Statement from NC Justice Center Executive Director Rick Glazier: Lawsuit against Medicaid expansion proposal should be dismissed

This evening, Republican state legislative leadership filed a federal lawsuit seeking to halt any attempt to increase access to health care for hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians.
The lawsuit should be summarily dismissed for a number of reasons. First, it turns a solely state law dispute over the power of the Governor — one fully capable of being decided, and one that must be decided, by state judges under state law — into a federal case. This diminishes state authority and the rights of our state courts. Second, the lawsuit is entirely premature as the federal government has made no decision to be litigated.
Finally, the lawsuit invokes federal law and constitutional provisions that are not at issue here in any way. Put bluntly, this is a blatant attempt to place this issue, prematurely and without authority, into federal court because the Republican leadership does not want any state court involvement in the dispute. So now we have a lawsuit that has invented federal claims attempting to put a basic state law dispute into federal court. There may be a dispute, but there is no basis to make a federal case out of it.
The lawsuit should be called out for what it is — frivolous, groundless, and without merit, and it should be procedurally dismissed.

Commentary, News

This week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Cooper’s correcting a colossal blunder on Medicaid, not making one

The folks on the Right are apoplectic these days that Governor Roy Cooper thinks it’s a good idea to follow the lead of Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, Chris Christie, John Kasich and 28 other governors and expand Medicaid to provide health care coverage to 500,000 people in North Carolina and help local hospitals while creating thousands of jobs in the process.

Last week Cooper told a business audience that he was pushing ahead with Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act despite the uncertainty of the future of the health care law in Washington and a state law passed by the Republican General Assembly in 2013 that sought to prohibit the state from expanding the program.[Read more…]

2. Will the GOP really sentence thousands of Americans to early death

The stunning impact that repeal of Obamacare would produce

At the dawn of the Trump era in American politics, it’s important for caring and thinking people to guard against the use of hyperbole and alarmist rhetoric and to avoid making too many “the sky is falling pronouncements.” As was noted in this space last November, there are plenty of reasons to think that some of the worst components of Trumpism can be blunted or even defeated with a little luck and a lot of hard work. And, as North Carolinians have learned during six years of aggressive right-wing rule, the conservative movement is often a fractious, divided and mistake-prone crusade that is fully capable of committing absurd and self-destructive blunders. It can and will be defeated in the months and years ahead. [Read more…]

3. 2017 legislative session convenes with glimpse of what’s to come; call for bipartisan effort among lawmakers

The North Carolina Senate unanimously passed its rules Wednesday for the 2017 legislative session, including how it will consider confirming gubernatorial nominations or appointments. The rule does not state any sort of timeline for the process.

For the first time in North Carolina history, the General Assembly passed a bill during one of the special sessions in December requiring Senate approval over Cabinet Secretary appointees.

You can find many of the appointees Gov. Roy Cooper has announced here.

There was no discussion from Senators about the new rule and it remains unclear when the process will get underway. The Senate adjourned until Jan. 25. [Read more…]

4. Raleigh-based charter school threatened students with expulsion in apparent violation of state law

Longleaf School of the Arts is less than four years old, but the charter school—housed in an old downtown Raleigh church, complete with stained-glass windows—has an air of antiquity about it.

Midterms are underway, and students pack the halls while Rachel Davis, head of school, ushers buzzing teens to their classrooms. Davis, an eminently cheerful woman, occupies a busy corner office crammed with boxed records.

“There are schools in this state that are cherry-picking,” Davis tells me. “Longleaf is not one of them. That’s not in our philosophy.” [Read more…]

5. Environmental Management Commission defies EPA over state’s polluted waters

The best way to experience the swamps and rivers of Brunswick County is by kayak. Enter the wide Cape Fear River via Lilliput Creek – you might see the Fort Fisher Ferry pass in the distance — and head north to Snow Cut. From there, if you keep paddling, you will eventually arrive at Wrightsville Beach and the Atlantic Ocean.

Unfortunately, this 12-square mile segment of the Cape Fear is also contaminated with arsenic and nickel, both heavy metals. The levels are high enough that the EPA has overruled state officials and placed this part of the river on a federal inventory of impaired waters, also known as a “303(d) list.”

This segment is just one of 72 waterbody-pollutant combinations statewide that the EPA has listed, or in some cases, re-listed, over the objections of the Environmental Management Commission and the NC Department of Environmental Quality. (The term “combination” is used because a segment of waterbody can be listed for more than one pollutant.) [Read more…]

****Upcoming event: Wednesday, Jan. 18 Crucial ConversationWhat is the true state of the economy and how do we make it work for everyone?  Featuring special guest, Dr. William Spriggs, Chief Economist for the national AFL-CIO. Register here.


Durham Charter blames ‘systematic errors’ on improper graduation of 40% of its students

Officials with Kestrel Heights Charter School say an internal investigation uncovered no willful or malicious intent in awarding diplomas to 40 % of its students who did not have the sufficient credit hours to graduate.

The Durham County school says their investigation, which stretched back to 2008, found that the “high school principals and counselor lacked the requisite diligence and thoroughness expected of educated, trained, and experienced professionals.”

Over the past eight years 160 of the charter school’s 399 total graduates received a diploma without evidences that they met all the requirements.

Here’s more from the school’s press advisory released on Monday:

Kestrel Heights is slated to present the findings of its investigation to the North Carolina Charter Schools Advisory Board Wednesday morning.

The advisory board is reconsidering the 10-year charter renewal for Kestrel Heights, initially awarded to the school last November.

Last month the State Board of Education asked the Durham County district attorney’s office to investigate.

To read Kestrel Heights Charter School’s internal investigation, click here.  An agenda for Wednesday’s advisory board meeting can be found here.


Five things to have on your radar this week

1. Trump’s cabinet picks move toward confirmation – Confirmation hearings begin Tuesday in Washington for President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees. First up will be the hearing for Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Trump’s choice to be our next U.S. Attorney General. On Wednesday, Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State nominee, will appear before the Foreign Relations Committee.

Democrats are urging Senate Republicans not to rush the process as some of Trump’s nominees — including Education Sec. nominee Betsy DeVos — have not yet completed the ethics review process.
2. Charter school expansion and segregation – The number of charter schools in our state has more than doubled in the last five year, and this week we could see more schools on the path to opening their doors.

The NC Charter Schools Advisory Board will hold its first meeting of the year Tuesday-Thursday. You’ll find their  agenda here.

Ahead of the meeting, you might want to check out Amy Hawn Nelson’s piece on demographic data that shows charter schools are more segregated than traditional public schools. Nelson is the Director of Social Research for the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute.
3. Medicaid expansion – Assuming the remnants of last week’s wintry weather does not postpone it, members of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services meet Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.

Legislators are likely to share a few thoughts on Governor Roy Cooper’s announcement that he will push for Medicaid expansion.

Speaking of expansion, be sure to read Chris Fitzsimon’s Monday numbers column.
4. NC General Assembly returns – After five special sessions in 2016, members of the North Carolina House and Senate return to Raleigh on Wednesday for the beginning of the 2017 “long” session.

Republicans in control of the House and Senate will have to decide how that want to work with Governor Roy Cooper on hot-button issues such as Medicaid expansion and the repeal of HB2.

Meredith College political scientist David McLennan says this session will also be shaped by the recent federal court order to redraw legislative districts by mid-March and hold new elections in 2017:

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You can hear our full radio interview with David McLennan here.
5. Nationwide Mass Mobilization to Protect Immigrants & Refugees – Just one week before Donald Trump’s inauguration, immigrants, families and allies will rally, march, and hold vigils and mass community gatherings to build momentum for sanctuaries of safety and deportation defense networks in cities, schools, churches and states.

Saturday’s mobilization is part of a growing wave of resilience and defiance against Trump’s promises to rip families apart, create a Muslim registry and enact policies like “stop and frisk” rooted in racial profiling and discrimination. Further,  immigrants contribute vastly to our economy, and Trump’s mass deportation plan could lead to additional exploitation of immigrant works and would drive down wages for all workers.

On January 14th, people from coast to coast will stand together and say that we are #HereToStay and will not be moved.

Events are currently planned in over 20 states across the country, including local events in Charlotte and Raleigh.

See the current nationwide event list here.

Commentary, News

This week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

This week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch:

1. There’s finally a grownup in Raleigh

We are only a few days into the New Year but two starkly different political styles are already on display in Raleigh.

Newly elected Governor Roy Cooper is beginning his term by methodically announcing his choices for cabinet posts after calling Republican legislative leaders to inform them of his decisions. And they are good ones.

Tuesday Cooper named Michael Regan to head the state Department of Environmental Quality. He was most recently with the Environmental Defense Fund and worked at the EPA in Democratic and Republican Administrations.

Cooper also named Jim Trogdon to head the state Department of Transportation. Trogdon is an engineer who is currently the National Transportation Director for SAS Institute. He worked at DOT for 25 years, rising to Chief Operating Officer before retiring in 2013.[Read more…]

Roy Cooper at Economic Forecast forum2. Gov. Cooper announces he will expand Medicaid, calls for full repeal of HB2, raising teacher pay to national average 

In a startlingly decisive step that took place on just the fourth day of his term in office, Governor Roy Cooper announced this morning that he will take immediate action to expand Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of uninsured North Carolinians under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. Cooper’s action, which has long been sought by health care advocates and important sectors in the health care industry, would make North Carolina the 33rd state (including the District of Columbia) to adopt Medicaid expansion. Click here to see the current list.

Cooper’s action seems certain to spur howls of protest from Republican lawmakers and conservative advocacy groups that have long derided Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act (aka”Obamacare”) as “socialized medicine.” Four years ago, at the outset of the administration of Cooper’s predecessor, Pat McCrory, North Carolina legislators enacted a law that purports to prevent the Governor from acting unilaterally to expand Medicaid. Cooper, however, believes that he has authority to act in his role as the state official empowered to craft and negotiate the “Medicaid waiver” plan that North Carolina is currently negotiating with federal officials. It is known that McCrory engaged in conversations with the Obama administration on such a possible move.[Read more…]

Bonus video: WATCH: Governor Cooper explain his plan for Medicaid expansion

3. Gov. Cooper names Michael Regan, former EPA, Environmental Defense Fund to lead NCDEQ

As soon as Michael Regan spoke at the governor’s mansion today, it became clear that he is the antithesis of Donald van der Vaart.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s choice to lead the state Department of Environmental Quality, Regan was softspoken, yet confident. In contrast, as DEQ secretary, van der Vaart exerted his authority through a domineering, even defensive persona. Both men do have expertise in air quality: Regan worked for 10 years at the EPA in that division. Meanwhile, van der Vaart, who aspires to work at the EPA, last week demoted himself back to a section chief in DEQ’s air quality division as a way to avoid being fired as political appointee.

But the similarities end there. Regan is a clean energy proponent, having spent eight years as the National Director of Energy Efficiency Southeast Climate & Energy Policy at the Environmental Defense Fund (where he also worked as Southeast regional director).[Read more…]

4. New Superintendent of Public Instruction highlights urgent need to transform “outdated” school system

Mark Johnson to begin his term with a listening tour

Pledging to “transform” North Carolina public schools, new Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson told members of the State Board of Education Thursday that he believes the state’s system of schooling is “outdated.”

“I will be generous and say that this system was designed for students in the 1950s,” Johnson said. “I will be generous because you could probably trace this system back to the 1920s or even earlier.”

Johnson’s comments, while lacking specifics on planned reforms, marked his first extended address to the state board since stunning longtime Democratic Superintendent June Atkinson in November’s election. And they come in the midst of a broiling legal dispute between the state board and the state legislature over the powers of his office.[Read more…]

5. Three-judge panel temporarily blocks law overhauling State Board of Elections

A three-judge panel upheld Gov. Roy Cooper’s request to block a new law that would overhaul the State Elections Board.

Cooper’s attorney, Jim Phillips of Greensboro, has not returned a phone or email message seeking to confirm the news, and a trial court administrator said she could not confirm it until an order is entered in the case. As of 11 a.m. Friday, an order had not yet been entered.

The judges heard arguments in the case Thursday morning but said they would not be making a ruling from the bench. The Associated Press reported that word about the decision came late Thursday from a court administrator writing to the lawyers in the case on behalf of the judges. [Read more…]

***Bonus reads and additional background:

****Upcoming event: Jan. 18 Crucial Conversation — What is the true state of the economy and how do we make it work for everyone?

NC Policy Watch presents our first Crucial Conversation luncheon of 2017:

What is the true state of the economy and how do we make it work for everyone? Featuring special guest, Dr. William Spriggs, Chief Economist for the national AFL-CIO. Register here.