Commentary, News

North Carolina’s environmental community will be watching closely this week to see if Governor Pat McCrory heeds their advice and vetoes the House Bill 765, which they have dubbed the Polluter Protection Act.

Dave Rogers, the state director of Environment NC, says the legislation not only  reduces air quality monitoring, it allows polluters to avoid civil penalties by “self-auditing” their violations.

Rogers discussed the drawbacks of HB765 when he sat down with Chris Fitzsimon over the weekend.

“It really is just a grab-bag of gifts to polluters across the state,” explained Rogers on NC Policy Watch’s News and Views.

Click below to hear an excerpt of that radio interview. The entire podcast is available here.

Fifteen of the state’s most respected environmental groups have urged McCrory to reject the legislation.  The governor has until October 30th to make his decision.

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WB-SNAP-10061. Cutting off food assistance to the poor? Really??
Governor McCrory will decide whether unemployed in hard hit counties should be denied $30 per week in federal food assistance

There have been a lot of cold and heartless acts committed by North Carolina political leaders in recent years that were directed against people in need. The decision to tear down the state’s middle-of-the-pack unemployment insurance system and the ongoing refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act stand out, of course. The former imposed what were likely the biggest cuts in unemployment insurance in U.S. history and the latter literally causes scores of premature deaths each month in North Carolina amongst the hundreds of thousands who remain uninsured.

But when it comes down to just the plain old spiteful and contemptuous treatment of one’s fellow human beings, it will be tough to outdo the eleventh hour legislation rammed through during the final days of the 2015 session to cut off food assistance to 100,000 or more down-on-their-luck people. [Continue reading…]

Bonus video: One of the most “spiteful and contemptuous” bills sitting on the Governor’s desk

ff-pilot10072. Beware of ideologues touting pilot programs

Pilot programs are nothing new in the state policy world and they often are a result of a compromise when sweeping new proposals run into stiff opposition. In theory they make sense.

Try something new in a limited area or limited number or for a limited amount of time and then evaluate the results. It sounds logical enough.

But not for the folks currently running the General Assembly. They seem to have a different definition of pilot programs, seeing them not as a way to try something new and then evaluate it, but as a strategy to launch ideologically based policies that they then expand before any meaningful evaluation of them is possible, sometimes even before the alleged pilot has begun. [Continue reading…]

Aye_No3. After the whirlwind: A preliminary damage report on the 2015 legislative session

The senators and representatives who make up North Carolina’s General Assembly let their 2015 session run on far longer than it should have. Let’s be glad that the curtain has come down. There’s been enough damage.

But as if our illustrious lawmakers wanted to give us the worst of both worlds, the session’s climactic phase featured a chaotic stagger toward the finish line that allowed major bills to be ramrodded through in a helter-skelter process that made a mockery of sober decision-making.

In other cases significant proposals were simply pushed aside (sometimes, it’s true, for the better). A session that began in late January ended with a 4 a.m. adjournment on Sept. 30 and legislators reeling with exhaustion. They’d had enough. [Continue reading…]

MR10064. New report: Child care often more expensive than rent, college tuition

Skyrocketing costs, lack of public investments leave thousands of families in an impossible situation

As families increasingly rely on both parents to work in order to make ends meet, child care is ever more important for promoting healthy children. Yet costs for child care services are skyrocketing, placing this important service out of reach for many families.

A new report from the Washington, DC-based Economic Policy Institute (EPI), “High Quality Child Care Is Out of Reach for Working Families,” highlights some startling new data on the high cost of child care throughout the country and identifies the difficulties that families have in meeting these costs. North Carolinians are among those who are hard hit.  [Continue reading…]

Fracking-10-08-155. More evidence of the problem with the way the legislature moves

Conventional wisdom about the General Assembly holds that nobody outside of Raleigh pays much attention to how the legislature works, what provision is snuck into what unrelated bill in the middle of the night and what secret clause is hidden in the budget to favor a well-connected special interest.

But that conventional wisdom is increasingly wrong. Just ask local officials in Stokes, Lee, Chatham and Anson Counties who found out recently that the so-called technical corrections bill passed in the waning hours of the legislative session included a provision to prevent local governments from restricting or regulating fracking in their own communities.

Stokes County Commissioners recently approved a three-year moratorium on fracking to allow local officials to make sure land use regulations were in place if fracking ever comes to the county.

Lee County Commissioners are considering a similar moratorium and commissioners in Anson and Chatham counties have also approved fracking restrictions. [Continue reading…]


Earlier this week, Wake County took the initial steps of raising the school system’s teacher pay to the national average over the next five years.

Wake’s new teacher salary schedule, which could be adopted later this month, would ensure all of the 10,000 teachers get a raise this year.

Keith Poston, head of the Public School Forum, believes the issue of teacher compensation remains a significant concern for Wake and other school districts across the state.

The recently-concluded legislative session raised the base-pay for starting teachers to $35,000 annually, but gave other teachers just a one-time $750 bonus.

Poston notes that as North Carolina raises its pay for educators, other states are doing the same:

“When you look at where we are, surrounding us, on starting teacher pay and average teacher salaries, we are below Virginia, we’re below Tennessee, we’re below Kentucky, we’re below South Carolina, we’re below Georgia,” explained Poston. “How can we expect to get the kinds of high quality teachers that we need when we can’t even keep our own teachers in North Carolina?”

A recent report released by the Department of Public Instruction found that more than 1,000 North Carolina teachers left the profession in 2014-15 to teach in other states. Another 1,200 said they were dissatisfied with teaching and would be changing careers.

Lt. Governor Dan Forest has tried to downplay media coverage of the teacher turnover rate in recent days, saying the overall figured should be pegged at 6.8%.

Poston joins us this weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon to discusses why North Carolinians  should be concerned about the turnover rate and other  highlights of the 2015 legislative session. Click below for a preview of that radio interview.

You can read the Department of Public Instruction’s full report on teacher attrition for 2014-15 here.

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The Winston-Salem Journal takes the Republican-led legislature to task in Friday’s paper for its 11th hour effort to protect oil and gas companies that have an interest in fracking.

As the WSJ’s editorial board explains:

‘In the final hours of its session last week, the legislature passed a bill that includes a provision that counters moratia passed by local governments on fracking, the Journal’s Bertrand M. Gutierrez reported Tuesday. It describes as “invalidated and unenforceable” local ordinances that place conditions on fracking that go beyond those restrictions already set by state oil-and-gas fracking
click here!

This counters a unanimous vote by Stokes County commissioners in September to halt oil-and-gas operations for three years — time the commissioners say they need to review land-use rules aimed at boosting environmental protections. And it comes in the midst of other counties considering similar actions.

Some counties in the state will probably welcome fracking and its significant economic potential within their jurisdictions. But those counties who don’t want it should have every right to reject it, just as they should have every right to decide many other issues primarily affecting them.

And measures promoting fracking shouldn’t be thrust through at the last moment.

Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-King, voted for Senate Bill 119, an omnibus bill tweaking many laws, but indicated he regrets his vote. He had gotten word from House leaders that the bill covered merely technical changes, he told the Journal. “Had I known the provision was in there, I wouldn’t have voted for it.”

Too bad those who pushed the bill didn’t afford him — and the rest of the legislature — and the citizens of the state — the opportunity to vet their brand-new idea.

Some have raised questions about the provision’s legal strength. The provision’s effect will initially be up to the state Oil and Gas Commission, which faces its own legal challenge. Rick Morris, the Stokes County manager, told the Journal “our moratorium will remain in effect as passed.”

But unfortunately, as Gutierrez indicated in a follow-up story Thursday, the provision against such moratoriums may well stand.

Mary Kerley, who helped start the grassroots group No Fracking in Stokes, said the bill’s last-minute passage was a “sneaky” act.’

Read the Journal’s full editorial here. For more on the troubling passage of Senate Bill 119, read Chris Fitzsimon’s column from earlier this week: More evidence of the problem with the way the legislature moves.


President Barack Obama heads  to Roseburg, Oregon Friday to comfort a community where nine people were fatally shot on a community college campus last week.

The latest act of gun violence has some in Congress calling for steps to close background check loopholes for guns that are purchased online and at gun shows.

Congressman David Price (NC-04) spoke in support of legislation (H.R. 1217) Thursday that would do just that:

Price“In the wake of seemingly endless mass shootings, Americans of all backgrounds and diverse political beliefs are urging elected officials to stop merely wringing our hands and to do something that actually protects our communities. One measure that has virtually unanimous support is background checks, to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, domestic abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill.

“The problem is that our current background check system is rife with loopholes. Background checks are not required at gun shows.  They are also not required when individuals purchase weapons online.

“The bipartisan King-Thompson background checks bill would close these egregious loopholes.  It is an entirely sensible reform that would have a measurable impact on the safety of our schools and neighborhoods—without preventing law-abiding citizens from using guns for self-defense or recreational purposes.

“I wholeheartedly reject the defeatist notion that we cannot do anything about our nation’s gun violence problem.

“I ask my colleagues, how much longer must we wait?  How many more people must die to get our attention? How many more American towns and cities must be added to the constantly growing list of places like Columbine, Aurora, Charleston, and Newtown?

“In the last three years, we’ve held some 20 moments of silence on the House floor to honor the victims of mass shootings in the United States. Moments of silence are not enough. Our thoughts and prayers are not enough.

“We need action, and I call on my colleagues to bring the background checks bill to the floor for a vote!”