Commentary, Courts & the Law, Education, Environment, Legislature, News

The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

1. The dirty half dozen: What you need to know about all six proposed constitutional amendments

The 2018 midterm elections are upon us and North Carolina voters will soon pass judgment on, among many other things, an unprecedented raft of six constitutional amendments.

The proposals include:

  • a proposal to permanently cap the state income tax rate,
  • a proposal to remake the state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement so as to alter its composition and how its members are selected,
  • a proposal to dramatically alter and limit the Governor’s authority when it comes to filling vacancies that occur on the state courts,
  • a proposal to require some undetermined form of photo identification for in-person voting,
  • a proposal to establish a state constitutional “right” to hunt and fish, and
  • a proposal to enact a multi-faceted “victims’ rights” amendment known as “Marsy’s Law.”

There are many compelling reasons to oppose all six – starting with the absurd and outrageous lack of process that accompanied their approval by the General Assembly during the final harried days of the 2018 legislative session, the hurried rewrite of two amendments in late August, and the deceitful and dishonest way the proposals will be summarized and presented on the ballot.

Still, even if one were to set aside all of the profound problems of process and procedure, there are numerous important substantive deficiencies in each amendment that are more than adequate to justify a “no” vote. Here is a brief list: [Read more...]

2. Old and in the way: Hurricane Florence could barrel over landfills, waste lagoons, hazardous waste sites and more toxics

Thousands of animal waste lagoons, hazardous waste sites and other repositories of toxic material lie in and near the projected path of Hurricane Florence, increasing the risk of breaches or leaks of dangerous chemicals into the environment. (This is one important reason you should avoid wading through or touching flood waters.)

The NC Department of Environmental Quality has a new mapping and data feature, which shows the locations of these sites, both in map form and spreadsheet. All of the maps below are from the DEQ site and can be clicked on to enlarge them. We’ve linked to each map; once you get to that DEQ page, click on the “data” tab to view the addresses and facility names in spreadsheet form.

The first map shows all of the animal feeding operations for permitted swine, cattle and poultry farms that use wet litter. (Dry litter poultry farms are “deemed permitted” and are largely unregulated.) With more than a foot of rain forecast, there is a higher risk of lagoon breaches, which can send millions of gallons of animal waste to rivers, wetlands and nearby property. [Read more…]

Bonus read:

3. After ham-fisted subpoenas, federal officials owe North Carolina an explanation

Best-case scenario: Robert Higdon and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement owe North Carolina a lengthy explanation. Worst-case scenario: They owe us all an apology.

Such is the confusion surrounding this month’s hailstorm of subpoenas from Higdon and ICE, a sweeping intrusion by federal officials that has state election officials bewildered and incensed.

Higdon is the U.S. attorney for North Carolina’s eastern district, a Republican appointed by President Trump last year. Of course, Higdon’s boss once commissioned a now-defunct task force to prove, without success, some sort of massive voter fraud scheme in the United States, allegations with all the substance of a puff of smoke.

And ICE needs no introduction, a federal agency charged with overseeing immigration enforcement that, in recent years, has carved out a disturbingly predatory role, lurking in food processing plants, menacing institutes of higher education, and frightening schoolchildren. [Read more…]

4. Legislative leaders’ latest claims about NC education funding are bogus

Since the beginning of August, Republican leaders have been peddling a weird claim to demonstrate their supposed dedication towards funding public schools. According to Speaker of the House Tim Moore, Republicans have “doubled the share of new state spending for public schools since 2011, compared to eight years prior of Democrat leadership in the legislature.” This would be a weird number to hang one’s hat on, as “share of new state spending” tells you nothing about the adequacy of state spending. After all, would you rather have a small share of Jeff Bezos’s income, or a large share of my income? But it’s an especially flimsy claim when it relies on fake numbers.

First, let’s unpack Speaker Moore’s claim. He claims to be comparing the General Assembly’s financial support of public schools over two periods: the eight years since Republicans have controlled the General Assembly (FY 10-11 to FY 18-19) against the final eight years of Democratic control of the General Assembly (FY 02-03 to FY 10-11). According to Speaker Moore’s numbers, total state funding under Democrats rose $4.6 billion, of which, $1.2 billion (26 percent) was dedicated to public schools. In contrast, Republicans have increased total state funding by $5.0 billion, of which, $2.5 billion (50 percent) was dedicated to public schools; hence the claim that the share of new state spending on schools has doubled.

Even if these numbers were accurate (spoiler alert: they’re not), the claim rests on some rather faulty logic. [Read more...]

5. Civil Rights Commission report: Minority voting rights impacted by new laws, including strict voter ID

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has finally released its report and recommendations on minority voting rights and access around the country after holding a public briefing in Raleigh earlier this year.

The report found that new laws and voting procedures – particularly in many states previously covered under the preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act (which includes North Carolina) – are impacting voter access.

Examples of those laws and procedures include the implementation of strict voter ID laws; the closing polling place, cutting early voting; and voting roll purges and challenges to voter eligibility.

“Today’s report reflects the reality that citizens in the United States – across many states, not limited only to some parts of the country – continue to suffer significant, and profoundly unequal, limitations on their ability to vote,” said Commission Chair Catherine E. Lhamon. “That stark reality denigrates our democracy and diminishes our ideals. This level of ongoing discrimination confirms what was true before 1965, when the Voting Rights Act became law, and has remained true since 1965: Americans need strong and effective federal protections to guarantee that ours is a real democracy.”

At the Raleigh public hearing, Commissioners heard testimony from 23 current and former government officials, legal experts, academics, civil society actors, and some 40 members of the public.

The 402-page report includes a letter to President Donald Trump recommending that the VRA be amended to restore and expand protections against discrimination, including federal preclearance. When establishing the reach of an amended VRA preclearance coverage provision, include current evidence of, and historical and persisting patterns of, discrimination. [Read more…]

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