Commentary, News

1. Lawmakers move bill that would make it a felony offense for a student to assault a teacher

Students who assault teachers could soon face felony charges in North Carolina, according to a bill that was green-lighted by a Senate committee on Wednesday—despite concerns raised that under the proposed law, even minor infractions could result in a lifetime of lost opportunities for some of the state’s youth. “We’re having more serious [Continue Reading…]

2. The revealing 2015 Tax Day

Tax Day 2015 didn’t exactly turn out like state legislative leaders had planned. Instead of a flurry of news stories featuring people thrilled to find out that they are paying less in state taxes thanks to the alleged tax cuts passed by the General Assembly in 2013, many of the reports included comments from [Continue Reading…]

3.Audit found Medicaid owed $350 million, while DHHS officials said program had surplus

Lawmakers heard Monday that the state’s massive Medicaid program was in the hole at the end of last year’s fiscal year, despite prior statements by state health officials that the program finished that year with a surplus. The Medicaid program had $350 million in liabilities for 2013-14, not the surplus of $63.4 million [Continue Reading…]

4. Who asked for this?
Lawmakers disregard public opinion and the common good with anti-consumer bills

The process of crafting new laws in a state legislature can be a mysterious and confusing process a lot of the time—especially to average citizens who don’t have the time or capacity to follow along closely. Even for activists, it can often be difficult to keep up with the various players—much less their arguments and true motivations.[Continue Reading…]

5. Q&A with James Ford, 2014 NC Teacher of the Year

Garinger High School history teacher and North Carolina 2014 Teacher of the Year James Ford took a circuitous path to the teaching profession. He started out with the intention of becoming a journalist, then served as a truancy intervention specialist and then a director of a teen center. His love for working with [Continue Reading…]

Commentary

voucher-chartMillions of private dollars have made their way to North Carolina in an effort to encourage lawmakers to push a school privatization agenda.

Those funds have resulted in the removal of the cap on charter schools and a new voucher program that takes money away from the public school system in order to fund unregulated and unaccountable private education in the name of school choice.

To connect the dots between the national players in school privatization efforts and local lawmakers that have pushed for the expansion of charters and vouchers, the Institute for Southern Studies (ISS) published an essay and infographic Friday that details how Reps. Stam, Yarborough, Jones and others have benefited from the privatizers’ offerings and the resulting legislation they are seeking to enact.

According to ISS (as well as information I’ve previously reported), Parents for Educational Freedom in NC (PEFNC), headed by Darrell Allison, is the key facilitator behind the school privatization movement. Between PEFNC and political action committees (PACs) closely aligned with Allison, nearly $1.5 million has been funneled through these organizations to local lawmakers, originating  from the Walton Family Foundation and the American Federation for Children — both organizations well known for promoting school privatization initiatives.

Click here to read the full report by ISS.

 

News

The state House is expected to give final approval Monday to legislation that would make North Carolina’s judicial races partisan in 2016.

Rockingham County Rep. Bert Jones says clearly labeling candidates for the N.C. Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court with their party affiliation will increase transparency.

Wake County Rep. Grier Martin told his colleagues the move would be a mistake.

Martin suggested voters could learn more valuable information by going online or researching the judicial candidates in available voter guides:

“I have never had a constituent come to me and say ‘What I want to see is more partisanship in judicial races.'” explained Rep. Martin. “And I’m very concerned if we go back to partisan judicial elections, we’re going to elect more judicial activists, both on the left and from the right.”

Legislators are also considering this session a bill that would make all locally elected school board races partisan.

One more vote in the NC House and HB 8 will move to the Senate. To listen to some of Thursday’s debate, click below:

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Commentary

GunsIn case you missed it, North Carolina legislators produced another one of their inimitable, you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up moments yesterday. On the very same day that a disturbed and self-described Neo-Nazi confessed to shooting and murdering an innocent Wayne County Community College employee in cold blood earlier this week, House members defeated a bipartisan proposal that would have given law enforcement officials limited authority to destroy the gun he used to commit the crime if and when he is ultimately convicted.

Right now, in North Carolina, gun buyers and sellers are often free to obtain and re-sell weapons that were used to murder innocent people as state officials are, bizarrely, forbidden from destroying them in most circumstances. As the sponsor of the bill, Republican Representative Ted Davis of New Hanover County, noted in debate, families of murder victims can, under current law, be forced to see the weapons that killed their loved ones turn up for sale on eBay. Indeed, it’s quite likely there is nothing to prevent a dealer from ultimately obtaining the gun Kenneth Stancil used in Wayne County and touting its past use as proof of its effectiveness!

As Rep. Darren Jackson explained, the proposal was brought to the General Assembly by the District Attorney of Gaston County on behalf of law enforcement officers and court officials in his district as one small thing that state officials could do help provide a bit of peace of mind to people who put their lives on the line every day to protect the citizenry and who don’t want to see the weapons used by criminals back out “on the street.”

Amazingly, though, Davis’ and Jackson’s common sense arguments fell largely on deaf ears as the House defeated the proposal 63-50. Click here to see how your lawmaker voted.

In helping to defeat he bill, opponents like Rep. Jay Adams and Rep. Charles McGrady spoke in defense of the poor, defenseless and innocent weapons. Read More

Commentary

Medicaid expansionThanks to a report from the American Mental Health Counselors Association, North Carolina along with other states that have not expanded Medicaid have yet another feather to place in their caps – denying access to mental health care for nearly 600,000 uninsured adults that would have sought care last year. Approximately 21,000 of those uninsured adults reside in NC. Even before the debate over Medicaid expansion began, there was the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which has produced a slow push to lessen the gap between how people access and utilize physical and mental health care. Even with mental health parity, over 50 percent of adults with a mental illness did not receive mental health care in NC between 2009-2013. Failing to extend health coverage to individuals with mental illness through expanding Medicaid only increases barriers to treatment, which in turn creates social, physical, and economic burdens to those with mental illness, their families and even their communities.

On the individual level, people living with mental illness are more likely to have other physical chronic conditions, have shorter life expectancies, are poor, and have difficulty finding employment. Students with mental illness, especially those who receive special education, experience school failure and drop out more frequently than other students including students in other disability groups . Without affordable mental health treatment, people with mental illness do not receive preventative treatment and thus rely on costly emergency room visits or even end up in jail.

The families of individuals with mental illness also face burdens as they become caregivers and help pay for expensive out-of-pocket mental health treatment. Unfortunately, the impact on communities resulting from traumatic events like Sandy Hook and Newtown have become too familiar that even the NRA supports policy to enhance the mental health system. On the broader economic level, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that the US loses $193.2 billion annually due to lost earnings associated with the sequelae of mental illness.

Treatment received from the public mental health system is especially important as people with mental illness live closer to the poverty line and have unstable employment status. For adults between ages 21 and 64 years that received mental health treatment from the public mental health system, 75 percent were unemployed. For all adults over age 18 that received treatment in the public mental health system, 76 percent reported improved functioning as a result of care. The statistics on employment and mental health may lead some to believe that expanding Medicaid will act as another “handout,” but most adults with mental illness want to work, but lack support to maintain employment. Further, some jobs obtained by adults with mental illness may not offer health care coverage or pay enough to cover out-of-pocket costs. Last year, in states that expanded Medicaid, there were nearly 350,000 fewer people that experienced Major Depression. Hopefully NC legislators will help decrease the burden of untreated mental illness by increasing mental health parity through Medicaid expansion.