News

Ten great Twitter pics from last weekend’s #MarchforScience

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. The truth about the Senate leaders’ tax plan from their own staff

The wisdom of the plan by Senate leaders to cut taxes by $839 million was called into question this week by an important source, the nonpartisan legislative staff that works for them and inadvertently by a powerful Senator himself.

Two weeks ago, the Senate passed the proposal that would be yet another boon for corporations and wealthy North Carolinians with assurances that the state could afford it and that it wouldn’t hurt efforts to fund schools, health care programs, environmental protections and other vital state programs.

But the Fiscal Research Division of the General Assembly says that’s not true, that the tax package would result in state budget shortfalls of more than $600 million in just three years. [Read more…]

2. Local school districts prepare for “enormous disruptions” as Senate refuses to ease class size requirements

North Carolina’s largest public school system may be warning of “enormous disruptions” without speedy action from state lawmakers on a looming class size funding crisis, but key education leaders in Raleigh tell Policy Watch there’s little sign Republican lawmakers in the General Assembly will act soon.

“It doesn’t seem like there’s any movement planned,” says Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat who sits on the state Senate’s Rules and Operations Committee, a panel that includes some of the chamber’s most powerful lawmakers and sets the agenda for future committee talks.

McKissick said he met late last week with Sen. Bill Rabon, the eastern North Carolina Republican who chairs the committee, but GOP leaders remain reticent to make any commitments regarding a legislative fix to the funding controversy, despite stiff warnings from district chiefs that thousands of teachers’ jobs are in jeopardy. [Read more…]

3. An important bright spot emerges at the General Assembly
Progress on “second chance” agenda marks a rare positive development in state policy wars
There are a lot of reasons for caring and thinking North Carolinians to be discouraged these days about what’s happening in the world of public policy. In the nation’s capital, the corrupt and illegitimate Trump administration is a perpetual, slow motion train wreck. Meanwhile, Congress is a frequently dysfunctional war zone in which some of the most conservative political leaders in modern American history are engaged in a pitched battle with far right extremists who want to repeal fundamental components of the national social contract.

And here in Raleigh, conservatives are wielding their ideologically driven wrecking ball for the seventh consecutive year. All around us, public structures and systems essential to a thriving and sustainable middle class society lie wounded and bleeding by the side of the road while the wealthy, large and profitable corporations, polluters, privatizers and religious zealots remain firmly in control of the bulldozer of state. [Read more…]

4. Committee reins in expansive powers for AOC director; approves District Court judges serving on Superior Court

After North Carolina representatives from both parties expressed concern about a bill that would give the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) director unfettered power over court processes, an amendment was approved to eliminate the provision altogether.

Rep. Rena Turner (R-Iredell), the sponsor of the bill, said she would have preferred to keep House Bill 236 whole, and a representative speaking on behalf of the AOC deferred to her when asked what the organization preferred.

Democratic Leader Rep. Darren Jackson and Rep. David Rogers (R-Burke, Rutherford) spoke against the overly-broad language of the bill, which as written, would allow the AOC director the authority to rewrite all court policies, procedures and processes.

Jackson and Rogers had been contacted by the District Attorneys in their districts with concerns about that section of the bill. [Read more…]

5. Elections watchdog calls for criminal investigation of NCGOP over baseless voter fraud claims

Carol Turner hadn’t lived in North Carolina long before last November’s election. A retired nurse, she had recently moved from Maryland with her son Mark, a Naval officer, and his wife to help take care of their baby.

But Turner had done everything necessary to vote here in the general election.

“I consider myself a very responsible citizen,” said Turner, 65. “Voting to me is a right as well as a privilege. I believe in being responsible about it. So after I voted in the primary in Maryland, I made sure to contact them and let them know I would be registering and voting in North Carolina in the general.”

Having been so careful, Turner was furious to find she was one of about 600 voters the North Carolina Republican party was accused of voting improperly in the wake of the election. About 95 percent of those accused voters were found to have cast their votes legally. But that didn’t stop them from being libeled in a political effort to manufacture a massive voter fraud problem, Turner said. [Read more…]

Environment, News

North Carolina scientists speak up, rally for research on Earth Day

To coincide with Earth Day there will be marches in over 300 cities Saturday to celebrate science and the role it plays in our everyday lives.

With evidence-based science under attack in  Washington and some state legislatures, renown scientist Sandra Steingraber is talking about the need for her colleagues to be more vocal.

Photo credit: www.laurakozlowski.com

Steingraber, an American biologist, author, and cancer survivor, has been heralded by the Sierra Club as “the new Rachel Carson.”

She recently joined Policy Watch to discuss science in the current political climate and the link between human rights and the environment.

Click below to hear our podcast.

Rallies will be held Saturday in cities across North Carolina including:

March For Science – Raleigh

March For Science – Charlotte

March For Science – Greensboro

March For Science Wilmington

March For Science in Asheville

News

Educators warn 5,500 “specialty” teaching jobs at risk if Senate fails to act on HB13 (video)

If you missed it this morning on the main Policy Watch website, make time to read Billy Ball’s latest on the push by educators and parents to get state Senators to take speedy action on a bill to avert a looming class size funding crisis.

As Ball reports:

Policy Watch has reported extensively on the class size bickering since last November. School district leaders say a GOP-authored budget mandate that schools trim class sizes in grades K-3 beginning with the 2017-2018 academic year will have major consequences in North Carolina public school districts without additional state funding or staffing flexibility for district leaders.

The state’s funding dilemma is complicated, but school leaders say a loss of flexibility over average and maximum individual classroom sizes in grades K-3 would force districts to hire thousands more teachers in core subjects.

To make space, districts would likely need to jettison teachers in “specialty” subjects such as arts, music and physical education, positions once funded separately by the state but now lumped in one block funding category.

Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE), an organization that lobbies for K-12 teachers at the legislature, estimated Wednesday that school districts would be forced to lay off about 5,500 “specialty” teachers in arts, music and physical education.

“It’s going to devastate rural school districts who have a very difficult time recruiting teachers to begin with,” said Jewell. “It is definitely not providing our students in North Carolina a world class public school system that is guaranteed by our constitution.”

Smaller classes would also prompt a need for new classroom space in many schools and districts, with school administrators complaining they would need to spend millions in local dollars to boost school infrastructure or refit mobile classroom units.

House Bill 13 offers a temporary respite on those directives, returning district flexibility over average and maximum individual class sizes in K-3, although public school advocates say a long-term plan for saving teaching positions will require a major boost in the state’s investment in schools.

The NCAE’s Mark Jewell joins Chris Fitzsimon in the studio this weekend to discuss the pressure school districts will face without the passage of  HB 13.  For a preview of that radio interview, click below.

The read Billy Ball’s full story on the class-size crisis, click here.

HB2, News

NCAA to allow championship basketball to return to Raleigh, Greensboro – in 2020

State lawmakers who hoped a repeal compromise of the anti-LGBT law HB2 would be enough to return NCAA championship games to North Carolina got their answer Tuesday.

The NCAA announced that post-season soccer games would return to North Carolina in 2018.

The far more lucrative first and second rounds of Division I men’s basketball will return in 2020.

(Greensboro was tapped as a host site in 2020, with Raleigh hosting the first two rounds of basketball in 2021 at PNC arena.)

The NCAA explained its site selection this way:

Criteria for selecting the host sites included creating what will be an exceptional experience for the student-athletes, along with adherence to NCAA bid specifications. Specifications can include, but are not limited to, providing optimal facilities; ease of travel to the location and ample lodging; and adherence to NCAA principles, which include providing an atmosphere that is safe and respects the dignity of all attendees. The site selections follow the NCAA Board of Governors’ vote to allow consideration of championship bids in North Carolina.

Lawmakers replaced HB2 with House Bill 142 earlier this month, though LGBT advocates called the new law a “sham” as it prevents local governments from passing their own non-discrimination ordinances through 2020.

The Human Rights Campaign and Equality NC have condemned the NCAA’s decision:

“The NCAA has fallen ‘hook, line, and sinker’ for this ‘bait and switch’ sham ‘deal’ doubling down on discrimination,” said JoDee Winterhof, HRC Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs. “Even worse, the NCAA has inexcusably gone back on its promise to ensure all championship games are held in locations that are safe, respectful, and free of discrimination. By rewarding North Carolina with championship games, the NCAA has undermined its credibility and is sending a dangerous message to lawmakers across the country who are targeting LGBTQ people with discriminatory state legislation. In addition to protecting the broader LGBTQ community, the NCAA needs to clearly state how they will be protecting their student athletes, personnel and fans.”

“How can LGBTQ people  — especially members of the transgender community  — be safe and free from discrimination, much less protected against mistreatment or harassment with the sham fake repeal of HB2?” said Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro. “The unfortunate reality is they cannot. HB 142 was a cheap political trick that did nothing to alleviate the concerns the NCAA initially outlined when it pulled games from the Tar Heel state last year, and even adds new forms of discrimination to North Carolina’s laws. It is unthinkable that the NCAA would abandon its commitment to LGBTQ fans, players, and administrators by falling for this trick.”