News, public health

Remembering a voice who spoke for those in dire need of healthcare

Dr. Charles van der Horst

On Tuesday, friends and family gathered at Beth El Synagogue in Durham to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Charles van der Horst.

Van der Horst, who died unexpectedly over the weekend in a swimming accident in New York, was a prominent voice for the uninsured and for Medicaid expansion in North Carolina.

The Raleigh News & Observer noted his career spanned decades and made a lasting impact:

Van der Horst was a preeminent UNC researcher and clinician who helped develop groundbreaking treatment protocols for HIV/AIDS and, after that once-terrifying virus had been tamed to a manageable disease, inspired a new generation of scientists to tackle Ebola. He was a compassionate doctor who turned a community service stint into a campaign to eradicate Hepatitis C in Wake County. He was a social justice advocate willing to go to jail to draw attention to the needs of the state’s uninsured.

NC Policy Watch got to know van der Horst in that last role, as a social justice advocate.

In 2017, he appeared on Policy Watch’s News & Views to discuss the wrongheaded approach by Republicans in Washington to gut the Affordable Care Act. Here’s an excerpt of that interview:

Governor Roy Cooper also remembered the doctor this week on Facebook: “Dr. Charlie Van Der Horst’s life and work were defined by compassion. From his time volunteering in North Carolina’s free clinics to his efforts on the front lines of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, he made our state and our world better.”

Van der Horst was 67.

Commentary, Environment, News

The week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch

1. PW exclusive: Moore County locates new elementary school near pollution, hazardous waste sites in Aberdeen

Racial, economic composition of school raises environmental justice concerns  

On the edge of Aberdeen lay a lovely tract of land that was easy to miss while speeding down Highway 5. Stippled with young to middle-aged pine trees, it historically had been used for timbering, but now the landowner, BVM Properties, was ready to sell.

Where BVM saw an opportunity to offload land, which some who knew the town’s history viewed as undesirable, Moore County School District officials envisioned possibility: The 22 acres would accommodate a new and larger elementary school for Aberdeen kids. It would be filled with light and equipped with modern technology, and plenty of outdoor space where its 800 children in Pre-K through fifth grade could play. [Read more…]

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2. The case of the vanishing budget: How N.C.’s secretive budget “process” is bad for the public good

If, in this precise moment, you’re wondering where North Carolina’s multi-billion dollar budget is, the same one that sets crucial policy and spending parameters for state agencies, that dictates classroom funding levels for 1.5 million schoolchildren, that sets pay levels for thousands of state employees, retirees and teachers, it’s in the same place it’s always been.

Not, I fear, in a public space – a mic’d up committee room or in a clerk’s trusty hands – it exists, without hyperbole, mostly in Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s brain.

And, to a lesser extent, in the care of the most powerful lawmakers atop a GOP-dominated House and Senate conference committee, a committee that, as of this moment, has yet to schedule a single public meeting, or a single hearing to listen to the public, in all its wild, untamed glory. [Read more…]

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3. Refusal to close the Medicaid coverage gap echoes a dark era from the South’s past

 

In his recent “must read” book on the history of Jim Crow and how it shaped (and was itself shaped) by a typical town of the deep South (“Hattiesburg: An American City in Black and White,” Harvard University Press), UNC Chapel Hill historian Prof. William Sturkey provides numerous illuminating and, often, maddening details of the harsh realities of the racial apartheid that was conjured up and enforced by the white supremacists who dominated so much of southern society for so long.

There are the horrific stories of the lynchings and other murders carried out by white mobs. There are the stories of African-American residents who fled north when given a chance and of others who, despite the frequent terrors and indignities of Jim Crow, stayed, persevered and built lives for themselves and their families. There are the stories of white business leaders who, despite their commitment to segregation, helped inadvertently usher in change by embracing elements of modern capitalism and interstate commerce. And there are the stories of how the residents of segregated Black communities came to build their own vibrant institutions – many of which ultimately helped give rise to the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th Century.

About a third of the way through the book, however, Sturkey relates a truly remarkable and tragically telling anecdote from the Great Depression that rings eerily familiar in 2019.[Read more…]

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4. Despite local opposition, N.C. charter board clears two new Wake County schools

The state Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) on Monday unanimously stood by its approval of two charters in Wake County, despite public opposition from leaders in North Carolina’s largest school district.

CSAB members said Wake officials’ concerns about Wake County Preparatory Academy and North Raleigh Charter Academy reflect “philosophical” differences about the value of charters, rather than fear of school re-segregation or charter saturation.

Steven Walker, vice chairman of the CSAB, said Wake officials have taken the position that if “parents aren’t making the choice we like, maybe we shouldn’t let them have the choice.” [Read more…]

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5. Sources link UNC-Vidant dispute to ongoing battles between Board of Governors and ECU

As lawmakers work to negotiate a final state budget by the end of the month, the ongoing conflict between Vidant Health and the UNC System continues to unfold through public jabs and in private mediation.

In the balance:

Tens of millions in Medicaid reimbursements to one of eastern North Carolina’s most vital hospital systems.

Vidant Medical Center’s status as East Carolina University’s teaching hospital.

And the direction — and independence — of the governing board of the hospital. [Read more…]

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6. NC Sheriffs’ Association changes stance on anti-immigration bill to support harsher version


The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association has backed down from its opposition of House Bill 370, an anti-immigration measure drummed up by Republican legislators who are using the Trump administration’s rhetoric to try and force law enforcement into working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

A Senate Rules committee heard an updated version of HB 370 yesterday but did not vote on the measure. It was referred to the Senate Judiciary committee, and if it gets through there, it will be re-referred to Senate Rules.

Changes to the bill were made after some lawmakers agreed to work with the Sheriffs’ Association and they crafted an alternative to the initial proposal, which would have punished law enforcement that didn’t honor ICE detainer requests with a hefty fine.[Read more…]

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7. Catch-up on our latest Apple podcasts hosted by Policy Watch Director Rob Schofield. 

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8. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

By John Cole

Commentary, Defending Democracy, News

The week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch

1. Hofeller files: Lawmakers lied to federal court in 2017, preventing NC from getting special election

The 2011 North Carolina legislative maps are among the largest racial gerrymanders ever encountered by a federal court, and the state could have held a special election under new voting districts, but GOP lawmakers lied about needing more time to draw them, according to documents from deceased mapmaker Tom Hofeller.

It turns out the maps had been drawn all along and the “public” process the legislature put on at the time was a sham.

“In July 2017, legislative defendants convinced the federal district court in [North Carolina v.] Covington not to order special elections under new remedial maps in 2017, based on legislative defendants’ repeated statements that they had not yet started drawing new districts at all and needed sufficient time to develop criteria, draft the plans, and receive public input,” states a court motion filed Thursday in Wake County Superior Court. “The Hofeller files reveal that Dr. Hofeller had in fact already substantially completed drawing the 2017 plans in June 2017 before legislative defendants stated the process had even begun and a month and a half before the adopted criteria were even introduced and adopted.” [Read more…]

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2. “Gerrymander” is much too polite a word for what Trump and the GOP are trying to do

For some time now, it has seemed that the widespread and growing use of the words “gerrymander” and “gerrymandering” was a good thing for our state and nation. A decade ago, these words were insider terms used only by campaign consultants and politics wonks. In recent years, however, as the public has finally started to grasp the reality of how electoral districts have come to be drawn and manipulated, “gerrymander” and “gerrymandering” have, increasingly, entered the general lexicon.

Unfortunately, while it’s certainly positive that lots of Americans now understand what gerrymandering is and that it’s to be combated, there’s a downside to the current widespread use of the term: it’s much too polite a word to describe what the Trump administration and its Republican Party allies are trying to do to our democracy.

Think about it for a moment. The word “gerrymander” – which traces back to the machinations of a 19th Century Massachusetts politician named Elbridge Gerry who concocted a Boston-area district that supposedly resembled a salamander – is a quaint, whimsical and almost comical term. It conjures up images of gamesmanship and “good ol’ boy” politicians nudging and winking at each other as they maneuver for incremental and temporary advantages over their rivals – rivals who would no doubt employ similar tactics if and when they got the opportunity. [Read more…]

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3. NC officials dismiss hundreds of thousands of old court cases as part of massive data ‘clean-up’


Many cases have been on the books without resolution for decades

The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) has been quietly facilitating the dismissals of hundreds of thousands of criminal charges and infractions across the state for the past two years as part of a data clean-up effort.

Each of the cases dismissed had been pending for years – some for decades – without prosecution, preventing thousands of people from getting a driver’s license and sometimes resulting in orders of arrests, often of individuals already living in poverty.

The end result of the mass dismissals is judicial efficiency, increased public safety and a human impact that can’t be measured. There have been more than 700,000 total cases dismissed thus far by 50 counties as part of the effort, called the Data Integrity Initiative. The AOC has not released information on how many charges in each of the jurisdictions was dismissed.[Read more…]

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4. Advocates hope changes in Durham are a bellwether for bail reform in NC

Serena Sebring and Kayla Hartsfield were arrested last month after chaining themselves to the gates outside the Durham County Detention Center.

The two women, activists with Southerners On New Ground (SONG), were trying to bring attention to a cash bail system they say has utterly failed. Studies show the current system disproportionately jails minorities, the poor and those accused of non-violent crimes while failing to effectively assure that defendants make their court dates in higher numbers than those who are offered alternatives to cash bail.

“We have a lot to learn from other cities and states that have just decided, ‘We’re not going to do this system of ransom that money bail has become’,” Sebring said. “They’ve replaced it with a wide variety of things like ‘cite and release’ programs and other ways of supporting people in making that first court appearance that are more effective.” [Read more…]

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5. Ten new charter schools win approval, two on hold as WCPSS raises concerns

Concerns raised by Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) has led the State Board of Education to table two of 12 charter schools that sought state approval Thursday.

The board’s approval of the other 10 applications paved the way for them to open in 2020.

But applications submitted for Wake Preparatory Academy and North Raleigh Charter Academy were referred back to the state Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB), which had recommended approval of all 12 applications.

CSAB is expected to review the WCPSS concerns when it meets Monday. [Read more...]

Bonus read: State Rep. Craig Horn vows to fight for online preschool during budget negotiations

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6. Governor’s veto of “born-alive” bill is sustained despite passionate pleas to mix religion and policy

On Wednesday, the state House of Representatives voted to sustain Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 359, the so-called “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.”

Senator Joyce Krawiec (R-Davie), the primary sponsor of the bill, as well as House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), repeatedly stated that the bill was “not about abortion.”

“Today’s bill we are discussing is when a child is born alive,” said Speaker Moore at a press conference he held before the vote, “and what the standard of care is for that child at that time.” [Read more…] ===

7. A eulogy: For the abortion bill whose supporters dared not speak its name

Sometime in the latter hours of debate over an abortion bill that North Carolina Republicans insisted was not about abortion – even as the words “abortion” and “abortion victims” were uttered some fourteen-thousand times Wednesday – Speaker Tim Moore descended from his perch at the forefront of the state House chamber to debate.

It’s not unheard of for the Speaker, who presides over the House, to leave his post and enter the fray, but even Moore acknowledged this may be the first time he’s parried Democrats directly over abortion, an issue, he gently, paternalistically, reminded us is fraught with emotions. [Read more…]

8. Listen to our latest guest interviews with Policy Watch director Rob Schofield

9. Weekly Editorial cartoon:

By John Cole

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, Education, Higher Ed, Legislature, News

The week’s Top Stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Proposed legislation would dramatically weaken state hog farm oversight

A sentence here, a paragraph there. A strike-through, a repeal, a new section.

Individually, the Farm Act and the House and Senate budgets chip away at the incremental yet significant progress the state has made toward regulating industrialized livestock operations.

But taken in total, a half-dozen provisions create a safe house where these operations, particularly swine farms, can clandestinely conduct their business.

“It’s a coordinated and multi-pronged attack,” on laws protecting the environment and public health, said Will Hendrick, attorney for the Waterkeeper Alliance. [Read more…]

Bonus read: The Farm Act, state budget are “erecting a fortress for the hog industry”

2. New app will allow North Carolina students to share anonymous tips about school threats

Middle-and high-school students across North Carolina will have an opportunity to download a new app next school year that allows them to anonymously report threats to school safety.

The “Say Something” reporting system will be offered to tens of thousands of students via a partnership between the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit based in Newtown, Connecticut that’s led by people who lost loved ones in the tragic 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting that left 28 people dead.

“Students play a critical role in helping to keep schools safe,” State Superintendent Mark Johnson said during a press conference Thursday. “They may see and hear concerns that adults need to know about but may be reluctant to report it.” [Read more…]

3. Teachers would get 3.5 percent pay raise under proposed N.C. Senate budget

Teachers would get an average 3.5 percent pay raise over the next two years under a biennium spending plan released Tuesday by state Republican leaders.

The plan calls for spending $23.9 billion during the 2019-20 fiscal year, and it increases spending on public education by $1.3 billion over the next two years.

Senate leaders told reporters the pay increase would raise the average teacher salary to $54,500 per year over the biennium.[Read more…]

4. Senate budget writers to their “Trump country” constituents: “Drop dead”

In case you missed it, there was new confirmation this week that the people being disproportionately harmed by the refusal of North Carolina Republican senators to include Medicaid expansion in the budget bill they plan to adopt today are — wait for it — their own constituents.

It’s been common knowledge for a long time that lower-income rural communities are among the areas that suffer most from having high rates of uninsured residents, but a recent news story from our neighboring state of Virginia really brings this fact home.

This is from a Tuesday story in the Virginia Mercury entitled “Trump Country sees majority of new enrollees under Va.’s Medicaid expansion”:[Read more…]

Bonus video: Senate ignores Medicaid expansion in budget; Berger says it ‘disincentivizes folks to go to work’ (video)

5. Five basic truths to remember this week about the state budget

It’s one of the great and maddening ironies of the state lawmaking process in North Carolina that the single most important piece of legislation each year is perhaps the most poorly reported and one of the least well-understood.

Every year, as the fiscal year winds down toward its June 30 conclusion, state lawmakers birth a new state budget bill that runs to hundreds of pages and includes all sorts of fundamental decisions about state funding priorities and tax policy, not to mention scores of so-called “special provisions” (i.e. law changes unrelated to the budget that may or may not have been debated previously as the subject of another bill).[Read more…]

6. Hofeller files: GOP mapmaker helped develop Trump’s citizenship Census question

The master mapmaker behind North Carolina’s most contentious and allegedly gerrymandered voting districts apparently also played a role in developing the citizenship question proposed for the 2020 Census by the Trump administration.

Thomas Hofeller’s daughter, Stephanie Hofeller Lizon recently turned over several of his hard drives and digital files to voting rights group Common Cause as part of discovery in their North Carolina state partisan gerrymandering case Common Cause v. Lewis. The news released Thursday about Hofeller’s involvement in the 2020 Census question is the first bit of data released publicly from the “Hofeller files.” [Read more…]

Bonus Read: ACLU notifies US Supreme Court of new evidence in citizenship question case

7. Not so open: Critics say UNC Board of Governors excludes the public from its “public” meetings

Hoping to hear some discussion of the future of the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument, Lindsay Ayling and a few other UNC-Chapel Hill students attempted to attend last week’s meeting of the UNC Board of Governors.

Attempted, as it turns out, was the operative word.

Before the meeting began, while most of the seats in the board room were still empty, Ayling and two other students were told there was no room for them. All the chairs in the room – even the ones that appeared to be empty – were reserved in advance, they were told by campus police.[Read more…]


8. State budget, new scientific tests shine a light on NC’s growing drinking water pollution problem

PFAS contamination found in both Jones and Orange counties

Maysville, which sits on the rim of the Croatan National Forest in Jones County, is home to 1,000 people — about half of whom rely on the town’s sole drinking water well.

And that well, according to a brief sentence in the both the House and Senate versions of the state budget, is contaminated.

But the budget doesn’t say contaminated with what, only that Maysville needs $500,000 to construct a new public supply. [Read more…]

9. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Legislature, News

Senate ignores Medicaid expansion in budget; Berger says it ‘disincentivizes folks to go to work’ (video)

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger made it clear Tuesday that Medicaid expansion was off the table in this year’s state budget.

Flanked by his chief budget writers, Berger told reporters that 40 percent of the potential Medicaid expansion population qualify for some form of subsidized insurance coverage on the federal marketplace and might view expansion as a disincentive to find work.

Click below to listen to Berger’s remarks.

As Richard Craver reports in the Winston-Salem Journal, the Senate’s stance sets up as major fight with the House and Governor Cooper’s office as they work to hammer out a final state spending plan.

When asked about Cooper opposition to the Senate budget proposal sans Medicaid expansion, Berger acknowledged the potential for lengthy negotiations.

“We are likely to have a disagreement with the governor (over Medicaid expansion) but not that it should prevent an agreement,” Berger said.

“He should look at how the state’s revenues have been managed the last nine years and the fiscal soundness.

We’re going to continue those policies.

“He should sign the budget that we work out with the House,” Berger said.

None of the three Democratic and Republican bills containing Medicaid language have advanced in the committee stage this session

That includes bipartisan support behind House Bill 655, sponsored by state Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, which includes a work requirement for some recipients.

Read the rest of Craver’s story here.

The Senate’s budget will be before the full Appropriations Committee this morning starting at 8:30am and the Finance Committee at 1:00pm. Floor votes on the budget are expected Thursday and Friday.

Click here to read more of the 2019 Appropriations Act.