Commentary, Defending Democracy, Education, Environment, Legislature, News, Voting

The week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Lack of support for power-grabbing amendments speaks volumes

There are a lot of strange – even downright bizarre – aspects to the ongoing effort by North Carolina Republican legislators to pass a slate of six constitutional amendments during this fall’s election.

There is, for instance, the absurd dearth of process that accompanied the approval of the amendments during the final harried days of the 2018 legislative session. Ideally, constitutional amendments are accompanied by weeks, or even months, of debate, multiple public hearings, lengthy oral testimony and written analyses from academics and other experts, detailed findings from study commissions and extended opportunities for the public at-large and various interest groups to weigh in.

This year, however, few, if any, of those things were present. Instead, lawmakers rammed through all six amendments during the final week of June. Two of the amendments were then actually rewritten in a single day at the end of August – just a handful of days prior to the distribution of absentee ballots. [Read more…]

2. PFAS, but not GenX, found in blood of residents living near Chemours plant

Four types of fluorinated compounds were detected in blood samples of all 30 people tested who live near the Chemours plant, although none of the compounds was GenX, the NC Department of Health and Human Services announced today.

In July, DHHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Cumberland County Health Department tested for 17 types of fluorinated compounds in the blood and urine of 30 people living near the facility, which abuts the Bladen-Cumberland county line.

All of the people who voluntarily participated in the program use well water for their household needs. Many of the private wells, plus rainwater, lakes, soil, groundwater and even honey have tested positive for fluorinated compounds. [Read more…]

**Bonus read: Last chance for the red wolf? Advocates ask federal judge to intervene to preserve endangered species

3. Questions linger about victims’ rights constitutional amendment, big budget campaign

Early voting started Wednesday, which means North Carolinians will finally get to decide on six proposed constitutional amendments, including one that would bolster crime victims’ rights.

At first glance, voting on an amendment to enhance victims’ rights may seem like a no-brainer, but like many issues, it’s not so black and white. Supporters of the amendment say victims need teeth in the law to assert their rights. Opponents say victims’ rights already are enshrined in the constitution and enhancing them should be done by statute, not by an experimental amendment. [Read more…]

**Bonus read: 3-judge panel rules Board of Elections, Ethics Enforcement structure unconstitutional

4. Battle looms as state officials propose takeover of Goldsboro elementary school

If North Carolina goes forward with the recommendation to allow a private charter operator to take control of a Goldsboro elementary school, they should expect a stubborn resistance, the school’s principal told Policy Watch Wednesday.

“You’re bringing in outside people, but Wayne County is a unique district,” said Carver Heights Elementary Principal Cortrina Smith. “You are going to consistently receive pushback, because we don’t know you, but you’re in my house and you’re trying to tell us what to do. You don’t know my kids, you don’t know my community.”

Smith is in her third year as principal at the struggling Goldsboro school, which serves a predominantly poor population in eastern North Carolina. But if the State Board of Education approves the so-called Innovative School District’s (ISD) recommendation this week to turn over operations and leadership in the elementary to a yet-to-be-named private operator, the school may see many of its teachers and administrators, including Smith, scuttled in the next year. [Read more…]

**Bonus read: NC’s latest school takeover experiment will deny Goldsboro students the education they deserve

5. Eastern North Carolina residents press for a just hurricane recovery

As lawmakers gathered Monday to approve funding for Hurricane Florence relief, residents and community leaders from Eastern North Carolina came together outside the General Assembly.

They told their personal recovery stories and encouraged lawmakers to put recovery money – and their political power – where it’s most needed.

The Just Florence Recovery Collective represents more than 25 community organizations and dozens of impacted residents. Its goal: to shed a light on racial and class disparities that have made storm damage worse and recovery slower in North Carolina’s poorest and encourage those in power to reverse the trend and make those communities whole.

Bobby Jones of the Down East Coal Ash Coalition came from Goldsboro where, he said, “part of our community has been used as a dumping ground for Duke Energy’s 6 million tons of poisonous coal ash.” [Read more…]

**Bonus read: Legislature, Cooper make headway on hurricane recovery, but vexing longer-term issues loom

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News

After back-to-back hurricanes, North Carolinians embrace environmental policy changes

North Carolinians who has witnessed first-hand the destruction of Hurricane Florence (and now Michael) are voicing strong support for restricting development in flood-prone areas, according to a new Elon Poll.

More than half of those surveyed earlier this month believe these storms are getting more severe, with a majority wanting lawmakers to make policy decisions that minimize future risk:

In its exploration of climate change and environmental regulation policy, the poll found strong support for restricting real estate development in flood-prone areas (76 percent) and for increasing environmental regulations for coal ash ponds (72 percent). Sixty-two percent support incorporating findings from climate change scientists into local government planning and ordinances and 59 percent support increasing environmental regulation for hog farms.

More than eight out of 10 said that climate change is “very” or “somewhat” likely to negatively impact the coastal communities of the state within the next 50 years, a slight uptick from when the Elon Poll asked that question in April 2017.

Here’s more from the Elon poll:

You can read the full poll results and methodology here.

Education, News

Some welcome news for schools damaged by Hurricane Florence

Governor Roy Cooper has directed $25 million from the North Carolina Education Lottery Fund to help speed repairs to K-12 public schools damaged by Hurricane Florence in September.

The governor’s press office issued details in a statement Monday afternoon:

“Students need to get back to learning and educators need to get back to teaching, but many school districts can’t afford the repairs schools need,” Gov. Cooper said. “The lives of thousands of students, teachers and families are on hold and they need our help to recover.”

While many schools have reopened since Hurricane Florence struck last month, seven North Carolina school systems remain closed, keeping more than 130 schools out of operation and nearly 90,000 students out of class. Several affected school districts have depleted most of their contingency funds and need immediate financial assistance to repair roofs, flooring and electrical wiring, eradicate mold and mildew and replace furniture to get schools reopened.

The emergency funds will be administered by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Priority will be given to district and charter schools in Brunswick, Craven, Duplin, Jones, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender and Robeson counties that have immediate repair needs and are not currently in operation.

Some of the repairs should be reimbursable by federal disaster recovery funds. Transferring the money now gives schools quicker help and allows them to retain contractors to speed repairs.

Legislators return to Raleigh next week in a special session devoted to long-term recovery needs from the storm.

In Pender County, Topsail High School staff have been assisting with clean-up efforts at Cross Creek. (Photo: Pender County Schools Facebook page)

agriculture

Before next week’s legislative session, one voice state lawmakers MUST listen to on hurricane recovery (Audio)

Ahead of the October 15th special session, House and Senate members would be wise to listen to Grady McCallie with the NC Conservation Network on changes the state should make to minimize destruction from the next big storm. McCallie joined NC Policy Watch’s Rob Schofield in studio last week to discuss Hurricane Florence and efforts to protect agriculture, North Carolina’s waterways, and what you need to know about rebuilding in the floodplain:

Click below to listen to the full 12-minute interview:


Commentary, Environment, Legislature, News, Special Session

The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

1. Coal ash flowing like pudding in Neuse River near Duke’s Goldsboro power plant
Matthew Starr had paddled only a half mile of a stretch of Neuse River near Duke Energy’s HF Lee plant in Goldsboro when he saw initial signs that something had gone very wrong.

“There was exposed coal ash on trees, floating in the river, on the road,” said Starr, the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper. “There was coal ash lying the ground. We scooped it up out of the water.”

Flooding from Hurricane Florence had drowned two inactive coal ash basins in five feet of water. The active basins, according to state regulators, were structurally sound, but the Half Mile Branch Creek, according to images published by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), was flowing through the inactive basin complex, which is covered in trees and other vegetation.[Read more…]

2. Tillis, Burr and other Kavanaugh supporters must cling to one or more of four very troubling beliefs
The sordid saga of Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his nomination to serve a lifetime appointment on the United States Supreme Court is quickly careering toward some sort of very explosive and disturbing conclusion. Either the conservative jurist will be confirmed despite repeated allegations of dishonesty and past incidents of sexual violence or his nomination will be withdrawn or rejected based on those same allegations. In either instance, it’s a sad and remarkable state of affairs.
It’s the sexual assault allegations that have really seized the news headlines in recent days. The first allegation involves Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a California college professor and clinical psychology instructor, who says that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high school party more than 35 years ago while his buddy, Mark Judge, looked on. At last word, the Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to receive testimony from Ford later this week. [Read more…]

3. A word to the General Assembly: This time, keep the politics out of hurricane relief
“Both the House and the Senate, our hearts go out to all the folks that were affected by Hurricane Florence,” Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican, said Monday as a handful of GOP power-players visited a storm-wracked Wilmington.
Horn promised Senate and House leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly were toiling away behind the scenes on a relief package, one so badly-needed for portions of the state submerged by Hurricane Florence and its watery aftermath.

And top Republicans like House Majority Leader John Bell say the agenda will be limited when they return next week for an emergency session, with a focus on relief funding, teacher pay and the school calendar in districts shuttered by the storm. [Read more…]

4. A tale of two stories: price gouging in NC from consumers, business perspectives
For most, news of an impending hurricane means picking up some bread and an extra case of water, fueling up the gas tank and deciding whether to evacuate.

For some businesses though, that same news means dollar signs – it creates an opportunity to take advantage of desperate people planning for the worst.

The North Carolina Attorney General’s Office has received more than 700 reports of price gouging – a prosecutable crime – since Sept. 7, when Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency in anticipation of Hurricane Florence. [Read more…]

5. Update from Robeson County: Florence wreaks havoc on already struggling and neglected communities
Huge pools of standing flood water still surround houses in south Lumberton’s Turner Terrace neighborhood, drawing roving clouds of mosquitoes.

Downed power lines float in the deep brown pools and lay tangled in the many fallen trees.

The stench of sewage is oppressive.

Still, many of its residents want to come home.

Adrienne Kennedy’s family has lived in this lower income Black neighborhood for three generations. But like many of her neighbors, she had to leave after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Flood damage and pervasive mold drove her and her two young sons to Fayetteville, where they still live as what she calls “climate refugees.” [Read more…]

6. Hurricane Florence is exposing North Carolina’s racial and geographic inequalities
Hurricane Florence tore through the Carolinas, leaving entire cities devastated, claiming dozens of lives, and doing what will likely be billions of dollars in damage. But this hurricane has exposed much more than tree roots and the foundations of homes — it has exposed the gross and growing inequality embedded in our state.

For years, eastern North Carolina has been home to some of the state’s most impoverished towns and communities. In 2016, 19 of the 20 poorest counties in the entire state were all located in the east. In addition to poverty, eastern North Carolina is also home to some of the state’s hungriest communities. In 2016, more than 300,000 people in the 18 counties declared disaster areas did not have enough food to eat each night. [Read more...]