News

Senate budget: At first glance

After a three-day weekend, legislators return to Raleigh today where all eyes will be on the NC Senate’s budget. The House passed its $23.9 billion spending plan in early May, and now the Senate is revealing its priorities.

Monday evening, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger teased out a few highlights including the promise of:

  • $1.3 billion in additional spending for public education over two years
  • average teacher raises (excluding bonuses) of 3.5 % over two years
  • Funding for 100 new school psychologists
  • A 5% raise over two years for most full-time state employees
  • $1.1 billion for the state’s Rainy Day Fund over two years

Berger will talk more about the Senate’s budget during a 10:00am press conference.

Appropriations subcommittees will meet throughout the day Tuesday to discuss various aspects of the Senate plan. The full Senate Appropriations Committee will vote on the budget plan Wednesday, followed by expected floor votes Thursday and Friday.

Of course, the devil is in the details when it comes to the budget.

How are the raises funded? What items get cut to make way for new spending? And which items receive one-time money versus recurring dollars?

While we wait to learn more about the Senate budget, make time to listen to our recent radio interview with state Rep. Susan Fisher of Buncombe County.

Fisher talks about shortcomings in the House budget, her new bill to help homeless youth in North Carolina, and why the Medicaid expansion debate may keep lawmakers in Raleigh well into the fall.

Commentary

Gov. Cooper’s Executive Order providing paid leave to state employees is a positive step forward

Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order Thursday extending paid parental leave to state employees in cabinet agencies.

The order provides eight weeks of paid parental leave to eligible state employees who have given birth. It also offers four weeks of paid parental leave to eligible state employees whose partners have given birth or anyone who has an adoption, foster care placement or other legal placement of a child.

The move won quick praise from the North Carolina Justice Center*:

RALEIGH (May 23, 2019) – The North Carolina Justice Center commends Governor Roy Cooper for his executive order providing paid leave to state employees when they welcome the birth or adoption of a child. This is an important positive step towards ensuring that state employees can take care of themselves and their families.

Bringing a new child home is one of many situations in which working people need paid time off to focus on their families. Too many working people in our state are forced to choose between their employer and their family during a health crisis.

We look forward to working with Governor Cooper and the General Assembly to further expand workplace policies that support all working families in our state so they can be there for family members when needed most.

 

Learn more about Executive Order 95 here.

(*The NC Justice Center is the parent organization of NC Policy Watch.)

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch

1. Judicial nominee Farr joins GOP defense team in redistricting litigation

It appears that Thomas Farr is back in the game – the North Carolina redistricting game, that is.

The recent Trump nominee for a federal judgeship in North Carolina’s Eastern District filed paperwork last week to appear in court on behalf of the GOP legislative defendants in Common Cause v. Lewis, a challenge to the 2017 legislative map on grounds that it violates the state constitution as an extreme partisan gerrymander.

Farr is no stranger to litigating North Carolina laws and maps enacted by Republican legislators – he has defended several of the state’s maps that were struck down as racial gerrymanders. And in 2013, he defended the state’s sweeping “monster” voter ID law, which was also declared unconstitutional on the grounds that it was racially discriminatory. [Read more…]

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2. PW exclusive: Toxic chemical contamination detected in Charlotte; NC lawmakers decline to act

For decades Charlotte firefighters would periodically suit up and step into one of 12 gravel-lined pits at the city’s training center on Shopton Road. Industry would donate their flammable solvents, which would be poured into the pits or injected by underground piping. Materials, such as junk cars, would be set on fire, and the firefighters would then attack the blaze.

Sometimes, firefighters would use water. Other times, though, they would use foam — a special type of aqueous foam we now know contains toxic PFAS. Also referred to as perfluorinated compounds, this is a class of 4,000 to 5,000 chemicals, some of which are found in the body of nearly every person on Earth.

Even though PFAS have been linked to dozens of disorders, including cancer, none is regulated by the state or the EPA. This week, several members of a US House subcommittee balked at proposals in several bills to regulate PFAS as a class. And in the state legislature, bills introduced in both the House and Senate to ban PFAS in firefighting foam were exiled to committee, where they never received a hearing.[Read more…]

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3. Five quick takes as the legislative session passes its symbolic midpoint


North Carolina lawmakers sped past their self-imposed crossover deadline last week – the date by which many bills must pass at least one house to remain alive for the session. Here are five quick takes on where things stand:

#1 – GOP bulldozer downsized to a Bobcat – Traditionally, and especially during the last several years of conservative rule, the crossover deadline has served as an excuse/opportunity for legislative leaders to push through scores of controversial proposals during a series of marathon sessions that have often stretched into the wee hours of the night. This year, things were different.

Owing in part to the desire of some Republican leaders to attend a national conservative gathering in Asheville and, in part, to the demise of GOP supermajorities (a fact that has served to place a modest check on the Right’s ambitions), crossover passed in much quieter fashion this year. Instead of pulling “all-nighters” and bulldozing through a mountain of bills, lawmakers called it quits early, having advanced a somewhat less imposing pile. [Read more…]

Bonus read: Fifteen great ideas that were lost in the legislature’s crossover deadline shuffle

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4. Republicans, education advocates square off again over expanding private school voucher program

You can hear the anger rising in Yevonne Brannon’s voice as she talks about the state’s controversial school voucher program.

Brannon, a spokeswoman for Public Schools First N.C., a K-12 advocacy organization, thinks it’s outrageous that a family with an annual income of more than $71,000 could receive state tax dollars to help pay for private school tuition.

But that’s exactly what would happen under state Senate-proposed changes to North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program.

“It undermines and contributes to the demise of public education in North Carolina,” Brannon said. [Read more…]

Bonus read: Colleges will soon be able to factor SAT ‘adversity score’ into admissions decisions

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5. Delay in ‘Silent Sam’ decision reflects divided UNC leadership while spurring suspicion, concern in community


At its meeting next week, the UNC Board of Governors was scheduled to unveil a new plan for the future of the Confederate monument known as “Silent Sam.”

But late Tuesday afternoon, board Chairman Harry Smith released a statement saying the board has decided to again postpone it.

“In early March, we set the May meeting of the UNC Board of Governors as a tentative reporting date to consider possible solutions for the confederate monument at UNC-Chapel Hill, commonly known as Silent Sam,” Smith said in the statement. [Read more…]

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6. A gun in my classroom? No thanks.

I am a public school teacher in Forsyth County. As a special education teacher, I work with students at the middle school level and help them manage learning disabilities, ADHD, and other factors keeping them from performing on grade level. I love my job, but would leave it in a heartbeat if given the opportunity to carry a gun in my classroom.

Friends and family members tell me this could never happen in North Carolina, but why not? The Florida legislature just voted to allow this. At least one school district in Texas has been doing it for years. And our elected officials in Raleigh have introduced a bill this session (SB 192) to allow this very thing – the badly mislabeled “School Security Act of 2019.”

Let’s set aside the horrifying possibility of a student or intruder gaining control of my weapon. In addition, let’s not consider the morass of lawsuits that are likely to crop up surrounding real, or even potential, situations a gun in the classroom would introduce. The main reason I would object to carrying a gun is the way the relationship with my students would change. [Read more…]

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7. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Commentary, Legislature, News, Trump Administration

The Week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch


1. The price NC is paying for Tillis’s loyalty to Trump

The spectacle of Senator Thom Tillis’s spiritless kowtowing to Donald Trump in recent months has truly been something to behold.

It wasn’t that long ago that Tillis was talking big about the need for humane immigration reform policies and the need to combat efforts to undermine investigations into Russian meddling in our democracy.

Boy, did a few shots across the bow from the far right about a possible 2020 GOP primary challenge change all of that. First, of course, came Tillis’s “flip-flop for the ages” on the question of Trump’s declaring a national emergency with respect to the situation on the U.S.-Mexico border. [Read more…]

2. Right and left find rare bit of common ground on “second chance” legislation

More than 1,000 people descended on the state Legislative Building Wednesday to lobby for the Second Chance Act – a bill they say will profoundly change the lives of those with criminal charges or convictions on their record.

Senate Bill 562 would automatically expunge criminal charges that have been dismissed or disposed of as “not guilty” after December 1, 2019. It would also allow people to petition to have all non-violent felony convictions expunged after 10 years of good behavior.

That will help people with records avoid employment and housing discrimination, the bill’s supporters say, getting them back to work and making it easier for them to move on with their lives and make a contribution to society.[Read more…]

 

3. ‘Reform is the answer:’ Voters gather at legislature to lobby for an end to gerrymandering

Redistricting reform is around the corner, and when it happens, it could move quickly. North Carolinians just have to think about what they want from that reform.

“We do have a voice; we do have an opportunity,” said Bob Phillips, Executive Director of Common Cause North Carolina, a voting rights organization that has pushed for redistricting reform for over a decade.

About 60 “tried and true advocates” and voters gathered Tuesday at the legislature for the “People’s Lobby Day to End Gerrymandering.” They spoke to lawmakers and their legislative assistants to encourage support or thank them for their support of one of the six redistricting reform bills currently pending. [Read more…]


4. Damn the politics, impeach Donald Trump. Now.

When Yoni Appelbaum, a senior editor at The Atlantic, wrote in March that President Trump should be impeached, perhaps, for the writer, some doubt remained even then as to the president’s ultimate guilt or innocence.

“Impeachment is a process, not an outcome,” he wrote. “A rule-bound procedure for investigating a president, considering evidence, formulating charges, and deciding whether to continue on to trial.”

That was two months ago, eons in the Trump universe, a parallel dimension in which the orange debaser in office can stack exponential transgressions upon transgressions, seemingly impervious to time or space. That includes his latest embarrassment, a shallow and, ultimately failed, effort to shape the coverage of the Mueller Report. [Read more…]


5. Education Secretary Betsy Devos pushes her school choice agenda at conference for education writers

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

One could never mistake U.S, Education Secretary Betsy Devos for a victim, but she sure played one Monday during the 72nd Education Writers Seminar being held in Baltimore.

Standing before a roomful of education writers from across the nation, Devos sternly accused Big Media of using her name to score page views.

“As much as many of you in the media use my name as click bait, or try to make it all about me, it’s not,” Devos said. Education is not about Betsy Devos, nor about any other individual. It’s about students.”

If the truth be told, Devos does have a way of generating unfavorable news reports.[Read more…]

 

6. Sampling shows PFAS, GenX in groundwater wells in New Hanover County; contaminants not detected in drinking water


State environmental regulators are sampling groundwater from monitoring wells in northern New Hanover County after perfluorinated compounds, including GenX, were detected in six of 25 wells that supply the Richardson water treatment plant.

However, the compounds were not detected in finished drinking water.

The plant, operated by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, provides drinking water to several communities, including Murrayville, Wrightsboro, and parts of Castle Hayne and Odgen. The source of this public water supply is groundwater tapped from the Castle Hayne and PeeDee aquifers.

While most of the utility’s water treatment plants withdraw from the river, the Richardson plant uses groundwater.[Read more…]

 

7. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Higher Ed

Amid challenges, UNC System Interim President believes things are settling down

It’s graduation season for North Carolina college students – a time of hope and optimism for graduates.

The Interim President of the University of North Carolina System is also sounding optimistic as he looks ahead to the next few months.

In an interview with Higher Education Works this week, Dr. Bill Roper talks about the departures of UNC System President Margaret Spellings, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and East Carolina University Chancellor Cecil Staton and the need to create a more stable operating environment:

“There’s always going to be some turnover,” he says. “But it is true, in some high-profile jobs in the last year or so, we’ve had substantial turnover. I think we are headed into a quieter phase, if I could put it that way, of less of that kind of turnover. That’s my earnest hope. That’s what I’m trying to produce.”

Roper also shared a few thoughts on getting more productivity out of the system while improving access to higher education.

“We need to do all of this for less money,” he says.
“Even before we get to ‘we wish we had more money,’ we need to show better return, more efficiency, more productivity to the people we serve for the large amount of money that they entrust to us already. The American public and surely the people of North Carolina have decided in large part that higher education just costs too darn much – and we ignore that to our peril.”

Watch a segment of the interview below or click here to read the full interview with Dr. Roper.