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If Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood’s ruling finding the state’s new school voucher program unconstitutional caught you off guard, it shouldn’t have.

The editorial board for the Fayetteville Observer writes Hobgood’s decision was not only correct, it was the only ruling that should have been handed down from the bench. Here’s more from Friday’s editorial in the Observer:

School-vouchersNo surprise: Wake Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ruled exactly as he had to. North Carolina’s school voucher program is unconstitutional.

A fourth-grade remedial-reading student could have predicted that. Article IX, Section 6 of the N.C. Constitution leaves no wiggle room. Education funding “shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.” There’s no footnote about funding private schools.

Voucher proponents say they’ll immediately appeal to higher courts. They’re likely wasting their time, although judicial surprises certainly aren’t rare.

We’re not opposed to measures that help low-income families send their children to private schools, especially in situations where the public schools aren’t providing the quality education that they need. But the program has to be legal.

Florida faced the same constitutional question and created a court-approved voucher program that gives tax credits instead of direct payments. The program is popular and appears successful.

North Carolina voucher proponents were fully briefed on the Florida program, but chose instead to do something the courts quickly overturned. Maybe we need some remedial classes at the General Assembly.

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A new analysis from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) finds that the vast majority of jobs created since 2009 are now paying even less than before the economic recovery began.

Today’s must-read story from Think Progress takes a closer look at this troubling trend:

NELP wage chart

Source: NELP, Think Progress

Some of the low-wage jobs that employ the most people have suffered even more. The food service industry has seen big drops: an 8.3 percent decline for restaurant cooks, 6.3 percent for food preparation workers, and 3.5 percent for servers. Maids and housekeepers have seen wages decline by 5.8 percent, as have home health aides, while personal care aides have seen a 6.3 percent decline. And retail workers have had wages go down by 4.2 percent.

Overall, across all jobs, median hourly wages have declined 3.4 percent between 2009 and 2013.

This trend is also troubling because these jobs have seen some of the strongest growth in the recovery, outpacing better paying ones. The NELP report notes that low-wage industries have accounted for 41 percent of job growth over the past year, employing 2.3 million more workers than when the recession began, while mid-wage industries have only made up 26 percent and high-wage ones have made up 33 percent. “Today, there are approximately 1.2 million fewer jobs in mid- and higher-wage industries than there were before the Great Recession took hold,” it says.

The findings are also true here in the Tar Heel state. The NC Budget and Tax Center recently reported that since 2009, 8 out of every 10 jobs created pays below a wage that would allow a family to meet the growing costs for basic needs.

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On the final day of the “short session” both the House and Senate gave approval to a compromise plan that sets the wheels in motion to begin cleaning-up North Carolina’s 33 unlined coal ash pits.

Approval of the Coal Ash Management Act came 200 days after a major spill at a former Duke Energy power plant that dumped 40,000 tons of toxic sludge into the Dan River.

During Wednesday’s House debate, Rep. Nathan Baskerville argued the compromise plan did not go far enough. The Vance County Democrat noted that the Supreme Court sided with Duke Energy in its latest rate hike case, and that lawmakers should spell out that this clean-up would not end up costing consumers more.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, one of the key negotiators on the bill, reminded his colleagues this was just the first step:

“This is Coal Ash One. There’s going to be a Coal Ash Two,” explained the Henderson County Republican. “We’ve gotta get going, and this bill gets us going.”

Rep. Rick Glazier, who also worked on the compromise language, said the end product – while not perfect – was far stronger than House or Senate versions of the bill previously passed.

“The bill mandates all facilities be designated as high, intermediate or low risk and that all high risk ponds be sealed and closed in 5 years, intermediate in 10, and low risk in 15 years, with a critical new provision that assures no low risk facility may be simply capped in place if the coal ash residuals interact in any substantial manner with subsurface water,” wrote Glazier in a press release.

Senate Bill 729 passed the House 84-13, and won Senate approval 38-2. The bill now heads to Governor McCrory’s desk.

To hear some of the coal ash debate on the House floor, click below.

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House members rejected on Tuesday a multi-part bill to expand job incentives, while capping Wake County’s ability to raise local sales taxes. While House Speaker Thom Tillis and Governor Pat McCrory favored House Bill 1224, a bipartisan group of House members defeated the contentious measure.

State senators had tied the passage of HB 1224 to a separate deal, which would have helped
counties fund teaching assistant positions this fall.

Rep. Darren Jackson (Wake-D) argued the TA budget fix should be in a separate bill, not dependent on passage of the incentives bill.

Rep. Nelson Dollar (Wake-R) joined Jackson in arguing against the bill GOP leadership favored. Dollar said a $20 million Job Catalyst fund to be administered solely by the Commerce Secretary lacked accountability and was unlikely to help rural, low-wealth counties.

In the end, HB 1224 failed on a 47-54 vote.

Today, the House returns with an 11:00 a.m. session where they are expected to vote on an 11th hour  coal ash compromise, which emerged late Tuesday. That bill is expected to be the final piece of legislation House members tackle before adjournment.

To hear a portion of Tuesday’s debate, click below. For more on the fate of the teacher assistant funding fix, read Lindsay Wagner’s story on our main N.C. Policy Watch site:

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MCcRORY SIGNS FRACKING BILLIt’s been more than two months since Governor Pat MCcrory signed into law legislation that clears the way for permits to be issued for fracking in North Carolina. Still, environmental groups and concerned citizens are expected to turn out in full force this week to comment on draft rules for future gas and oil exploration.

The Mining and Energy Commission does not have a say in whether fracking will occur; they are using the upcoming hearings to gather suggestions to improve draft rules.

Fracking opponents believe the hearings may be the best chance they have to strengthen the guidelines that address things like forced pooling and chemical disclosure.

Each speaker will have just three minutes to make their case.

Want to read the draft rules in advance of the hearing? Click here.

Want to attend one of the hearings? Here’s what you need to know:

Raleigh: Wed., Aug. 20, 10AM-2PMfrack-8
NCSU’s McKimmon Center, 1101 Gorman St.

Sanford: Fri., Aug. 22, 5PM-9PM
Wicker Civic Center, 1801 Nash St.

Reidsville: Mon., Aug. 25, 5PM-9PM
Rockingham County High School, 180 High School Rd.

Cullowhee/Western NC: Fri., Sept. 12, 5PM-9PM
W. Carolina Univ. Bardo Performing Arts Ctr., 199 Centennial Drive