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The week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. An infant‘s gravesite, environmental concerns could put proposed Caswell County mining operation on the rocks


In addition to historic cemeteries and archaeological resources, state is concerned about asbestos, drinking water pollution 

Rubbie Francis Wade entered this world in 1921. She left it eight months later, in the summer of 1922.

A descendant of the enslaved, Rubbie was not considered by whites important enough to document. Neither her birth nor her death were officially lodged with the Caswell County Register of Deeds. But we know from her delicately carved gravestone that she was the daughter of Robert and Norah Wade. [Read more…]

2. Critics vow to combat UNC’s “Silent Sam” deal with Confederate group

Students, faculty and legal experts are all questioning last week’s legal settlement in which the UNC System gave the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument to the Sons of Confederate Veterans – along with $2.5 million.

And some are vowing to fight it.

“We’re doing our best to figure out possibly what legal action we can take,” said Ashton Martin, undergraduate student body president at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“We definitely don’t see this as a satisfactory conclusion and we don’t want it to be the conclusion,” Martin said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure this isn’t the final decision.” [Read more…]

3. State court cites time constraints in approving congressional maps that are “not perfect”

North Carolina Republicans officially ran out the clock – at least legally – when they enacted a new Congressional map just weeks before candidate filing.

A three-judge state Superior Court panel ruled unanimously Monday that the map can go forward, setting aside a prior injunction postponing congressional candidate filing.

“As a practical matter, in the court’s view, there is simply not sufficient time to fully evaluate the factual record necessary to decide the constitutional challenges of the congressional districts without significantly delaying the primary elections,” said Judge Paul Ridgeway, who read the panel’s decision. “It is time for the citizens to vote.”

The court declined to take up constitutional issues raised about the new map, and it did not rule on the constitutionality of the 2016 congressional map, which was challenged in the partisan gerrymandering case Harper v. Lewis. [Read more…]

4. After Republicans’ latest gerrymandering low, now is the time for your outrage

It may be difficult to say how you are feeling this morning, two mornings after a Superior Court panel — facing the impending launch of the 2020 election cycle — choked down another GOP-manipulated map for North Carolina congressional districts.

But because there are not, in this moment, 10,000 people on the steps of the Legislative Building frothing over the latest malpractice in Raleigh, it is safe to assume there are many in this state who are not simply angry enough.

Perhaps this reflects that roughly half of North Carolina is willing to acquiesce to gerrymandering as a necessary evil because, in this instance, it favors the candidate or the political party of their choosing. [Read more…]

5. Eight errors and omissions of the 2019 legislative session


Well, that appears to be a wrap.

The 2019 legislative session that commenced way back in January and dragged on in desultory fashion for months past its usual adjournment date finally petered out a couple of weeks back. Now, barring some new and unforeseen holiday season power grab – something that’s always a possibility for legislative leaders who maintain only a passing interest in quaint concepts like notice, public input and process – the honorables have absented themselves from the state capital until mid-January. [Read more…]

6. State Board of Ed examines decline in teacher licensure exam pass rates

The percentage of teachers passing state licensure exams has fallen to 80 percent, leaving some members of the State Board of Education (SBE) to wonder if students are being shortchanged by ill-prepared teachers.

A report shared with SBE members this week showed the passing rate on state teacher exams falling from 96% percent in 2014 to 80.2% in 2018.

“I know there are other pathways to teaching, but if you spent four years at a university in an EPP [Education Preparation Program] and can’t pass the content test and the pedagogy test, then we have a problem and it’s showing up in our test scores, SBE member Amy White said during the board’s monthly meeting this week. [Read more…]

7. Sen. Phil Berger sidesteps an inconvenient truth about NC teacher pay

 

Despite having voted to expand the economics and personal finance curriculum in the state’s high schools, North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger fails to apply basic principles of these subjects when touting supposed accomplishments in teacher pay in his Nov. 25 op-ed in Raleigh’s News & Observer, “Yes, Republican tax policies are working in North Carolina.”

Perhaps most notably, he conveniently forgets to apply a rather basic concept called “inflation.” Ignoring inflation in GOP efforts to convince North Carolinians that teachers have experienced windfalls under their tenure is an irresponsible representation of the reality of teacher wage growth, or lack thereof. While corporate income taxes have been cut by more than 50%, many teachers are, when one adjusts for inflation, out tens of thousands of dollars in lost wages.

Instead of touting “average” teacher pay (in the op-ed, Berger brags that “Since 2014, average teacher pay shot up by more than $9,000”) let’s look at actual teachers’ pay across the salary schedule. Consider the following real-world examples:[Read more…]

8. Weekly micro-podcasts and newsmaker interviews:

Click here to listen to Rob Schofield’s latest commentaries and podcast interviews.

9. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

 

News, Trump Administration

University of North Carolina law professor takes center stage at impeachment hearing (video)

UNC constitutional law professor Michael Gerhardt has written six books on impeachment and was front and center at Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.

Two of Gerhardt’s most profound assertions:

If left unchecked, the president will likely continue his pattern of soliciting foreign interference on his behalf in the next election.

And…

If Congress fails to impeach here, then the impeachment process has lost all meaning, and, along with that, our Constitution’s carefully crafted safeguards against the establishment of a king on American soil. No one, not even the president, is beyond the reach of our Constitution and our laws.

Read “The Impeachment Inquiry into President Donald J. Trump: The Constitutional Foundations for President Impeachment” or click below to watch Gerhardt’s full statement to lawmakers.

News, Policing

ICYMI: NC joins the rest of the nation in trying teens as juveniles (podcast)

It was years in the making, but staring this month 16 and 17-year-olds will not automatically be charged as adults for low-level felonies and misdemeanors in North Carolina.

A tremendous amount of work has gone on behind the scenes since the Raise the Age legislation was passed in 2017. And last week, Billy Lassiter, Deputy Secretary of Juvenile Justice for the Department of Public Safety sat down with Policy Watch’s Rob Schofield to discuss the impact of the legislation, efforts to reduce recidivism rates, and what additional fine-tuning the law may need in the future.

Click below to hear our podcast with Lassiter:

Learn more about Raise the Age in this FAQ produced by the UNC School of Government.


 

Environment, News

New report makes it clear procrastination is no longer an option in addressing climate change

Policy Watch has written extensively this year about efforts by utility companies, elected officials and even coastal communities to address the growing threats posed by climate change.

But a new study released Tuesday from the United Nations suggests countries have not done nearly enough to lower global greenhouse gas emissions, and we all face dire consequences with further procrastination. Here’s more on the findings in the Washington Post:

Amid that growing pressure to act, Tuesday’s U.N. report offers a grim assessment of how off-track the world remains. Global temperatures are on pace to rise as much as 3.9 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, according to the United Nations’ annual “emissions gap” report, which assesses the difference between the world’s current path and the changes needed to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate accord.

As part of that deal, world leaders agreed to hold warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels; the current trajectory is nearly twice that.

Should that pace continue, scientists say, the result could be widespread, catastrophic effects: Coral reefs, already dying in some places, would probably dissolve in increasingly acidic oceans. Some coastal cities, already wrestling with flooding, would be constantly inundated by rising seas. In much of the world, severe heat, already intense, could become unbearable.

Global greenhouse gas emissions must begin falling by 7.6 percent each year beginning 2020 — a rate currently nowhere in sight — to meet the most ambitious aims of the Paris climate accord, the report issued early Tuesday found. Its authors acknowledged that the findings are “bleak.” After all, the world has never demonstrated the ability to cut greenhouse gas emissions on such a scale.
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“Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions,” Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, said in a statement announcing the findings. “We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated.”

The sobering report comes at a critical moment, when it remains unclear whether world leaders can summon the political will to take the ambitious action scientists say is essential. So far, the answer has been no.

Global emissions have risen about 1.5 percent annually on average over the past decade. In the coming decade, that trend must reverse — profoundly and rapidly — if world leaders are to limit the Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) or even 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) compared with preindustrial levels, scientists say.

The world already has warmed more than 1 degree Celsius.

Tuesday’s report, which is viewed as the benchmark of the world’s progress in meeting its climate goals, underscores how the pledges that nations made years ago in Paris are woefully inadequate to achieving the goals of the accord. To hold warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, the authors found that countries would need to triple the ambition of their current promises. To hit the more ambitious target of no more than 1.5 degrees of warming, they found, nations would need to ramp up their pledges fivefold.

“Every year of delay beyond 2020 brings a need for faster cuts, which become increasingly expensive, unlikely and impractical,” the report states. “Delays will also quickly put the 1.5C goal out of reach.”

A Washington Post analysis this year found that roughly 20 percent of the world has already warmed to troubling levels. Slowing future warming will require monumental changes, such as phasing out gas-powered cars, halting the construction of coal-fired power plants and overhauling how humans grow food and manage land.

Click here to read the full article in the Post.

Click here to read the full annual Emissions Gap Report (or here for a shorter executive summary).

For more environmental reporting in North Carolina, please follow Lisa Sorg on Policy Watch.