Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on Policy Watch

1. Results from federally mandated tests: Toxics abundant in groundwater near Duke coal ash ponds

Arsenic. Boron. Selenium. Radium. These toxic contaminants, and many others, are profuse in the groundwater near Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds, proving what environmental advocates, neighbors and scientists have long been asserting: The ponds are leaking. The flow of groundwater cannot be controlled. These contaminants are inevitably entering private wells, potentially posing health risks to those drinking the water. And without a statewide, routine monitoring network of private drinking water wells, it is impossible to know the full extent and nature of the contamination.

Policy Watch analyzed the most recent groundwater results released by Duke Energy in its first annual report as required by federal coal ash rules. In more than 5,500 pages, the data for four plants showed that levels of chemical contamination routinely exceeded state and federal groundwater and drinking water standards in monitoring wells near the plants. The data was collected in 2016 and 2017 and analyzed by independent contractors hired by Duke Energy. [Read more…]

2. The Trump three-ring circus directly threatens NC
Administration lays the groundwork for offshore oil and gas drilling with faux “public hearing”

There are so many reasons not to introduce offshore oil and gas drilling along the fragile North Carolina coast that it ought not to be even a close call. Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming weight of the evidence and the widespread opposition of the rank and file North Carolinians most likely to be directly impacted by such a scheme, the bizarre three-ring circus that is the administration of President Donald Trump is plowing ahead and laying the groundwork for what could, quite likely, be an economic and environmental disaster of epic proportions.

As Policy Watch Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg explained last week, the most recent development in this sordid saga was the so-called “public hearing” that Trump administration officials in the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held last week in Raleigh. The particulars of the event provided a classic example of the Trump administration at its plutocratic worst. [Read more…]

3. Owners of bail bond outfits admit industry abuses and shortcomings, call for reforms

Jimmy Roberson has read a lot about the bail bond industry in North Carolina lately – from violence and fraud to wide-ranging criminal investigations and million dollar lawsuits.

A bail bondsman in the state for nearly 30 years, Roberson hates that his profession has developed such a bad reputation, but he acknowledges that much of it is deserved.

“I came into doing this in 1988,” Roberson said in an interview this week. “Since then we’ve just got too many people in the business that shouldn’t be there – these big insurance companies have come in and they’ve brought in all these agents who don’t have their own money on the line and will just do anything.” [Read more…] Read more


Legislative Democratic Women’s Caucus demands change following allegations of sexual harassment

The Joint Legislative Democratic Women’s Caucus outlined a three-point plan Wednesday to address harassment, misconduct and discrimination in the North Carolina General Assembly. Members want legislative leaders to institute:

  • Immediate mandatory ethics training for General Assembly members and staff focused on sexual harassment, abuse, misconduct, gender bias and other forms of discrimination;
  • Adoption of an “effective zero-tolerance policy” for sexual harassment, misconduct and discrimination;
  • Formation of a system to report incidents of improper or unethical conduct to an independent, neutral third party.

Signed by co-chairs Senator Erica Smith and Rep. Carla Cunningham, the statement went on to read: “Request for sex/sexual favors as conditions of employment, gender biased appointments and assignments, inappropriate gestures, physical contact or innuendos, discriminatory comments, jokes and the use of racial epithets are serious breaches of professional ethics and workplace standards.”

These acts should never be tolerated and always confronted. Click To Tweet

The strongly-worded action comes on the heels of allegations of misconduct by Rep. Duane Hall. The three-term Wake County Democrat has denied any wrongdoing.

Read the full text of the caucus’ statement below:


Immigrant youth demand a clean DREAM Act, stage “die-in” outside Tillis’ Senate office

Dozens of immigrant youth and activists gathered outside of U.S.Senator Thom Tillis’ office Tuesday in solidarity with DACA/TPS recipients and undocumented residents demanding a Clean DREAM Act.

Members of El Pueblo’s Youth Council staged a “die-in” outside of the Senator’s office during their event to represent refugee children who have been sent back to their countries of origin and have subsequently been killed through crimes or gang violence.

“Last week’s Supreme Court decision was a positive step,” explained Jorge “Tito” Ramos. “[But] it is not the permanent solution that we are seeking. I refuse to be used as a bargaining chip at the expense of my friends and family members. What we want is a Clean DREAM Act.”

Congress has failed to find a workable alternative to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program since President Trump announced his decision to rescind the Obama-era initiative last September.

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Top Democrats call on Rep. Duane Hall to resign amid sexual misconduct allegations

The first time Rep. Duane Hall made Jessie White feel uncomfortable was in early 2016.

That’s when she says Hall, a nascent star in the North Carolina Democratic Party and a state representative, ran into her at the Anchor Bar in Raleigh.

Hall, 51, was looking for a new legislative aide for his office. White, a top campaign official with multiple Democratic candidates for the state legislature, said she spoke with the lawmaker about the vacancy.

“That’s when he said he wouldn’t hire me unless I gained 100 pounds,” she said. “Because I was too pretty.”

A charismatic politician with a lengthy list of connections among top North Carolina Democrats, Hall has risen since his 2013 election to wield significant influence as a member of the minority party in the Republican-dominated General Assembly.

But, behind the scenes, Hall has a reputation for more than his political prowess. Including White, five sources—some of whom requested not to be named for fear of repercussions in their current jobs—detailed persistent sexual innuendo from the three-term legislator and, in some cases, repeated, unwanted sexual overtures. Policy Watch knows the identity of the alleged victims, but has not published their names without their consent. [Read more…]

***Read more:

2. Hundreds pack hearing to keep North Carolina off-limits to offshore drilling

Of the hundreds of people who crammed into a public hearing Tuesday on offshore drilling, only a few veered into a small, quiet suite, where they would be served a buffet dinner and waited on by their personal bartender. The American Petroleum Institute, under the guise “Keep Exploring North Carolina,” held a low-key reception for about 20 drilling supporters, most of them decked out in suits or cocktail attire.

The shindig was hosted by API and Thom Goolsby, a former lawmaker from New Hanover County and a long time advocate for — and beneficiary of — the energy industry. However, Goolsby had no interest in speaking publicly about the cause that he champions.

He escorted Policy Watch from the room, saying, “This is a private event.”

Asked if he’d like to talk about offshore drilling, Goolsby replied, “Not really.” [Read more…]

3. North Carolina’s bail industry draws severe criticism from criminal justice experts

Brennan Aberle sees a lot of tough stuff over the course of his workday.

Working on behalf of indigent clients for the Guilford County Public Defender’s office, the 31-year old attorney averages around 200 clients at any given time, most facing mid-level felonies. Working with people facing jail time and too poor to pay for their own defense, there are a lot of casual tragedies to be observed.

“One of the most heartbreaking things I deal with, though, is when I have to go to a client and say, ‘I think you have a case, but realistically it could take months before the case is heard,’” Aberle said in an interview this week. “Because I know a lot of them will plead guilty just because they can’t afford to stay in jail that long – and they can’t afford bail.” [Read more…] Read more


Calls mount on social media for Rep. Duane Hall to resign following allegations of sexual harassment

State Rep. Duane Hall is under increasing pressure from members of his own party to step down in the aftermath of an NC Policy Watch story  that detailed five sources who described “persistent sexual innuendo from the three-term legislator and, in some cases, repeated, unwanted sexual overtures.”

Hall has denied the allegations.

Here’s what some of his colleagues and other political observers are saying in response on Twitter and Facebook:

Read more