News

The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that states can no longer block same-sex couples from getting married, but the ruling does not prevent some North Carolina magistrates from refusing to perform marriages under Senate Bill 2.

SB2, that became law last month after legislators overrode Gov. McCrory’s veto, allows for magistrates to opt out of performing all marriages for a period of six months, if they have a sincerely held religious objection.

The News & Observer reports that 14 of the state’s 672 magistrates have recused themselves from performing this duty:

That represents about 2 percent of the state’s magistrates. AOC spokeswoman Sharon Gladwell declined to identify the counties where the recused magistrates work. She said the recusals are a confidential personnel matter, and that providing the county-specific information would allow for identification of recused magistrates.

In register of deeds offices, five of 100 counties across the state have had employees opt out of issuing and processing marriage licenses, according to the N.C. Association of Registers of Deeds.

Sarah Preston lobbied against the bill as director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. She said the recusals represent “a pretty small number.”

“I think that indicates that this was really a non-issue,” Preston said Tuesday. “The legislature made this a bigger deal than it needs to be.”

What’s next in the battle for marriage equality? Listen to Chris Fitzsimon’s recent radio interview with the ACLU-NC Legal Director Chris Brook.

You can hear the full interview here, or click below to hear Brook discuss the
Obergefell decision and “lived equality.”

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Commentary, News

The Greensboro City Council holds a special meeting this evening to discuss whether to legally challenge House Bill 263. The controversial bill that dramatically changes the council’s district boundaries was pushed through the House last week after a major rewrite and little notice to the public. Critics of the bill said at the very least the redistricting plan should have been put to a vote of the people.

Legislators who initially opposed the bill, only to switch their vote after some closed-door negotiating won the ire of Greensboro News & Record columnist Susan Ladd.

Ladd writes in Wednesday’s paper that citizens should resist, rally, and vote against those who supported a bill motivated by the personal ‘revenge” of Senator Trudy Wade.

gboroWade’s redistricting bill, which overwhelmingly was opposed by Greensboro voters and a bipartisan majority in the N.C. House, nonetheless became law last week after an all-out assault on democracy that included arm-twisting, dirty dealing and a stunning betrayal.

The bill, which started as Senate Bill 36, radically restructured the city council with no public input or prompting. It eliminated at-large representation, took away the mayor’s vote, redrew districts to separate neighborhoods and put sitting representatives in the same district.

With SB 36 blocked in the House by the Elections Committee, Wade dumped the provisions of her original bill into HB 263, a redistricting bill for the city of Trinity that had passed the House. An initial vote by the House to concur on the expanded bill was rejected soundly, 73-35, which sent it to a joint House-Senate committee stacked with Wade’s supporters.

What emerged two days later was even worse. It divided the city into eight districts that would ensure that three of the six sitting council members — including two of the four black representatives — will lose their seats because they will be facing each other in the same district.

This is particularly rich in irony when you recall that Wade claimed her original bill would increase minority representation.

Now in the same district are Democrats Yvonne Johnson and Jamal Fox, Sharon Hightower and Justin Outling, and Mike Barber and Nancy Hoffmann. Democrat Marikay Abuzuaiter is now in a heavily Republican district.

The only council member left untouched is Tony Wilkins, the council’s only Republican, who said he couldn’t support the bill without a voters referendum, then went to Raleigh to speak in favor of it.

The reconstructed HB 263 passed Thursday largely because Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Greensboro) turned his back on his constituents. After saying flatly for months that he wouldn’t support the bill without a referendum, he reversed his position to support the bill, taking many other votes with him.

When this bill failed, 53-50, the Republican leadership called a recess to strong-arm more votes, providing a large enough margin of supporters that Hardister could vote against the bill when it was meaningless to do so.

Let’s be clear about this: Hardister said he wouldn’t support the bill without a voter referendum, and he broke his word. He supported HB 263 when it mattered the most and only switched his vote when it wouldn’t change the outcome.

Hardister said he switched his vote the final time because he felt the process was moving too fast. The time to do that would have been the first vote of the day, because the rest of the House had been given less than 24 hours to review the new eight district map and other provisions of the bill.

Hardister caved when it counted, either to increase his power with fellow Republicans or because he didn’t have the courage to stand against them.

Either way, he’s done.

Hardister has shown what he’s made of, and it isn’t what we need in a state representative. Given more time in office, he will become just another Rep. John Faircloth (R-High Point), the go-with-the-party Republican who supported Wade’s bill from the outset, even though his position directly contradicted his earlier actions on a bill about High Point.
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News

If you’re caring for an older parent or have ever been in the position of finding a trusted caregiver for a family member, you won’t want to miss NC Policy Watch’s upcoming Crucial Conversation.

On Monday, July 20th, state Rep. Yvonne Holley and Allan Freyer, director of the Workers’ Rights Project of the North Carolina Justice Center will discuss the challenges North Carolina faces as the number of potential family caregivers continues to decline.

As Rob Schofield explains:

…recruiting and retaining skilled people to do this work is increasingly difficult. Though it includes some of the state’s fastest growing occupations, direct-care work offers some of the lowest wages in the state. As a result, too many home-care workers don’t make enough to afford the basics like groceries, rent and transportation — leading to increased turnover of caregivers and disrupted care for seniors.

So what can be done? Are there public policy changes able to address these problems? And how can grassroots activists get involved?

To learn more about the July 20th Crucial Conversation – Caring for Caregivers: The importance of quality wages for ensuring quality care  – click here.

Source: http://www.ncjustice.org/sites/default/files/CAREGIVERS AT RISK_1.pdf

Source: http://www.ncjustice.org/sites/default/files/CAREGIVERS AT RISK_1.pdf

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Legislators hoping to enjoy a few days of R&R this week may find a less than warm homecoming from local educators in their districts. The Wilmington Star News writes in a Tuesday editorial:

Education cutsTeachers, it seems as if some North Carolina legislators really want you to move to another state.

The state Senate’s budget plan would eliminate retiree health-care benefits for teachers (and any other state employees) hired after Jan. 1. 2016.

It’s not hard to see why: Health-care benefits for old people can be expensive.

On the other hand, teachers — especially North Carolina teachers — endure years of pay far lower than they could get in the private sector. Part of the trade-off is that they can expect generous — well, comfortable, well, adequate — pensions and benefits to tide them through their golden years.

Not any more, if the Senate has its way. A lot of the incentive for sticking with the public school system would be knocked away.

Officials in the state employees’ association complain that the state has been adding surcharges and other fees to its health plan for years. The increase, more than $1,300 per year for a typical state employee, active or retired — more than wipes out any pay increase that teachers and others have received in many years.

Teachers aren’t eligible for full health benefits as retirees until they’ve served for 20 years.

This comes on top of a Senate proposal to eliminate 8,500 teachers’ assistant positions across the state. The cuts supposedly would pay for around 2,000 new teacher positions to reduce class size.

In fact, eliminating those positions — more than one-third of the teachers’ assistants in the state — would cause problems in the classroom.
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Commentary, News

lw-driversNorth Carolina legislators won’t resume budget talks for another week, but it’s clear locals officials are worried about public safety if the final spending package fails to fund driver’s education programs at our schools.

The Asheville Citizen Times reports local school leaders acknowledge the need for the program, but can no longer absorb the costs to run the program locally:

“We’re very nervous that we will be given another unfunded mandate” in the form of a requirement that schools provide driver’s ed but no provision in the state budget to pay for them,” said Bill Nolte, associate superintendent for Haywood County Schools.

Legislators “are going to say, ‘take it from other funds,’ but we don’t have other funds,” Nolte said. “We’ve lost over $5 million (in state funding) since January of 2009. We’ve lost over 130 employees.”

The impasse has several sources: efforts by both legislative chambers to end use of gas tax proceeds and other highway-related revenue sources for any programs not part of the state Department of Transportation; skepticism in the Senate over how much students learn in the classes; and a push in that chamber to cut personal and corporate income tax rates, steps that would limit how much money is available to fund programs like driver’s ed.

The idea to eliminate state funding for driver’s ed at the high school level is also a troubling proposition for the editorial board of the Rocky Mount Telegram that explains:

The plan to end driver’s ed will negatively impact low-income teenagers – especially those who live in the inner city whose families may rely solely on public transportation. Wherever they live, low-income families currently scraping together the $65 for publicly-subsidized dirver’s ed are unlikely to be able to afford $300 or $400 to send their teens to community college driver’s ed classes.

Students learn important lessons about defensive driving in driver’s ed that help prevent accidents and save lives.

By eliminating driver’s ed, lawmakers will be putting everyone on the state’s roadways at higher risk.

Read the full editorial the Telegram here. And you can read the full article in the Citizen-Times here.