Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch

1. U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to address partisan gerrymandering fuels state court fight

In a stinging defeat for voting rights advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative-leaning justices ruled Thursday that federal courts are incapable of solving partisan gerrymandering challenges.

“Excessive partisanship in districting leads to results that reasonably seem unjust,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the 5-4 opinion. “But the fact that such gerrymandering is ‘incompatible with democratic principles’ does not mean that the solution lies with the federal judiciary. We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.

“Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions.” [Read more…]

Bonus read: Three initial thoughts on a very dark day for American democracy


2. U.S. Supreme Court halts Trump Administration’s citizenship Census question for now

In a surprising move Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked the Trump Administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

It wasn’t the citizenship question in and of itself that gave the high court pause, but rather the rationale behind it, which Chief Justice John Roberts wrote “seems to have been contrived.”

Attorneys for the Trump Administration told justices it wanted the citizenship question included in the 2020 Census to help enforce federal voting rights laws.

“This rationale is difficult to accept,” Roberts wrote in the 5-4 opinion. “One obvious problem is that the DOJ provided no basis to believe that more precise data would in fact help with Voting Rights Act enforcement.”

The case was remanded back to the Department of Commerce to allow them an opportunity to offer a more adequate explanation. President Donald Trump was not pleased with the outcome. [Read more…]


3. Pork fattens the environmental budget while necessities get chopped

The NC Department of Environmental Quality can’t always get what it wants. It can’t even get what it needs.

DEQ had requested 37 new positions in the state environmental budget to address the crisis of perfluorinated compounds in drinking water supplies. The House tepidly responded with seven positions; the Senate, always financially brutal toward DEQ, eliminated the appropriation. The conference budget settled for just five additional full-time positions, but only two of them are devoted to PFAS sampling and analysis. The others are for permitting and administration.

DEQ Secretary Michael Regan criticized the conference budget, saying in a prepared statement that it “does not allow DEQ to keep pace with the demands of a growing economy or the critical water quality issues facing North Carolina. The lack of funding negatively impacts the communities dealing with PFAS contamination and aging water infrastructure. It asks them to go without necessary resources.” [Read more…]


4. GOP spending plan offers modest teacher pay raises, no Medicaid expansion

A smug, confident Republican leadership on Tuesday released a two-year, compromise spending plan they said delivers the most dollars — $14.2 billion next fiscal year — ever spent on public education in North Carolina.

Overall, the budget proposal calls for spending $24 billion in the first year of the biennium and $24,8 billion the second year.

Under the budget proposal, a compromise between the House and Senate plans, the state would spend $14.8 billion in the second year of the biennium.

The proposal includes an average 2 percent raise for teachers the first year and just under 2 percent the second year. [Read more…]


5. Amid the budget showmanship, North Carolina’s budget will surely suffer

North Carolina’s legislative leaders have finally – in one big, bursting feat of Houdini-like showmanship – liberated themselves from truth and context.

Their mastery of the mummers play was a revelation Tuesday, in their ruefully insincere keening that we, at this late budgetary hour, have arrived at this precipice without input from Gov. Roy Cooper – their Democratic foil, who submitted his own $25.2 billion budget 16 weeks ago, who called for nine percent teacher pay raises and a $3.9 billion statewide bond referendum for school infrastructure and $15 million to combat the opioid epidemic and, of course, Medicaid expansion. These are things we may regard as input.

In the off chance that GOP lawmakers find their browsers kaput or their Lexis Nexis accounts hacked, here is an easy link to that budget and more.

Otherwise, for the purpose of negotiations, it seems Cooper’s proposals – banished forthwith from the GOP’s propagandizing press conference materials Tuesday – are cast into a void, disregarded by officials without a passing respect for transparency. [Read more…]


6. Trump-inspired anti-immigrant bill poses a grave threat to crime victims and public safety

It’s back…and, tragically, worse than ever. After fading from view back in April upon winning approval by the state House of Representatives, a Trump Administration-inspired bill to force North Carolina sheriffs to become accessories to federal immigration enforcement operations is moving quickly and could be on Gov. Cooper’s desk later this week.

As readers will recall, the original version of House Bill 370 sought to force all North Carolina sheriffs to honor “detainer requests” from federal immigration officials (ICE) for people in their custody. Detainers are not judicial orders signed by any court official, and they are not arrest warrants that require any kind of finding of probable cause. The individuals targeted by detainer requests are typically otherwise eligible for release from jail or prison.

Last fall, several new sheriffs were elected in the state’s larger, urban counties after running on platforms that pledged to no longer honor detainer requests – a discretionary decision that’s long been within the purview of individual sheriffs. [Read more…]


7. After outcry, Superintendent Mark Johnson tries to put a lid on reading program controversy

Last week, I published a blog post detailing how NC Superintendent Mark Johnson ignored the recommendation of a committee of educators and made the unilateral decision to award the contract for a K-3 reading screener to a company called Istation.

According to former DPI employee Amy Jablonski, who headed the evaluation committee, Johnson’s selection of Istation disregarded the Request for Purchase (RFP) evaluation team’s advice that North Carolina schools should continue using the mClass screener which has been in place since 2013.  The change means moving from a model in which children read one-on-one with their teacher to one where their interaction is with a computer.

The fact that the blog post has been shared more than 13,000 times on social media is a testament to how unhappy educators and public school families alike are with the decision – and how eager they are to learn exactly how it happened.[Read more…]


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