Commentary

Medical cannabis bill killed in the House Judiciary Committee

MarijuanaA bill to legalize medical marijuana, introduced by Representative Kelly Alexander, was considered by the House Judiciary I Committee today. Despite heart-wrenching testimony from veterans and others with serious medical conditions, the committee took less than thirty seconds to vote to give the bill an unfavorable report.

If passed, the bill would have allowed North Carolinians to obtain prescriptions and legally buy cannabis from licensed distributors. The distributors in turn would have purchased the plant from licensed growers, who would have been regulated by the Department of Agriculture. The bill would have taxed each sale of marijuana at 5% and created a revenue for the state.

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Commentary

New bill would criminalize drug use by pregnant women

Women in criminal justice

Image: American Civil Liberties Union

On Tuesday, a bill was proposed in the Senate that would make it a criminal offense for a woman in North Carolina to use drugs while pregnant. The bill, sponsored by Senator Brent Jackson and Senator Louis Pate, would permit a woman to be charged with assault if she uses an illegal narcotic while pregnant and her child is born addicted to or harmed by the drug.

The problems with this bill are numerous.

First, it is obvious that pregnant women who suffer from a drug dependency are less likely to seek prenatal care when they are threatened with prosecution. Studies have shown that prenatal care substantially improves birth outcomes even for pregnant women who continue to use drugs during their pregnancies.

Second, drug dependency is a recognized medical condition that must be treated with proper medical care. Under the threat of prosecution, pregnant women will be less likely to be forthcoming with their doctors about their drug use which will prevent them from getting the help they need and which could negatively affect both the mother and child.

Third, there is evidence that criminalizing drug use during pregnancy would disproportionately affect minority and low income women. Poor women and women of color are more likely to live in areas where they don’t have access to treatment facilities or proper medical help and therefore more likely to be unable to get the help they need during pregnancy.

The only defense to prosecution provided by the bill is for a woman to enroll in an addiction recovery program prior to the birth of the child, remain in the program after delivery and successfully complete the program. In reality, this is often not a viable option for a pregnant woman.  Many treatment programs won’t accept pregnant women or aren’t set-up to adequately meet their needs. Also, particularly in rural areas, there often aren’t treatment centers close by. If legislature really wants to help pregnant woman overcome drug addictions, they should introduce a bill that would provide easy access to helpful and effective drug treatment centers.

Currently, it appears that Tennessee is the only state to have such a law on the books. (A bill was introduced in Oklahoma this month). A week after the Tennessee law went into effect, a woman was arrested for smoking meth. She is now in county jail and could be incarcerated for up to year. Criminalizing drug use during pregnancy has done nothing to help her overcome her addiction or protect the health of her baby. Instead, the state has just added one more person to criminal justice system.

If the ultimate goal is promote healthy pregnancies and healthy babies, this bill is not the answer.

Commentary

Students petition UNC Board of Governors to rethink financial aid cap

college-costsTwo students who attend colleges in the UNC-System have created an online petition asking the UNC Board of Governors to rescind its financial aid cap and instead cap student loan debt for low and middle-income families.

In August 2014, the Board of Governors voted unanimously to cap the tuition revenue used towards need-based aid at 15 percent. The consequences of this decision are now becoming a reality for the students currently applying for 2015 financial aid.

At the time of the decision, six UNC-System schools met or exceeded this cap, including UNC-Chapel Hill where well over a third of the students receive some form of financial aid. The imposition of the cap is likely to double a student’s debt over a four-year period.

The Board of Governors claimed that the purpose for the tuition revenue cap was to make things more fair for working families whose tuition is partially going towards funding other students’ financial aid packages.

The students who started the petition disagree and respond to the claim in an op-ed written for the News & Observer:

“Board members justify the financial aid cap by saying it’s unfair to ask families who don’t qualify for aid to subsidize those who do. They contend the cap will help middle-income families.

Turns out, though, that middle class families typically are ineligible for government student aid programs like the Pell Grant. The only grant aid they tend to get is institutional financial aid. The more institutional aid is limited, the more middle class students will suffer.” Read more

Commentary

New study shows that vast majority of Teach for America teachers plan to leave the classroom

People_16_Teacher_BlackboardA new study, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research indicates that the much-debated Teach for America program (TFA) is not creating more effective or successful teachers. The study shows that test scores for students taught by TFA teachers in their first or second year of teaching  are on par with those taught by traditionally certified teachers. These data contradict previous studies which had indicated that students taught by TFA teachers scored higher in math than their peers taught by traditionally certified teachers.

The Mathematica study was conducted in order to evaluate the program (which recruits college graduates and trains them to work in low income schools) in the years since it received federal funding to expand in 2010. The purpose of the TFA program is to expand the pool of highly intelligent and motivated teachers, thereby increasing the opportunities for low income students. The trouble, however, is that TFA teachers are given only five weeks of training and then often thrown into classrooms with little or no administrative support.

The new study shows that TFA teachers don’t have a problem with teaching but are very unsatisfied by their influence over school policies and the lack of support from school administrators. Also, in perhaps the most damning finding, researchers found that most TFA teachers have no intention of sticking around past their two year commitment to TFA. The study shows that 87.5 percent of TFA teachers in their first two years say that they do not plan to spend their career in the classroom. Twenty-five percent said they planned to quit at the end of the current year. While TFA has never released figures, its leaders have always insisted that the majority of teachers finished the two year program and many stay on past the program. This study definitely tells a different story.

Read the study in its entirety here http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/~/media/publications/pdfs/education/tfa_investing_innovation.pdf

Commentary

“Religious freedom” bill may not leave enough magistrates to perform marriages

marriage amendmentYesterday afternoon, members of the public were given an opportunity to share their thoughts on Senate Bill 2 before the House Judiciary I Committee. The bill, which would permit magistrates and registers of deeds to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriages due to their religious beliefs, has been hotly contested since it was first introduced in late January.

During the meeting, opponents of the bill stressed the difference between the civil duty of magistrates and the religious freedom of clergy. They also reminded the committee that government officials shouldn’t be allowed to refuse to perform a duty which is part of their job when it deprives the public of a right. However, disagreement between committee members on whether performing civil marriages is the duty of a magistrate or a power given to him provided evidence that many legislators are still missing the point.

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