Commentary, Environment, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Oil and gas commission goes rogue, schedules illegal meeting to challenge fracking moratoriums

With energy companies anxious to start drilling, the two-year fracking moratoriums in Lee and Chatham County are expected to be challenged at a meeting of the state’s Oil and Gas Commission this week. However, the legality of that meeting, scheduled for Wednesday in Sanford, is in question, as is the authority of the commission’s purported chairman, Jim Womack.

NC Department of Environment Quality Chief Deputy Secretary John Nicholson sent a letter to Womack on Friday challenging both the validity of the meeting and Womack’s dubious role as chairman and making clear that DEQ would not send staff to the meeting.

“First, it appears that you are not a current member of the commission,” Nicholson wrote, because Womack’s appointment occurred after the January 2016 state Supreme Court ruling in McCrory vs. Berger. In that decision, the court determined that both the Oil and Gas Commission and the state Coal Ash Commission were unconstitutional because the original laws establishing them reserved the majority of appointments to the legislature, rather than the governor. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read & story update Illegal oil and gas commission postponed, one statement of economic interest still missing

2. We tried to get Duke Energy’s secret flood maps. We were stonewalled.
The 12 minutes spent on the phone with Duke Energy customer service shed no light on how — or if — citizens can learn if they live in an area that could flood if one of the utility’s coal ash basins fails.

In fact, the customer service representative — to her credit, unfailingly polite — didn’t know what an inundation map was.

“It’s not a common question,” she said.

These inundation maps, as they’re known, were drawn by Duke Energy to show the location of these flood-prone areas, which could be devastated should a dam behind a coal ash basin fail.

They are secret — so secret that local emergency management agencies had to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the utility to obtain them.

After two minutes or so of hold music, soft jazz, the representative came back on the line.

“This request goes to a separate team,” she said. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read & story update: Under scrutiny, Duke Energy makes public previously secret flood maps near coal ash dams

3. Court of Appeals: State, not local districts, responsible for decrepit, segregated schools

Crumbling ceilings. Failing air conditioning and heating systems. Broken down school buses. Mold infestations. Rodents scurrying through the hallways. Students forced to traipse over sewage from flooded toilets. Dismal academic performance year in and year out.

These are just some of the complaints parents are leveling in court against local government leaders in rural Halifax County, home to one of North Carolina’s most chronically under-performing public school districts and a key player in the state’s 23-year-old Leandro case over equity in school funding.

Yet a panel of North Carolina appeals court judges ruled this week that it’s the state government, and not the Halifax County Board of Commissioners, that’s responsible for the “serious problems” in the eastern North Carolina county.

“It’s disappointing,” says Mark Dorosin, managing attorney for the UNC Center for Civil Rights, which represented five Halifax students and their parents or legal guardians in this pivotal case. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: The battle for the future of UNC: Conservative members of the Board of Governors push for dramatic change

4. NC’s gerrymandering saga: Where things stand and what’s next
The 2011 state legislative maps – which have been used in three separate election cycles and six statewide elections – are among the largest racial gerrymanders ever encountered by a federal court.

The three-judge panel enforcing the remedial redistricting process in North Carolina v. Covington issued a scathing opinion earlier this week explaining why they didn’t order special elections to right the “widespread, serious, and longstanding nature of the constitutional violation.”

Judges James Wynn, of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote the opinion and was joined by U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles and U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder. Wynn and Eagles were appointed by former President Barack Obama. Schroeder was appointed by George W. Bush.

Ultimately, the factors the panel weighed favored the plaintiffs’ request to hold a special election and they wrote that any intrusion on state sovereignty would be “more than justified by the severity and scope of that violation and its adverse impact on North Carolina voters’ right to choose – and hold accountable – their representatives.” [Read more…]

5. Civitas Institute still linking to anti-Semitic website
Conservative group “reviewing” bigoted attacks; funding from major NC corporations implicated

Nearly a week after this column reported that the Raleigh-based Civitas Institute has been promoting a bigoted and frequently anti-Semitic website, the conservative group has issued only a brief and incomplete comment on the matter and is still linking visitors to the controversial site from its Carolina Plott Hound web platform.

The Triad Conservative is a website based in Guilford County that frequently publishes bigoted and anti-Semitic commentaries. Last Sunday, it featured a post under the headline “Josh Stein’s Ethno-Lawsuit” in which it alleged that North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, who is Jewish, had joined with other state attorneys general in contesting Trump administration immigration policy initiatives as part of a Jewish conspiracy to dilute the nation’s Christian majority. On Monday, September 11, the post, including a picture of Stein, was prominently featured throughout the first half of the day in an all-caps headline on the Civitas-owned Carolina Plott Hound – a conservative news aggregation site. The headline linked directly to the Triad Conservative story. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read & story update: Civitas does the right thing about its controversial website…sort of


Upcoming event on Tuesday, September 26th: NC Policy Watch presents a special Crucial Conversation luncheon:

Prof. Bryant Simon discusses his new book, “The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government and Cheap Lives”

For those too young or too new to North Carolina to remember, the horrific 1991 chicken plant fire at imperial Foods in Hamlet, North Carolina killed 25 workers and injured another 55. Workers were unable to escape the blaze because the plant’s owner, Emmett J. Roe, kept the doors padlocked and the windows boarded because he thought his low-wage workers might steal chicken.

Now, Dr. Bryant Simon, a professor of history at Temple University, tells the tragic story of the fire and what it says about past and present American public policy in “The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government and Cheap Lives.”

***The luncheon will also feature remarks by MaryBe McMillan, Secretary-Treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO.

Click here to register for Tuesday’s event.

Uncategorized

AARP President: Latest GOP effort to repeal Obamacare would cause ‘many, many millions’ to lose coverage (video)

Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham are working overtime to shore up the votes needed to pass their bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

But AARP’s national president Eric Schneidewind says the proposed legislation would increase health care costs for older Americans with an age tax, decrease coverage, and undermine pre-existing condition protections.

Schneidewind, who was in Raleigh this week, warns that the Graham-Cassidy plan would cut nursing home care and block grants to the states would not accurately reflect the cost of care for individuals.

Schneidewind joins us this weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon. Listen to a preview of that radio interview below.

New analysis by Avalere Health released Wednesday found that the Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal and replace the ACA would lead to a reduction in federal funding to states by $215 billion through 2026.

News

Cooper blasts latest Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act

Add Governor Roy Cooper to the list of lawmakers speaking out against the so-called Graham-Cassidy health care bill. In a statement released by his press office Tuesday, Gov. Cooper said the latest effort to repeal and replace the ACA would leave many North Carolinains worse off:

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper

“The latest proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act may be even worse than previous proposals: raising premiums, weakening protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and slashing over $1 billion from North Carolina’s Medicaid program. North Carolina’s middle-class families will be worse off if this passes.

“Senate Republicans in Washington must work with Democrats to reach a bipartisan solution that expands health care coverage and makes it better.”

Republicans tout that the proposal introduced by Senators Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham would give states more flexibility. Democrats and consumer advocates warn the legislation would eventually end Medicaid block grants in 2027.

Senate Republicans will need 50 votes to advance the legislation.

Commentary, News

Five things to have on your radar this week

#1 DACA in Crisis; Panel Discussion
A panel of lawyers, activists, and students gather Monday evening at the FedEx Global Education Center in Chapel Hill to discuss the future for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients. Panelists will discuss how to protect students and how to support the undocumented and ‘DACAmented’ community. Panelists include:
• Rubi Franco Quiroz, current UNC student and immigrant activist
• Raul Pinto, Attorney, Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project at the North Carolina Justice Center
• Yesenia Polanco, Raleigh-based immigration attorney
• Emilio Vicente, UNC alumnus and United We Dream organizer
The event begins at 6:30 p.m. at FedEx Global Education Center, 301 Pittsboro Street, Chapel Hill. Learn more here.

#2 Protect health care, protect Medicaid – protest outside Sen. Tillis’ office
The so-called Graham-Cassidy bill is the latest bill seeking to repeal and replace key parts of the Affordable Care Act. Health Care advocates and activists say if it passes in the Senate, it would destroy Medicaid as we know it.

On Tuesday, activists will gather outside Senator Thom Tillis’ office to continue to let him know that the vast majority of North Carolinians do not want cuts in Medicaid. Participants are pressing North Carolina’s Senators to strengthen, not weaken, the ACA. The event runs from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. at 310 New Bern Ave, Raleigh.

#3 Judicial Redistricting back in the spotlight
Rep. Justin Burr reconvenes the House Select Committee on Judicial Redistricting this Tuesday. The 1:00 p.m. meeting will be held in 544 of the Legislative Office Building.

As Melissa Boughton reported at last week’s meeting:

The House and Senate just might come to a deal when it comes to judicial redistricting and merit selection: pass them both and see what sticks.

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly, Montgomery) said Tuesday after a House judicial redistricting committee meeting that a deal between the House and Senate in which Representatives pass judicial redistricting and Senators look at merit selection “could certainly be on the table.”

Follow Boughton’s live coverage of tomorrow’s  meeting on Twitter @mel_bough.

#4. – One-Stop Voting begins
Early voting begins on Friday for this year’s October elections. For more on the municipal elections, visit: http://www.ncsbe.gov/Elections/2017-Election-Information.

#5A monumental discussion
Friday morning will be the fall meeting of the North Carolina Historical Commission. While the commission’s meetings have drawn little attention in the past, look for a lot of interest this week after calls by Governor Roy Cooper and others to remove Confederate monuments from state grounds in the wake of deadly violence at a white supremacist rally over a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia.

If you haven’t been following this issue, read Joe Killian’s piece with newly appointed commission member David Ruffin:

“There is no question that many of the monuments were erected during the Jim Crow era, through the last gasp of the Jim Crow era,” Ruffin said. “They were political monuments from the beginning. But as late as four or five months ago I said I hoped we didn’t have to go there with this controversy, because the country seems so torn apart in so many other ways. I just thought it was one more battle I hoped we didn’t have to fight.”

Then Charlottesville happened, Ruffin said, and opened his eyes.

“Charlottesville was so toxic, it really changed my mind about some of these things,” Ruffin said. “History and politics aren’t my profession – in fact, getting into some of this can be harmful in my profession. But you do know what is right and wrong. In this case, this is a runaway train. There’s no choice. You have to pick your battles – but in this case, you have to take a stand.”

Friday’s meeting of the state Historical Commission begins at 10:00 a.m. at the Archives and History/State Library Building in downtown Raleigh. You can find the agenda here.

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Web of local money, political connections behind legislature’s decision to bypass DEQ in GenX clean-up

The fire is elusive, but the smoke is thick.

An analysis of professional and political relationships among major players in the GenX crisis shows the connections that led to a controversial state appropriation made by state lawmakers during the most recent special legislative session in House Bill 56, and a contract between the Cape Fear utility and a public relations firm.

It’s not unusual for state lawmakers to have deep political connections to major donors and operatives in their districts. But these connections could wind up diverting badly needed money away from an underfunded state agency to a public utility beset by scandal.

House Bill 56 has several contentious provisions, among them, the puzzling last-minute gift of $185,000 from conservative lawmakers to the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA). The utility knew about the GenX contamination at its Sweeney drinking water plant in May 2016, according to a timeline it provided, but did not alert state environmental authorities. [Read more….]

Bonus reads:

2. More with less: With $3 million in the balance, initial AG cuts take effect

Changes from a $7 million budget cut to the North Carolina Department of Justice went into effect September 1 and as expected, people are making do with less.

“The work is still getting done,” said Laura Brewer, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, adding that employees are committed to doing the work and serving the public.

The General Assembly cut $10 million from the DOJ budget, which is operated by Attorney General Josh Stein. The cut wasn’t in either the initial Senate or House budget but was added at the last minute before a final vote was taken on the FY2018-19 budget.

It was unexpected and has been viewed by many as a partisan move because Stein is a Democrat. Stein has repeatedly refused to speculate about the political nature of the massive budget cut and has instead expressed grave concern for the safety of North Carolinians if he is forced to keep cutting. [Read more….]

3. North Carolina conservatives must disavow allies’ bigoted hate speech
Website with ties to Civitas Institute promotes anti-Semitic attack on Attorney General Stein

There are a lot of deeply troubling and even shocking aspects to the ongoing rise in “white nationalism” and religious bigotry that plagues the American political landscape these days. First and foremost, of course, is the active participation of the president of the United States in the process. That the highest office in our land is being used in such a perverted way to aid and abet such a noxious cause remains a stunning and unacceptable reality that should sicken all people of good will on a daily basis.

Almost as disturbing as the behavior of Trump and the coterie of bigots with whom he associates at the national level, however, is the real world experience of confronting such behavior close to home. Increasingly, acts, viewpoints and arguments that most of us thought had been relegated to the dustbin of history are now rearing their ugly heads in public places – even places connected to and promoted by “responsible conservatives.”

On Monday of this week, just such a disturbing occurrence took place in North Carolina on a website supported and funded by one of the state’s most visible conservative groups.[Read more….]

4. Charter takeovers met with skepticism as director begins pitching model

Eric Hall, in the midst of a rainy drive to rural Robeson County to pitch North Carolina’s ambitious but controversial plan for a charter takeover of several low-performing schools, wants to set one thing straight.

“It’s not a takeover,” he says of the so-called Innovative School District (ISD) that he leads. “It’s about making conditions better locally.”

Hall seems well aware of the skepticism surrounding the model, once dubbed the “Achievement School District” but given a new name this year after rocky beginnings for similar efforts in states like Tennessee and Louisiana grabbed headlines.

Last week, Hall’s office released a list of 48 low-performing schools spread across 21 districts, the lion’s share situated in high-poverty locales. Each of them will be eligible for the first year of Hall’s district, which will launch with two schools in 2018-2019 and another three in 2019-2020.

Now he begins a slew of community meetings with local district leaders in places like Robeson County, home to five of the schools that made the state’s list. All reported performance grades in the bottom 5 percent statewide, and none met or exceeded academic growth goals in the last three years. [Read more…]

5. Author of new book on tragic 1991 Hamlet chicken plant fire: Little of substance has changed

Twenty six years ago, one of the worst industrial accidents in U.S. history rocked the tiny town of Hamlet, North Carolina.

Twenty five workers died and 55 were injured when a grease fire broke out at the Imperial Food Products plant, which made cheap chicken tenders for chain restaurants like Long John Silvers. The victims, mostly black and female, struggled to get out of the building but found the doors locked from the outside. The plant’s owner, Emmett J. Roe, kept the doors padlocked and the windows boarded because he thought his low-wage workers might steal chicken.

Some struggled desperately to kick the doors open, leaving indentations in the steel before being burned to death or succumbing to smoke inhalation. Others tried to huddle in a large walk-in freezer to avoid the blaze, where they nearly froze before suffocating.

In the aftermath of the fire, state and federal investigators found the building had no fire alarms, no sprinklers — nothing that could be considered a fire exit. It had never undergone a safety inspection. [Read more….]

***Upcoming event on Tuesday, September 26th: NC Policy Watch presents a special Crucial Conversation luncheon: Prof. Bryant Simon discusses his new book, “The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government and Cheap Lives”