Commentary, News

Five things to have on your radar this week

#1 Black Women’s Equal Pay Day  – Today is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day making it a good time to learn about the wage discrepancy between black women and their white counterparts. Here are a few fast facts:

  • More than 50% of Black mothers bring in 1/2 or more of their families’ income.
  • 40% of Black female-headed households are in poverty. We need #BlackWomensEqualPay
  • Black moms are up against racism, sexism, AND the maternal wage gap, making just 51¢ for every $1 paid to white dads.

Learn more about Black Women’s Equal Pay Day 2017 during this afternoon’s Twitter storm.

Follow the hashtag #BlackWomensEqualPay on Twitter from 2:00 – 3:00 pm today. ***

#2 UNC Center for Civil Rights finds a new ally  – This Tuesday a UNC Board of Governors committee discusses the future of UNC Center for Civil Rights. The Education Planning Committee has scheduled a special meeting to consider and vote on banning the center from handling future litigation.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt recently wrote a powerful letter in support of the Center.

“I am concerned that eliminating or even weakening the Law School’s ability to train the next generation of civil rights lawyers will reflect poorly on our university and the school, as well as the university system and our state.”

Photo: Phil Fonville

Read more about the Center’s history and Folt’s position here.

#3 Healthcare back in the spotlight – Also on Tuesday, activists will hold a “Healthcare Victory Rally” outside the Raleigh office of U.S. Senator Thom Tillis starting at 11:30 a.m.

The group is protesting Senator Tillis’ recent vote for the “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act and calling on him to hold a town hall meeting to discuss healthcare reform.

#4 State Board of Education holds monthly meeting – The State Board of Education meets Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. and Thursday at 9:00 a.m. It’s their final meeting before the start of a new school year. Find the agenda and streaming link here.

If you missed it last week, the board announced $2.5 million in cuts mandated by the General Assembly.

#5 Special session offers chance to do the right thing – Members of the House and Senate reconvene for a special session on Thursday. Two important funding issues await state lawmakers:

#1 – Governor Roy Cooper wants $3 million in emergency funding to help address concerns over GenX in the Cape Fear River.

# 2 – Attorney General Josh Stein wants the NC General Assembly to reconsider the $10 million cut they placed on his department in the waning days of the session. Stein detailed how much damage this would cause in a weekend radio interview with Chris Fitzsimon. Click below to hear the full interview.

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Teacher development, struggling schools on chopping block as State Board of Ed implements G.A.-mandated cuts

Members of North Carolina’s State Board of Education passed down $2.5 million in legislative cuts Tuesday, ordering layoffs and operations reductions that are most likely to impact professional development and support services for the state’s poor and low-performing districts.

State officials will need to chop another $737,000 to meet the legislature’s $3.2 million demand, board Chairman Bill Cobey said. Decisions about the location of additional cuts are likely to be made in early August.

“This is sort of like the first big step,” Cobey said. “But just like anytime you’re cutting, the next step, even though the amount is smaller, it may be that much tougher. So there’s a lot of work to still be done.” [Read more…]

2. Courtroom rundown: Democrats show political disadvantage as judges scold GOP map delay

Democratic candidates are paralyzed until Republican lawmakers redraw the State House and Senate districts that were found to have been unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered.

The GOP partisan advantage in the absence of constitutional districts is so great that it’s driven opponents into the shadows and all but halted their fundraising efforts for the 2018 election, according to testimony during a federal court hearing Thursday.

The courtroom was packed as a three-judge panel listened to arguments addressing how much time legislators should have to redraw the unlawful maps and whether there should be a special election early next year to remedy the violations. [Read more…]

*** Bonus video: Rep. Grier Martin on redrawing the legislature’s unconstitutional district maps

*** Bonus read: Attorney General Josh Stein scrambling to cover $10 million budget gap

*** Bonus video: Attorney General Josh Stein on the harmful impact of the legislature’s $10 million budget cut to his office

3. First time candidates, many progressives crowding local races

When filing for North Carolina municipal elections closed last week, one thing was obvious: this year, there won’t be many uncontested races.

“This year there are definitely more candidates than we’re used to seeing,” said Gary Simms, elections director for Wake County. “There is definitely a sense of people wanting to get involved with politics and there are many grassroots efforts to get people interested in running in local contests.”

In the Raleigh City Council race there are 24 candidates for eight seats – the most in nearly two decades. Seven of those candidates are running for just two at-large seats.

In Greensboro, there are 38 candidates running for just nine seats on the City Council – fifteen of them for just three at-large seats.[Read more…]

4. SePro CEO and North Carolina native co-founded front group for chemical industry, with ties to DuPont

Weeds. Insects. Fungus. Head lice. SePro has a chemical to kill it.

And as CEO of SePro, Bill Culpepper, through his work with Crop Life America and its affiliate Responsible Industry for Sound Environment (RISE) — both front groups for the agrichemical industry — has fought to kill tighter federal and local regulations on pesticides, herbicides and algaecides. He also founded the Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Foundation. Based in Flint, Mich., AERF funds research into chemical treatments in lakes and ponds. The group also paid the lodging, travel and food expenses for EPA officials who traveled from Washington, D.C., to Florida for an aquatic pesticide tour.

The state budget includes $1.3 million in a no-bid contract for SePro to conduct a trial of chemical treatments for algae in Jordan Lake. The EPA and NC Department of Environmental Quality, as well as independent scientists, have questioned the toxicity and cost-effectiveness of those treatments.[Read more…]

5.“Public” is not and should not be a dirty word
The destructive delusions in the Right’s opposition to public transit

The modern day conservative opposition to public transit has always been a bit of a puzzle. For much of the 20th Century, large scale public works – like mass transit systems – were the kinds of public-private partnerships that won the support of many a billionaire business leader. Walt Disney, a ferocious right-winger who battled workers and championed corporate power, still had enough common sense and foresight to build monorails and “people movers” around his amusement parks in the 1950’s and 60’s and promote them as the transportation systems for cities of the future.

People like Disney didn’t back public transit so much because they loved the environment – though they certainly weren’t opposed to order, cleanliness or combating pollution. Instead, their top priority was commerce and that meant getting people to and from their jobs, places of business, schools, public spaces and, of course, recreation and entertainment venues. [Read more…]

Courts & the Law, Legislature

Time to stop the foot-dragging and get serious about correcting NC’s legislative districts (video)

While the top news story of the day may be Sen. John McCain’s ‘No’ vote ending the GOP’s effort to repeal Obamacare, don’t miss our story over on the main Policy Watch site about Thursday’s court hearing on redrawing the state House and Senate districts, which  were unconstitutionally and racially gerrymandered.

Courts and law reporter Melissa Boughton details how the U.S. district judges hearing the case scolded legislative leaders for their lack of action in drawing new maps. Here’s a short excerpt from Boughton’s story:

[ U.S. District Judge Catherine] Eagles agreed: “You don’t seem serious, so what’s our assurance that you’re serious?”

Strach respectfully disagreed and said lawmakers had already appointed members to each redistricting committee, submitted a timeline to the court and met to discuss strategy and goals.

“Somebody who takes it seriously has a plan to do it right,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing.”

He argued that any shorter of a timeline wouldn’t allow for proper comment from lawmakers involved and the public.

Eagles wasn’t buying his argument.

“But you’ve created those problems by not doing this over the last year,” she said. “That’s the legislature’s fault.”

This weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon we sit down with state Rep. Grier Martin to discuss what should happen next with the legislative maps. Click below for a preview of our radio interview:

Look for much more discussion about correcting the gerrymandered maps when the General Assembly reconvenes next week in spacial session.

In the meantime, read Melissa Boughton’s full story here.

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. General Assembly-ordered cuts likely to hamper services for poor, rural schools

Support for needy districts and key positions within North Carolina’s top public school agency may be in jeopardy this week as the State Board of Education mulls ways to pass down millions in legislative cuts.

Officials confirmed that the State Board of Education could vote as early as Wednesday on how to dish out $3.2 million in General Assembly-ordered funding reductions for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

State Superintendent Mark Johnson, a Republican, turned over multiple options for distributing the cuts to the state board, which has provided feedback behind closed doors, Policy Watch has learned. Neither the board nor Johnson’s office would turn over specific details given the cuts broach confidential personnel matters. [Read more…]

2. From pills to heroin in Wilmington

When Gov. Roy Cooper signed the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention or STOP Act into law last month, he called it an essential tool in the fight against an opioid epidemic now gripping the state.

The law imposes limits on the prescription of opioid pain medications – no more than a five day supply of the pain medications on an initial visit. It also requires doctors electronically submit the prescriptions they write as part of a reporting system to prevent over-prescription and drug seeking behavior.

For some active addicts in Wilmington, ground zero for opioid abuse in the state, doctor shopping is a way of life. They go from doctor’s office to hospital to treatment center – some widely known as “pill mills” where it is easy to score – maintaining habits for years or decades without ever breaking the law. [Read more…]

3. Sorry Republicans, facts matter—in Raleigh and in Washington

It’s not an original thought to point out that the Trump Administration is a larger version of what has been happening in North Carolina for the last seven years, a takeover by far-right ideologues hell-bent on dismantling the fundamental institutions of the government they lead, without regard to the suffering their decisions will inflict on the people they are supposed to represent.

At least two distinct battles are now constantly raging in Raleigh in Washington. One is being led by the new regime’s political opponents both inside and outside of government who are relentlessly reminding voters of the devastating consequences of decisions to privatize public schools, repeal a health care law that has cut the number of people without insurance in half, and wage war on the environment by recklessly rolling back key regulations and abandoning efforts to address climate change.

The other battle is internal, between the new rulers and a few reasonable holdovers within their ranks from the days when the Republican Party was not dominated by vindictive extremists determined to punish their political opponents while remaking the government they detest. [Read more…]

4. GenX, Chromium 6 and 1,4-dioxane: No federal, state regulations and less guidance about how to protect drinking water

When Gov. Roy Cooper visits Wilmington on Monday, it’s unlikely that he will be greeted by the friendly faces he encountered during his campaign. Instead, the people of New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties want answers to questions about the safety of their drinking water now that the chemical GenX has been detected in it.

GenX, an “emerging contaminant,” as classified by the Environmental Protection Agency,  is entering the Cape Fear River and public water treatment plants from the Chemours plant upstream in Fayetteville.

But GenX is only one of several known emerging contaminants that have been detected in drinking water throughout the North Carolina. Chromium 6 has been found in private drinking water wells near coal ash plants; 1,4-dioxane, prevalent throughout the US,  has been found in the Haw River and other state waterways.[Read more…]

5. Trump nominates hyper-partisan conservative activist to NC federal court vacancy
Why this is not “business as usual” and should not be condoned

Sometimes all one can do is stand and marvel in slack-jawed wonder at the breathtaking brazenness, hypocrisy and double standards that Donald Trump and his allies in the modern conservative movement are willing to employ and embrace. Six months into this dark new era, it’s truly gotten to the point at which it’s hard to think of any political act under the sun that conservatives would be unwilling to engage in in order to pursue and accomplish their goal of radically overhauling the American social contract.

The ultimate manifestation of this appalling new reality is, of course, Trump’s symbiotic relationship with one of the globe’s most powerful and immoral organized crime bosses, Vladimir Putin, but there are dozens of other – if more mundane – examples.

Here in North Carolina, the steady decline in any pretense by legislative leaders of adhering to basic rules of process and open government stands out. So too does the startling willingness of self-described “Christian” conservatives to cozy up to Trump and his serial mendacity. [Read more…]

***Bonus reads from Courts & Law:

*** Upcoming Crucial Conversation luncheon on Wednesday, July 26th: Professor Nancy MacLean on her provocative new book, “Democracy in Chains”

Learn more and register today.

Environment, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. State School Superintendent muzzles communication from DPI

A directive from Superintendent Mark Johnson to temporarily halt key listserv communications from the Department of Public Instruction has some concerned the order will chill the flow of information from North Carolina’s top public school agency.

Policy Watch learned last week of Johnson’s command, which comes at a particularly busy time for central office personnel as they prep for the coming school year. This would include sorting through myriad legislative changes including 24 new reporting requirements for DPI.

In Johnson’s message, recently obtained by Policy Watch, the superintendent wrote the department would “take a break in the distribution of information to the field and to other lists for stakeholders” following last month’s retirement of the agency’s longtime communications chief. [Read more…]

2. Opioid crisis hits Wilmington area hard; lack of public resources hinders response

Wilmington is bustling this summer.

Downtown, horse-drawn carriages take tourists along the riverfront the city advertises as “America’s best” where they drink at local pubs, eat seafood, sip cold brew coffee in cafes that also sell designer shoes and limited-edition t-shirts.

But a five minute drive from thriving Princess Street – down 3rd street along the Cape Fear Historic By-Way past monuments to Confederate soldiers and meticulously restored historic homes – you turn onto Dawson Street.

Here dusty curb markets with barred windows begin to replace the hip eateries with seasonal menus, public housing projects the bed and breakfast inns. You’ll find few historical markers here – but walk a few blocks and you’ll be stepping over discarded hypodermic needles. North Carolina’s place in the national opioid crisis is nothing new here – and the news that Wilmington is the top city in the nation for opioid abuse doesn’t surprise people. [Read more…]

3. A nonpartisan confirmation of the dangerous new normal in North Carolina
State legislative leaders this week dismissed a report by their own nonpartisan legislative staff showing the latest round of tax changes will create a budget shortfall of more than a billion dollars in two years, growing to $1.4 billion two years after that.

The projections came in response to a request made by Democratic leaders in the Senate during the budget debate warning about the impact of the tax cuts, the bulk of which will go to corporations and wealthy families.

The analysis prompted headlines about a looming budget gap and revenue problems and Democratic leaders said it confirmed Governor Roy Cooper’s characterization of the Republican budget as irresponsible. [Read more…]

*** Bonus Video: NC Justice Center director Rick Glazier on education funding and  missed opportunities in the state budget  (Click to watch)

4. Judging by today’s event, protesters are starting to get to Tillis

It’s dumb mistake that almost all elected officials succumb to at one time or another, but with a relatively experienced politician like Thom Tillis, you think he’d already know better. Unfortunately, it looks like North Carolina’s junior senator will have to learn his lesson the hard way.

And that lesson?

Don’t disrespect your constituents.

Oh, there’s no doubt it’s got to be tempting — especially when the constituents in question are protesters who disagree with your actions on their behalf. But, make no mistake, today’s unfortunate action by Senator Tillis and his staff to refuse access to his Raleigh office — even to folks that merely wanted to deliver a letter on the Senate healthcare bill on behalf of the 100+ protesters outside — was a major blunder. (Note: A Facebook report from High Point indicates Tillis has called in the police to keep wild and crazy protesters away there as well.) [Read more…]

5. DEQ, DHHS at loggerheads again, still bickering over drinking water risks of hexavalent chromium

People living near Duke Energy coal plants — Roxboro, Mayo and Belew’s Creek, in particular — don’t know whom or what to believe.

In 2015, state health officials said their drinking water was unsafe because of contamination from hexavalent chromium in their wells. Months later, top state health and environmental officials, even Gov. McCrory, assured them it was safe. Then in 2016, in a series of depositions, state health department scientists said that it wasn’t.

And now, well, the health and environmental departments are at loggerheads again. [Read more…]

***Bonus feature:  Trial judges gain new, valuable resources in Judicial Fellowship program

*** Upcoming event on Wednesday July 26: Crucial Conversation Luncheon – Prof. Nancy MacLean on her provocative new book, “Democracy in Chains”

Nancy MacLean is an award-winning scholar of the twentieth-century U.S., whose new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, has been described by Publishers Weekly as “a thoroughly researched and gripping narrative… [and] a feat of American intellectual and political history.” Booklist called it “perhaps the best explanation to date of the roots of the political divide that threatens to irrevocably alter American government.”

Learn more and register today.