Commentary, News

When the Senate convenes for its last Monday before the session gavels to a close, lawmakers will take up three of the more controversial bills of the year. Here’s what’s on tonight’s agenda:

XGR-1031House Bill 539 would shift funds from traditional public school to charter schools. Sen. Chad Barefoot is advocating that the money should follow the child, giving charter schools a fairer share of state funds.

If approved, this will allow charter schools to receive funding for services and costs borne exclusively by local public schools. Critics say these changes will deprive local public school of funding at a time when they can least afford it.

House Bill 318, Protect North Carolina Workers Act, would permanently bar North Carolina’s ability to suspend SNAP’s three month time limit for childless adults who are working fewer than 20 hours per week.

SNAP benefits are limited to three months out of every three years for childless, nondisabled adults unless they are working at least half time, participating in a qualified job training program or certified volunteer placement for 20 hours a week, or in workfare. This time limit applies regardless of whether these individuals are actually able to find employment or training opportunities.

Tazra Mitchell of the NC Budget & Tax Center explains how this could adversely impact more than 100,000 North Carolinians.

Policy Watch’s Rob Schofield weighs in on HB 318 here.

Finally House Bill 765, known as the Regulatory Reform Act of 2015, is also up for concurrence.

Environmentalists say HB 765 has many flaws including a provision exempting businesses that voluntarily report environmental violations from civil penalties.

The good folks at  Clean Water for North Carolina note this bill would also:

* Significantly reduce the number of state air quality monitors
* Relax the requirements for controlling stormwater pollution and resort development on the coast
* Reduce public access to information about air pollution in their neighborhood
* Allow the destruction of intermittent streams

The full fact sheet on HB 765 complied by  CWNC can be found here.

The Senate goes into session at 10:30 a.m. this morning, then reconvenes at 7:00 p.m. for the final votes of the day.

Commentary, News

lw-9231. Bill sets up charter schools to receive funds for services they don’t provide

In a bid toward fairness, proponents of a bill that would funnel more tax and grant dollars to charter schools say that funds spent on each child’s public schooling should stay with that child— wherever she attends school.

“The money should follow the child,” said Sen. Chad Barefoot, talking about one provision of a House bill he presented to Senate Finance members on Monday afternoon that previously dealt with school playgrounds—but was gutted and jammed with language that would change the way charter schools receive money by allowing them to receive millions more in sales taxes, property taxes, grant funds and federal appropriations, and more.

But Onslow County Public Schools’ chief financial officer, Jeff Hollamon, said the funding mechanisms for charter and public schools already in place guarantees that charter schools receive their fair share of funds. The latest proposal, penned by charter school advocate Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph), would disrupt that funding relationship and would actually give charter schools an unfairly larger slice of the pie, said Hollamon.

“The state already fairly divvies up per pupil funding between charter schools and local public schools,” said Holloman. “But this proposal attempts to go beyond that, giving charter schools additional funds to which they are not entitled.” [Continue reading…]

FF-CharterSchool-Funding2.The latest undemocratic effort to dismantle public education

The formal budget fight may be over in the General Assembly but the battle over education funding and the crusade to dismantle traditional public schools continue in the session’s waning days.

Senate leaders unveiled a proposal in the Senate Finance Committee Monday afternoon that would divert more funding from the majority of local school districts across the state to charter schools, including federal support for transportation and school lunches that many charters don’t even provide.

The proposal appeared of out nowhere as a bill about school playgrounds was gutted and replaced with the controversial charter school funding provisions, a version of legislation that passed the Senate months ago but stalled in the House.

Very few people seemed to know the charter bill was coming, including public school officials and most of the committee members themselves.[Continue reading…]

denrQ-WB3. The department of environmental quality, huh?
North Carolina’s incredible, shrinking commitment to environmental protection

No, the lower case letters in the title of this column are not a misprint; they represent an attempt to convey and emphasize a radical and ongoing shift that’s taking place in North Carolina and the public agency once charged with protecting our air, land and water.

For many years, North Carolina was a state in which elected leaders maintained some semblance of a commitment to preserving parts of our natural environment for future generations. Despite the massive power of Duke Energy, the automobile and trucking industries, fossil fuel distributors, road builders, homebuilders and scores of other polluting industries (not to mention the simple and destructive math that comes with a rapidly growing population of SUV-driving, air conditioner and quarter acre lot-loving residents), North Carolina was a state in which the green and the sustainable stood at least a chance.

Sometimes over the opposition of polluters and sometimes with their cooperation, the state spent a lot of money protecting clean water, moved ahead to reduce air emissions and promote sustainable, less-polluting electricity generation and employed a series of dedicated public servants to oversee its regulatory bureaucracy who believed in its mission. Heck, not that long ago, the General Assembly even maintained a standing committee dedicated to studying and responding to climate change and a Republican mayor of Charlotte presided over the establishment of a light rail system that drove far right ideologues to distraction. [Continue reading…]

Dollar-on-Medicaid-922A4. Medicaid privatization on its way to North Carolina

North Carolina is on the verge of privatizing its Medicaid system, the $14 billion program that provides health care for 1.9 million of its most vulnerable residents — low-income elderly, children, pregnant women and disabled persons.

The major overhaul of the state Medicaid system and subsequent privatization, outlined in a 14-page House Bill 372 made public last week, came after several years of talks in the Republican-controlled legislature about how best to contain costs for what is one of the state’s biggest expenses.

But any changes are still a long way off. Years could pass until the reforms outlined in the bill to bid out Medicaid services to managed care companies become reality with a lengthy process ahead to gain federal approval.

Opponents to the plan warned Tuesday that the state’s continuing refusal to expand Medicaid and then privatizing the existing system would leave North Carolinians paying more in the long run for an inferior level of care. [Continue reading…]

Bonus video: Rep. Dollar: Medicaid privatization likely to raise costs, worsen care

sm703a5. State court allows voter ID case to proceed to trial, but only after the 2016 presidential primary

North Carolina lawmakers’ late June quick-fix to the voter ID law was not enough to head off the legal challenge to photo ID as a requirement to vote, Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan said in an order issued on Wednesday, allowing the pending state court voter ID lawsuit to proceed to trial.

Morgan’s ruling comes a month after lawmakers asked for a dismissal of the case, arguing that recent legislative changes rendered claims against them moot.

Under the law as initially passed in 2013, voters at the polls must present a photo ID before casting a ballot beginning in 2016.

Acceptable IDs include a free identification card voters can obtain at Division of Motor Vehicle offices throughout the state. To get that, residents still need to present two forms of identification, proof of residency and proof of a valid Social Security Number. [Continue reading…]


From Congressman David E. Price (NC-04):

Price“Speaker Boehner’s resignation marks the culmination of the Tea Party ascendancy that began with the 2010 elections. He rode this right-wing extremism to power, and it has now brought him down. I have now served under six Speakers of the House, and never have I seen a Speaker face such dissension and disarray within his own ranks.  His tenure will not be remembered for major legislative accomplishments; it will instead be remembered for a series of artificial and unnecessary political crises forced upon the country in order to placate the far right.

As we reflect on Pope Francis’s historic visit yesterday, for which Speaker Boehner deserves a great deal of credit, we can only hope that the next Speaker can find a way to restore order within the Republican Party and return to the many important challenges that face this nation—including the looming threat of another potentially devastating government shutdown.  But I fear that Speaker Boehner’s resignation means we can only expect more of the same extremism and dysfunction.”

From Congressman Mark Meadows (NC-11):

meadows“Speaker Boehner has served honorably during a difficult time for Republicans when the threat of a veto from the White House constantly impedes our legislative agenda. At times I differed with Speaker Boehner on policy or procedural positions, but I commend him for his honorable service, his humility, his undeniable love for his country and his desire to serve this great nation.

I look forward to an open and inclusive discussion as the House pursues new leadership. There are critically important issues the House must address in the coming months. It is of the utmost importance that our new leadership reflect the diverse makeup of the House Republican Conference and, ultimately, that the voices of the American people are heard through their elected representatives.”

From Congressman Robert Pittenger (NC-09):

Robert Pittenger“Speaker John Boehner has led House Republicans and America with dedication and distinction. He has championed our efforts for unparalleled cuts in spending, served as the strongest pro-life Speaker, and had the courage to stand for a secure America. Thanks to his leadership, Speaker Boehner helped create a historic House majority. May God bless Speaker Boehner and his family.”

From Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12):


The latest Elon University poll shows support for real estate mogul Donald Trump and retired surgeon Ben Carson virtually tied among North Carolina Republican voters.

The poll released this week shows Trump with 22 percent of the vote, Carson at 21 percent, and Carly Fiorina trailing at 10 percent in their bid to capture the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination.

Over the past several weeks, the candidates have spoken out strongly on the issue of immigration. Trump has advocated for deportation and suggested a review of birthright citizenship. Carson said this week that while anyone is welcome in America, immigrants cannot alter who we are. For her part, Fiorina has said she would not support a pathway to citizenship.

Local Latino advocates hope to tone down the negative political stereotypes aimed at immigrants this weekend as they celebrate the 22nd annual Fiesta del Pueblo.

“The political debate on immigration has taken a negative turn in recent months,” says Angeline Echeverría, Executive Director of El Pueblo.  “La Fiesta del Pueblo counteracts this rhetoric by helping Latino and non-Latino community members to come together and learn from each other in a fun way.  It also encourages community members of all backgrounds who value diversity to connect with local organizations and promote civic engagement.”

In addition to the art and cultural exhibits, more than 50 non-profit organizations and state agencies will share information and resources with festival-goers. El Pueblo will also register voters and recruit for its on-going leadership programs.

Click below to hear Echeverría talk more about the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the presidential race. The full radio interview with NC Policy Watch can be accessed here. For more on the Elon University poll, click here.

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Commentary, News

If Gov. Pat McCrory signs House Bill 373 next week, North Carolina’s primaries would move from May to mid-March next year.

Senator Andrew Brock told his colleagues Thursday the bill would increase our state’s significance in the presidential primary, forcing candidates to address North Carolina concerns.

But Senator Jeff Jackson argued the earlier primary date also would give incumbents and unfair advantage over citizens who might have an interest in running for office  but have yet to establish their campaign.

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But another section of  HB 373 drawing considerable concern is a last-minute provision that would create “party affiliated committees.” As Chris Fitzsimon explains in his Friday column:

Unlike the personal campaign accounts of the legislative leaders, the new committees can receive unlimited contributions from special interests, lobbyists, even corporations, and can receive them during legislative sessions when lawmakers themselves can’t raise money.

Legislators are banned from received money from lobbyists at any time.

Grassroots activists on the Right are upset by the change because they think it diminishes the role of political parties by giving legislative leaders the ability to control massive amounts of money on their own that they can use to punish or reward other candidates. That’s true and disturbing enough.

But as Democracy North Carolina’s Bob Hall points out, the new committees also dramatically expand pay-to-play politics in the state.

It will now be legal for Duke Energy, the video poker industry, payday lenders, or any other well-funded special interest to make a huge contribution to a committee controlled by the most powerful legislators on the eve of a vote on legislation supported or opposed by the special interest.

Read Fitzsimon’s full column on the main Policy Watch website.  Read Democracy NC’s condemnation of the bill here.