.” [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: A third of 110 private drinking water wells near Chemours tested high for GenX

5. Civil liberties advocates wary of campus free speech bill under consideration by UNC Board of Governors

As the UNC Board of Governors moves toward creation of a policy to “restore and preserve free speech” on public campuses, civil liberties advocates are worried it may have the exact opposite effect.

“We worry about things that are overly broad, vague and open to interpretation,” said Susanna Birdsong, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.

The concern stems from a working draft of the policy discussed earlier this month at a board subcommittee meeting. The work-in-progress policy is the result of a bill, which initially stalled in the House before changes allowed it to become law in July. [Read more…]

The bill calls for the creation of a uniform system for punishing any student, faculty or staff member who “substantially disrupts the functioning of the constituent institution or substantially interferes with the protected free expression rights of others, including protests and demonstrations that infringe upon the rights of others to engage in and listen to expressive activity when the expressive activity has been scheduled pursuant to this policy or is located in a nonpublic forum.” [Read more…]

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