Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Web of local money, political connections behind legislature’s decision to bypass DEQ in GenX clean-up

The fire is elusive, but the smoke is thick.

An analysis of professional and political relationships among major players in the GenX crisis shows the connections that led to a controversial state appropriation made by state lawmakers during the most recent special legislative session in House Bill 56, and a contract between the Cape Fear utility and a public relations firm.

It’s not unusual for state lawmakers to have deep political connections to major donors and operatives in their districts. But these connections could wind up diverting badly needed money away from an underfunded state agency to a public utility beset by scandal.

House Bill 56 has several contentious provisions, among them, the puzzling last-minute gift of $185,000 from conservative lawmakers to the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA). The utility knew about the GenX contamination at its Sweeney drinking water plant in May 2016, according to a timeline it provided, but did not alert state environmental authorities. [Read more….]

Bonus reads:

2. More with less: With $3 million in the balance, initial AG cuts take effect

Changes from a $7 million budget cut to the North Carolina Department of Justice went into effect September 1 and as expected, people are making do with less.

“The work is still getting done,” said Laura Brewer, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, adding that employees are committed to doing the work and serving the public.

The General Assembly cut $10 million from the DOJ budget, which is operated by Attorney General Josh Stein. The cut wasn’t in either the initial Senate or House budget but was added at the last minute before a final vote was taken on the FY2018-19 budget.

It was unexpected and has been viewed by many as a partisan move because Stein is a Democrat. Stein has repeatedly refused to speculate about the political nature of the massive budget cut and has instead expressed grave concern for the safety of North Carolinians if he is forced to keep cutting. [Read more….]

3. North Carolina conservatives must disavow allies’ bigoted hate speech
Website with ties to Civitas Institute promotes anti-Semitic attack on Attorney General Stein

There are a lot of deeply troubling and even shocking aspects to the ongoing rise in “white nationalism” and religious bigotry that plagues the American political landscape these days. First and foremost, of course, is the active participation of the president of the United States in the process. That the highest office in our land is being used in such a perverted way to aid and abet such a noxious cause remains a stunning and unacceptable reality that should sicken all people of good will on a daily basis.

Almost as disturbing as the behavior of Trump and the coterie of bigots with whom he associates at the national level, however, is the real world experience of confronting such behavior close to home. Increasingly, acts, viewpoints and arguments that most of us thought had been relegated to the dustbin of history are now rearing their ugly heads in public places – even places connected to and promoted by “responsible conservatives.”

On Monday of this week, just such a disturbing occurrence took place in North Carolina on a website supported and funded by one of the state’s most visible conservative groups.[Read more….]

4. Charter takeovers met with skepticism as director begins pitching model

Eric Hall, in the midst of a rainy drive to rural Robeson County to pitch North Carolina’s ambitious but controversial plan for a charter takeover of several low-performing schools, wants to set one thing straight.

“It’s not a takeover,” he says of the so-called Innovative School District (ISD) that he leads. “It’s about making conditions better locally.”

Hall seems well aware of the skepticism surrounding the model, once dubbed the “Achievement School District” but given a new name this year after rocky beginnings for similar efforts in states like Tennessee and Louisiana grabbed headlines.

Last week, Hall’s office released a list of 48 low-performing schools spread across 21 districts, the lion’s share situated in high-poverty locales. Each of them will be eligible for the first year of Hall’s district, which will launch with two schools in 2018-2019 and another three in 2019-2020.

Now he begins a slew of community meetings with local district leaders in places like Robeson County, home to five of the schools that made the state’s list. All reported performance grades in the bottom 5 percent statewide, and none met or exceeded academic growth goals in the last three years. [Read more…]

5. Author of new book on tragic 1991 Hamlet chicken plant fire: Little of substance has changed

Twenty six years ago, one of the worst industrial accidents in U.S. history rocked the tiny town of Hamlet, North Carolina.

Twenty five workers died and 55 were injured when a grease fire broke out at the Imperial Food Products plant, which made cheap chicken tenders for chain restaurants like Long John Silvers. The victims, mostly black and female, struggled to get out of the building but found the doors locked from the outside. The plant’s owner, Emmett J. Roe, kept the doors padlocked and the windows boarded because he thought his low-wage workers might steal chicken.

Some struggled desperately to kick the doors open, leaving indentations in the steel before being burned to death or succumbing to smoke inhalation. Others tried to huddle in a large walk-in freezer to avoid the blaze, where they nearly froze before suffocating.

In the aftermath of the fire, state and federal investigators found the building had no fire alarms, no sprinklers — nothing that could be considered a fire exit. It had never undergone a safety inspection. [Read more….]

***Upcoming event on Tuesday, September 26th: NC Policy Watch presents a special Crucial Conversation luncheon: Prof. Bryant Simon discusses his new book, “The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government and Cheap Lives”

Commentary, News

Lunch & Listen: On the future of DACA and the need for an immigration policy based on human rights not exclusion (video)

The Trump administration recently announced it was ending the DACA protections provided by the Obama administration for young, undocumented immigrants brought here by their parents.

President Trump wants Congress to come-up with a new version of the program or let it expire. The New York Times reports the first attempt to protect these immigrants from deportation has already stumbled in Congress.

This weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon we talk about the administration’s decision and what it means for the Dreamers and their families with Angeline Echeverría, Executive Director of El Pueblo.

Click below for a preview of this weekend’s radio interview. The full interview with Echeverría will appear on Policy Watch’s main site on Monday.

News

Lunch & Listen: The state of working North Carolina (audio)

We kick off this week’s lunchtime podcast series with an interview with Brian Kennedy, Public Policy Fellow with the NC Budget & Tax Center. Brian discusses the center’s new report “Work, Interrupted: How the Recession and a Changed Labor Market Will Affect Millennials in North Carolina for Years to Come.”

Among the major themes of the report:

  • The Millennial generation is now the majority of the labor force in North Carolina.
  • Millennials have entered the labor market at a time of technological change and disruption.
  • Changes in many of the institutions and policies that affect the quality of jobs and the access to increasing skills mean the labor market looks very different for this generation.
  • The Millennial generation also includes more people of color than any generation before, which means that longstanding barriers and historical disinvestment in communities of color, for example, tend to magnify the negative consequences of recessions and policy retreats for people in these communities, while minimizing the benefits of better times and better policies.

Click below to hear Chris Fitzsimon’s radio interview with Kennedy:


Commentary, News

Five things to have on your radar this week

#1 – Today is September 11th – a National Day of Service and Remembrance – a chance to pay tribute to the 9/11 victims, survivors, and first responders in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

If you are looking for a place to make a difference in the wake of Hurricane Irma, here’s an excellent list of suggestions.

#2 – On Tuesday, the House Select Committee on Judicial Redistricting meets at 1:00 p.m. in Room 544 of the Legislative Office Building.

The judicial maps are expected to pass the House before the end of the year, but it’s unclear if the Senate will be on board. The meeting is open to the public and the audio will be live-streamed here.

Policy Watch’s Melissa Boughton will provide coverage.

#3 – The Environmental Management Commission (EMC) has scheduled committee meetings on Wednesday with the full EMC meeting on Thursday. Of particular note, Wednesday afternoon there will be a special presentation on emerging chemicals with members discussing Chemours and recent contamination of the Cape Fear River. The meetings will be held in the Archdale Building, 512 N. Salisbury Street, Raleigh.

Lisa Sorg, Policy Watch’s environmental reporter, will be there and live-tweeting Wednesday’s meeting.

#4 -On Wednesday, the NC Justice Center’s Education & Law Project, in partnership with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Advocates for Children’s Services will be hosting Back-to-School Legal Clinics from the Justice Center’s downtown Raleigh office.

All are welcome and encouraged to bring questions and concerns surrounding school discipline, enrollment procedures and considerations for students needing Special Education services.
Dates:

Please call the Legal Aid Helpline at 866-219-5262 with any questions about the clinic.

#5 – And we wrap-up the week with an appearance by Joe and Jill Biden at the Guilford College Bryan Series.

Before spending the last eight years in the White House, Biden was a U.S. Senator for 36 years, while his wife focused her life’s work on issues of importance to women and military families. Through their recently established foundation, the Bidens have set wide-ranging goals including promoting equal rights and funding cancer research.

Uncategorized

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch:

School buses1. State releases list of 48 schools eligible for controversial charter takeover

Forty-eight schools spread across 21 districts make up those elementary schools eligible for inclusion in the first year of North Carolina’s controversial charter takeover model, according to a list released Thursday by state officials.

The program, dubbed the Innovative School District (formerly the Achievement School District), would launch with two schools in the 2018-2019 school year.

It would potentially allow for-profit, charter management organizations to assume control of low-performing schools, part of a series of controversial reforms backed by Republicans leadership in the N.C. General Assembly and school choice advocates.

The list released Thursday does not guarantee any school will be selected for the district, district Superintendent Eric Hall said, only that it may be considered further going forward. Districts were spread across the state, although districts such as Durham, Forsyth and Robeson included a number of eligible schools.[Read more…]

2. Giant pork producer asks federal court to reinterpret new and controversial NC law, nullify existing nuisance lawsuits

For Murphy-Brown, a major victory in House Bill 467 was not enough.

The world’s largest pork producer has petitioned a federal court to interpret a key part of the controversial law that could nullify 26 lawsuits brought by 541 plaintiffs against the company. While courts are often called upon to interpret laws, in this case, Murphy-Brown is asking a judge to essentially read lawmakers’ minds and divine their intent when they wrote and passed the law.

An amendment to the state’s Right to Farm Act, the controversial legislation capped the amount of money plaintiffs could recover when winning a nuisance lawsuit against industrialized hog farms. Plaintiffs could receive money equivalent to the decrease in the fair-market value of their property — already diminished because of its proximity to stench and flies — but not for odor, mental duress or the general decline in their quality of life.

Gov. Roy Cooper had vetoed the bill, but on May 11, state lawmakers overrode it. [Read more…]

3. Testing debate is front and center again as state officials wrestle with new federal education law

A draft plan for meeting the nation’s new federal education law has some on North Carolina’s top school board expressing frustration this week, particularly when it comes to measuring schools’ performance.

“To grow the elephant, you don’t weigh it, you feed it,” Lisa Godwin, teacher advisor to the State Board of Education, complained Wednesday. “I do feel like we’re weighing the elephant.”

Godwin was one of several who blasted the state’s continued emphasis on standardized testing Wednesday, one day before members of the State Board of Education were expected to take an up or down vote on a substantive plan for K-12 schooling required under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the nation’s overarching public education law.

North Carolina leaders hope to turn over their ESSA proposal to federal education officials in the U.S. Department of Education by September 18, after which the administration will have up to 120 days to approve or deny. [Read more…]

4. The middle class is not an accident (or inevitable)
Labor Day report offers a powerful reminder for NC workers – especially Millenials

A few years back, there was a witty and briefly popular bumper sticker that conveyed several important and frequently neglected and forgotten truths about the lot of working Americans. It read: “The Labor Movement: The Folks Who Brought You the Weekend.”

Though it seems hard to imagine for many of us today, the pithy and plucky message on those stickers was, in a very literal sense, true. At the turn of the 20th Century, life in America – especially for working people – was wildly different than it is for most of us today. Millions of Americans worked six or seven days a week and 12 or 14 hours per day or more for what amounted to little better than starvation wages. Many of the workers were pre-adolescent children. Many – adults and children – worked in horrifically dangerous conditions and utterly without any kind of insurance or safety net. Meanwhile, a small but hugely powerful class of super rich robber barons enjoyed unprecedented wealth and comfort. [Read more…]

5. Groundwater contaminated near Chemours plant; DEQ issues Notice of Violation

Thirteen of 14 monitoring wells near Chemours’s Fayetteville plant exceeded state groundwater standards for GenX and other perfluorinated compounds, prompting state environmental officials to issue a Notice of Violation to the company.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality announced the results today. The groundwater monitoring wells are not a source of drinking water.

DEQ and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services also alerted health officials in Bladen and Cumberland counties to the preliminary test results. The state said it will perform initial testing for people who live near Chemours while requiring the company to produce a comprehensive testing and compliance plan.

The immediate area around the plant, which lies south of Fayetteville, is woods and a solar farm, but there are homes within a mile and Camp Dixie, a summer retreat for kids is within two miles. [Read more…]

***Bonus reads from the week’s news: