News

It’s a little quiet on Jones Street this week as members of the General Assembly are enjoying their scheduled Spring Break. So, with no substantive votes on the calendar, here are six stories worth keeping an eye on:

1. Council of State to meet –  Governor Pat McCrory and the North Carolina Council of State will hold their monthly meeting Tuesday morning. The big question is, with lawmakers out of town, will members discuss the sale of the Dorothea Dix property?

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane remains hopeful the $52 million sale will receive final approval in the coming weeks and not get side-tracked by Senate Bill 705 and its three sponsors.

2. Offshore Drilling – What’s Next? Recently, the U.S. Department of the Interior released a draft five-year plan that would make the Mid- and South Atlantic coasts available to oil and gas leasing starting in 2017.NCPW-CC-2015-04-07-oil-rig-flickr-tsuda-CC-BY-SA-2-0-150x150

If you’re worried about how this policy shift could forever change the landscape of our coastline, you won’t want to miss NC Policy Watch’s Tuesday Crucial Conversation.

Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Sierra Weaver will discuss what to expect next in the drilling and permitting process now that the initial public comment period has passed.

3. AARP/Shaw team up – With average retirement savings for the majority of Americans at worrisome lows, AARP and Shaw University Divinity School are announcing a “first-of-its-kind” effort to improve the financial security of folks of all ages.

On Tuesday, officials from Shaw and AARP will hold a 10:00 am press conference to explain how this new program can help put people on a path to financial freedom.

Judge Howard Manning

Judge Howard Manning

4. Leandro lawsuit heads back to court – Judge Howard Manning has ordered another special hearing in the Leandro lawsuit this Wednesday and Thursday in Wake County Superior Court.

The purpose of this hearing is so that the state may provide an update on its plans to “reduce, diminish or eliminate” any educational standards, any assessments currently being used, and accountability standards that measure a child’s ability to get a sound basic education. The hearing will also cover statewide EOG results for Grades 3 and 8 for reading and math for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years.

(The hearing begins at 10:00 a.m. in Courtroom 10A of the Wake County Superior Court.)

5. Romney visits the Triangle – 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will speak at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business this Wednesday.mitt

“A Conversation with Governor Mitt Romney” is free and open to the public, but tickets will be required. Tickets are available online at www.tickets.duke.edu.

Romney will deliver the Ambassador Dave and Kay Phillips Family International Lecture at 5:00 p.m. The lecture will also be livestreamed. Visit #RomneyDuke on Twitter for details.

6. Have your say on coal ash permits – Also Wednesday evening in Lincoln County, the Coal AshDepartment of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will hold a public hearing from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the James Warner Citizens Center in Lincolnton about the proposed permits for coal ash pond discharges into Lake Wylie, Mountain Island Lake, and Lake Norman.

The folks at Appalachian Voices, who have been following the state’s coal ash saga since last year’s spill along the Dan River, have an excellent rundown on what’s at stake as DENR considers authorizing these wastewater discharge permits.

News

The national debate in the name of religious freedom came to North Carolina this week with Gov. Pat McCrory saying he opposes legislation in the General Assembly similar to the law in Indiana that’s drawing widespread criticism. House Speaker Tim Moore has said he would like to see how such a measure would affect North Carolina’s brand.

Wake County Rep. Grier Martin says he is cautiously optimistic the leadership will not push forward with legislation that would allow businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

“Any indication that it might move at all is going to further damage our brand. The Governor said quite clearly that he’s not interested in signing Senate Bill 2 and perhaps this bill, but he needs to send a clear indication that not only that, but the chief executive of our state is not going to tolerate this and he’s going to use his veto power on anything that moves forward,” said Martin.

On Thursday, Senate President Phil Berger told the Raleigh News & Observer that his chamber “has made no decision as to what we intend to do.”

Rep. Martin joins us this weekend on NC Policy Watch’s News and Views to discuss the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that has drawn criticism from the NCAA, NASCAR, Wal-mart, Warren Buffet and dozens of other corporate leaders.

On Thursday, Indiana’s governor signed a fix to the RFRA that he hoped would bring an end to the controversy in his state.

To hear a preview of Rep. Martin’s radio interview with Chris Fitzsimon, click below:
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News

Senate Bill 346 – legislation that would require any child in this State to be immunized in order to attend school – is officially dead for this session.shots

Sen. Jeff Tarte (R-Mecklenburg), Sen. Tamara Barringer (R-Wake), and Sen. Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe), the primary sponsors of Senate Bill 346, issued the following joint statement Wednesday:

“After hearing serious concerns about stricter vaccine and immunization requirements from our constituents and from citizens across the state, we have decided we will not move forward with Senate Bill 346. The vaccine bill is dead.”

When the bill was first introduced last month, Tarte explained that too many parents were using the religious exemption provision to opt out of properly vaccinating their children. Medical exemptions were allowed under this legislation.

But the senators opted to kill the bill this week after hearing from a barrage of parents who viewed the vaccination bill as government intervention.

Last year, more than 1,200 students received religious exemptions to avoid being vaccinated, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Commentary

If you’ve been following the uproar and backlash over Indiana’s religious freedom law, you’ll want to read these next two articles:

First, civil rights icon Julian Bond thoughtfully explains why these ‘religious discrimination’ bills cropping up across the nation (including North Carolina) have nothing to do with religion. From Dr. Bond’s op-ed:

bondThese religious refusal proposals tell folks they can pick and choose which laws they want to follow. That individuals can sue not only businesses but teachers, firefighters, and police officers if they believe their religious rights are violated. If a police officer sues his precinct because he is required to patrol a mosque, can laws like the one in Indiana protect him? If a father sues a teacher because she disciplined his child under a community-wide antibullying policy, can legislation like that before the governor of Arkansas put that teacher in jeopardy? These bills are intentionally vague, leaving it up to an overburdened court system to decide whether an individual’s religious beliefs are more important than another person’s basic civil rights.

We oppose these bills because they seek not to preserve or protect religious believers but to demean and exclude LGBT people, religious minorities, and others who may find themselves standing on the outside looking in.

I have seen discrimination. I have stood inside businesses that would not serve me because of my race, and I have been told that the rights of those business owners were more important than mine. I countered that logic then, as I do now. We have no crisis of religious discrimination; we have a crisis of fear. I stand against these bills and with those who are fighting to stop them. I refuse to allow discrimination to cloak itself in a shroud of faith. I refuse to give into fear.

Now click over to Policy Watch’s main site and read today’s Fitzsimon File, in which Chris Fitzsimon pointedly asks in his Tuesday column: Gov. McCrory barks against discrimination–but will he bite?

fitzsimonBoth the bills currently in the General Assembly, the misnamed religious freedom act and the proposal to allow magistrates to refuse services to gay couples, are appalling attempts to give legal authority to discriminate and harken back to the Civil Rights era when segregationists fought to retain the right to discriminate against African-Americans in public accommodations.

If the proposals pass the General Assembly, McCrory will have to decide if he wants to stand with the 21st century version of the segregationists or stand up for human rights and a more enlightened state.

Simply saying he opposes the bills isn’t enough. He needs to make it clear he will veto both of them and force legislative leaders to try to override him, making them go to extraordinary lengths to allow discrimination against thousands of people in the communities they represent.

Click here to read and share Fitzsimon’s full column.

News

college-campusA bill that would granted in state tuition status to any student who has attended high school in North Carolina for at least three consecutive years immediately prior to graduation is earning the praise of Latino advocates.

Senate Bill 463, introduced by Sen. Fletcher Hartsell (R-Concord) last week, would make higher education  more affordable for undocumented students who have received a high school diploma or a general education diploma (GED) in our state.

“If you’ve worked hard in school, lived here for at least 3 years and graduated from a NC high school, you should qualify for in-state tuition to North Carolina community colleges, public colleges and universities,” said Marco Zárate, President of the NC Society of Hispanic Professionals. “This is about both rewarding students’ hard work and allowing them and all North Carolinians to contribute to the workforce and economic development of our state.”

Members of the Adelante Coalition says beyond benefiting the students the legislation will increases the state’s productivity and strengthen North Carolina’s future tax base.

“Especially with higher education growing increasingly less affordable, improving educational opportunities for all North Carolinians is a win for the students and a win for our state,” said Paul Cuadros of the Scholars Latino Initiative.

“This is not a special privilege afforded to any single group,” said Dr. Robert Landry, the first Latino-born principal and superintendent in NC and multicultural board member of BB&T. “All students must earn their spot at a public college or university. This way, we can all benefit from the investments we’ve made in students who are already here and have already been educated in the North Carolina school system.”

Sixteen states have passed legislation allowing certain undocumented graduates of high school to pay in-state rates for college, according to the Adelante Education Coalition.

SB 463 has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee. You can read more about the bill here.