Commentary

Attention Burr and Tillis: U.S. Senate plan to gut Medicaid would be disastrous for NC moms

While US Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr are enjoying their Fourth of July recess, children, working families, veterans, older adults, and people with disabilities are worried that the Senate health care bill — known as the  Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) — will cut their access to health coverage and care.

What is perhaps most troubling about the BCRA are the massive cuts it proposes to Medicaid. The Congressional Budget Office released an addendum to its original report showing that by 2036 federal funding for Medicaid will be 35 percent lower under the plan. There is already lots of in-depth analysis proving how Medicaid matters to our most vulnerable North Carolinians, the state budget, health care workers, and education, but a recent piece that has gained national attention proves that Medicaid matters to mothers.

Specifically, North Carolina’s Medicaid program has been especially important to addressing the longstanding gap between white and black maternal mortality. Even though North Carolina is not an unusual health outcome performer, it is unique in that it has managed to close the maternal death gap between black and white mothers. Community Care of North Carolina works through Medicaid to provide “Pregnancy Medical Homes” so that women who may experience stressors or other risks to a healthy pregnancy and delivery have access to resources and supports to lower those risks.

The success of this Medicaid initiative has actually helped North Carolina improve maternal mortality to the point that is closer to the national average. As Senators Tillis and Burr mull the Senate health care bill, they should also think about efforts state administrators and lawmakers are taking and should be taking to address social determinants of health and reduce health disparities. The state’s latest Medicaid reform waiver application, which has been submitted to the feds for approval, proposes significant improvements in this realm. Unfortunately, If the Senate approves on a bill that includes cuts to Medicaid that will reach $772 billion by 2026, achievements like reducing the maternal death gap will be hard to come by.

Courts & the Law, News

Surprise! Justin Burr announces maps on Twitter that would overhaul judicial, prosecutorial districts

Proposed prosecutorial districts

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Montgomery, Stanly) sent the legal community scrambling Sunday night when he tweeted out new prosecutorial and judicial district maps lawmakers will consider implementing this session.

“Attached are the maps for the PCS to HB 717 which will be heard tomorrow at 4 pm in Judiciary 1. #ncleg #ncpol,” tweeted Burr, who did not return a request for comment Monday.

The tweet included three maps that show new judicial divisions: prosecutorial districts, merged district courts and merged superior courts. The maps are dated June 23, and the bill they will be presented in is House Bill 717.

Burr’s tweet appears to be the first that judges and attorneys knew of the proposed maps, though it’s not the first bill aimed at changing the judiciary he’s introduced this session without input from the governmental branch.

Peg Dorer, director of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys, was poring over the prosecutorial map Monday morning to determine how the changes would affect district attorneys.

“I just think this is a mess,” she said in a phone interview.

She said that changes to prosecutorial districts needed to be deliberative and careful.

One of the early concerns she pointed to was combining Robeson and Scotland counties into one prosecutorial district. Currently, Robeson County is its own district — Dorer described it as the most violent county in North Carolina and said it has more pending murder cases than any other area.

“Why put another district [with it]?” she asked.

She also expressed resource concerns with the new prosecutorial map combining Anson, Union and Richmond counties.

Proposed district court districts

As far as the judicial districts, representatives are still trying to understand all the surprise changes.

“Why did we learn about this on Twitter?” asked Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham), a former judge. “People are upset. There’s no communication and they’re caught off-guard.”

She described the changes to the judicial branch as monumental. The consequences, she added, will be a dilution of quality judicial districts.

Morey questioned why the Administrative Office of the Courts wasn’t more communicative with the courts about the maps and said both lawyers and judges gathered for conferences over the last week in which representatives from the agency attended.

AOC spokeswoman Sharon Gladwell did not respond to an email asking if the agency knew about the maps before Burr announced them.

Jeremy Smith, a criminal defense attorney who practices state and federal law, said in looking at the maps for the first time that it was clear what lawmakers were trying to do.

“That’s what gerrymandered districts look like,” he said.

A former prosecutor, Smith said he has practiced on both sides and predicted the new maps, if passed, would cause a lot of upheaval.

Proposed superior court districts

“It seems to me that this changes a lot of who people will be going in front of asking for justice without really any explanation for it,” Smith added.

Advocates on Twitter condemned the maps, referring to them as judicial gerrymandering.

“Looks like some #ncga lawmakers plan to rig judicial maps for control of key cases. Tell them to stop their scheme: demnc.co/stopthescheme,” tweeted Democracy NC.

Some Democratic lawmakers also referred to the maps as an attempt to gain partisan control of the courts.

At a press conference Monday, Gov. Roy Cooper told reporters that the maps were an effort to “threaten” and “rig” the judiciary in their favor.

“What I’ve heard, it’s not good,” he said.

The maps will be discussed publicly at 4 p.m. today at the Judiciary I House Committee meeting in room 415 of the Legislative Office Building. You can listen to the meeting online here. You can see the state’s current maps here.

Commentary, News

Good news: Sen. Burr not optimistic about ACA replacement this year

North Carolina Senator Richard Burr is making national news today with comments he made to WXII 12 News about the chances that the Senate will approve health care legislation this year to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Burr said he “doesn’t see a comprehensive health care plan this year”  and said the House bill that the CBO says will increase the number of people without insurance by 23 million is “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

The Wall Street Journal was the first national outlet to pick up on the comments, which were cited in the Talking Points Memo article.

Let’s hope Burr is right. He has plenty to work on anyway with the Russia investigation in his role as the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

News

Senator Burr: Burden is on the New York Times to prove Comey memo exists

U.S. Senator Richard Burr is voicing skepticism about a New York Times report that President Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to shut down the investigation of national security advisor Michael Flynn.

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee told PBS NewsHour if Comey had written such a memo, the Times should produce it.

“Somebody is going to have to do more than just have anonymous sources on this one for me to believe that there’s something there.”

The NYT story came on the heels of a report from The Washington Post on Tuesday that suggested President Trump had shared highly-classified intelligence with Russia.

Trump tweeted earlier in the day he had the ‘right’ to share that data.

Click below to hear Senator Burr’s full interview with PBS NewsHour’s Lisa Desjardin:

News

Senate Intel Chairman Burr ‘troubled’ by Trump’s firing of FBI Director Comey

Senator Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, issued the following statement on President Donald Trump’s dismissal of FBI Director James Comey:

“I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination. I have found Director Comey to be a public servant of the highest order, and his dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the Committee. In my interactions with the Director and with the Bureau under his leadership, he and the FBI have always been straightforward with our Committee.  Director Comey has been more forthcoming with information than any FBI Director I can recall in my tenure on the congressional intelligence committees. His dismissal, I believe, is a loss for the Bureau and the nation.”