The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Educators weigh-in on how Trump’s pro-charter, pro-voucher Education Secretary could influence North Carolina’s schools

There’s a moment, partway through school choice champion Betsy DeVos’ oft-strange confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate, in which President Trump’s nominee for the top education post in the country suggests a federal civil rights law protecting students with disabilities is a matter best left to the states.

Questioned minutes later, DeVos confesses she may have “confused” the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), leading Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan to worry aloud that the presumed chief of the United States’ massive public education structure is “unfamiliar” with one of its most basic protections.

It’s scenes like these that seem to be most vexing to public education advocates like June Atkinson, North Carolina’s former superintendent of public instruction, as DeVos’ confirmation looms. Atkinson was recently ousted from her longtime post by a Republican challenger who, much like DeVos, comes to the top position with relatively little experience in public school policymaking.

“It was painful to watch,” says Atkinson of this month’s DeVos hearings. [Read more…]

2. Building on Saturday’s historic marches
What they mean and what they don’t for the fight against Trumpism

The global resistance to the dark and troubling new world order promised by President Donald Trump got off to a fabulous start this past Saturday. All across the planet, caring and thinking women and men took to the streets by the millions to register their opposition and to commence the process of pushing back.

Standing amidst 20,000 or so inspired souls in Raleigh’s damp and drizzly Moore Square, I was struck and moved by the passion, compassion, intelligence and remarkable creativity of the protesters. With a sound system that was clearly designed for a much smaller gathering – like just about every march on Saturday, the Raleigh event drew far more people than had been expected – it was difficult to hear everything that was emanating from the podium, where an inspiring roster of speakers attempted to address the crowd. Happily, though, the amazing array of inventive signs was enough to keep a body fully occupied and inspired. Some were outrageous and provocative, while some others were profoundly moving. One of the best simply said: “Donald Trump will lie about this.” [Read more…]

***Bonus read: North Carolina senator tells women marchers ‘if brains were lard, you couldn’t grease a small skillet’

***Bonus video: Sarah Preston of Lillian’s List on the Women’s March and the need for more women running for public office   (Our full interview with Preston airs this weekend on Policy Watch’s News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon)

3. EPA to NC DEQ: “Grave concerns” about swine industry’s intimidation of minority residents

Last October, about 20 people from North Carolina’s hog country — working-class, African-American, ordinary people — drove 300 miles to Washington, D.C., to tell their story. At two meetings, one with the EPA and another with several members of Congress and staff, these ordinary people described their very unordinary lives near industrialized hog farms.

About the stench and the flies that make it impossible to go outside on a beautiful summer evening. Their breathing problems and depressed property values. About the liquid hog manure that drifts from the spray fields and settles in their yards and on their porches.

They also told federal officials about the intimidation, the threat of physical violence they felt from some hog farmers — a consequence of the residents’ outspokenness. That the NC Department of Environmental Quality has done little, if anything to help these communities, and that at times, it had even worked at cross purposes to them.

“They couldn’t imagine what it was like,” said Devon Hall of the federal officials. Hall is executive director of REACH, (Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help) in Warsaw, in Duplin County. “You can’t, unless you live here.” [Read more…]

4. Federal judge to decide fate of Medicaid expansion litigation without court hearing

A federal judge said Thursday that she has all the documents she needs to decide a Medicaid expansion dispute between top GOP lawmakers and the state, and there will no longer be a court hearing Friday in New Bern.

U.S. District Court Judge Louise Wood Flanagan will either decide to halt litigation for 60 days so that President Donald Trump’s administration can evaluate the issues or she will decide whether or not the state can proceed with plans to expand Medicaid. She could also decide to dismiss the case.

House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger filed a lawsuit earlier this month against the state and federal Department of Health and Human Services to stop Gov. Roy Cooper from expanding Medicaid.  [Read more…]

5. Democratic lawmakers talk agenda for new NCGA session

Democratic members of the N.C. House and Senate gathered Wednesday afternoon for a press conference on the new session of the General Assembly, their priorities and working with new Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake) and House Minority Leader Dan Jackson (D-Wake) led the wide-ranging discussion, which focused on unmet funding needs in public education, the continuation of disaster relief efforts begun during last month’s special legislative session, the possibility of expanding Medicaid in the state and the repeal of HB2.

Still the largest controversy facing the General Assembly, various aspects of HB2 took up much of the discussion.

Both Democratic leaders said they believe the votes exist in the House and Senate for a full and unequivocal repea of HB2l – but the GOP leadership doesn’t want to let that vote occur. [Read more…]

***Bonus read: Five questions with Rep. Cecil Brockman (D-Guilford)

***Bonus video: Sen. McKissick: Restore trust, image by passing statewide non-discrimination ordinance

News, Trump Administration

Enrollment in Obamacare continues, even as Trump administration “sabotages” final sign-up efforts

Kevin Counihan, former CEO of

It’s no secret that the President Donald Trump intends to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But his administration took steps this week to accelerate its demise by halting all media ads marketing the program.

The timing is especially unfortunate as open enrollment in the health care exchange for this year will close out next week on January 31st.

While Congress is working to fully repeal and replace the ACA, contracts and subsidies that lower the premium costs are still in place this year, according to Kevin Counihan, the former CEO of

What’s more, Counihan tells CNBC enrollment was running ahead of schedule prior to January 20th.

“But the Trump Administration’s outrageous decision to sabotage open enrollment will mean coverage could cost more next year and insurers could drop out of the marketplace,” Counihan said.

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, also criticized efforts to undermine enrollment. Pollack telling The Washington Post:

“The Trump administration’s mean-spirited decision to pull the already-paid-for enrollment ads belies the president’s promise that he wants to cover ‘everybody’ with health insurance.”

Counihan, who appeared last week on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views, says North Carolinians still have until Tuesday to sign up for 2017 coverage and receive financial assistance.

Click below to hear Chris Fitzsimon’s radio interview with Counihan, the former CEO of

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, of the 11.5 million ACA marketplace enrollees nationally, 6.3 million live in Republican congressional districts with 5.2 million living in Democratic congressional districts.

Commentary, News

Five things to have on your radar – none of which are #alternativefacts

#1 The fate of Obamacare &  the new HHS Secretary – Tom Price, President Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Service Secretary, faces more questions today from the Senate Finance Committee as he looks to be confirmed. Many are hoping to hear from Price on his interpretation of Trump’s executive order to rollback Obamacare.

If you missed it last week, Senator Thom Tillis pledged in his Facebook town hall meeting that Republicans would have a replacement plan in place before repeal, and not leave 20 million Americans uninsured.

So what’s in the replacement proposal?

Tillis listed two of the most popular provisions in the Affordable Care Act — coverage for pre-existing conditions and the ability for adult children to stay on their parent’s plan until age 26:

#2 Protesting corporate fundraisers – Triangle-area concerned citizens will join Progress NC Action and the NC State AFL-CIO outside a Senate Republican fundraiser on Blount Street this evening to tell legislative leaders to stop raising funds from lobbyists and get to work fixing the state.

“It’s time to get to work repealing HB2 and redrawing their racially gerrymandered district maps, not schmoozing at another fundraiser,”said Gerrick Brenner, executive director of Progress NC Action.

Protest organizers say time is running out to repeal HB2 and avoid a five-year boycott of North Carolina by the NCAA basketball tournament. If not repealed by the time the NCAA releases its five-year schedule this Spring, HB2 could cost Raleigh, Greensboro, and Charlotte millions more in lost revenue.

#3 Top Education Issues of 2017 – Wednesday’s 2017 Eggs & Issues Breakfast will include the release of the Public School Forum’s Top 10 Education Issues and a special taping of the Public School Forum’s weekly TV show “Education Matters” hosted by Keith Poston featuring a one-on-one interview with Governor Roy Cooper.

The program begins at 8:00 a.m. at Marbles Kids Museum, 201 East Hargett Street, Raleigh, NC.

For those who can’t make the Forum’s breakfast, Poston joins NC Policy Watch this weekend to discuss the state’s most pressing education issues with Chris Fitzsimon.

#4 General Assembly returns to Raleigh – House and Senate members return to Raleigh Wednesday for the so-called “long” session. Members will focus on passing a two-year budget and tax reform. Governor Roy Cooper and legislative Democrats will be making the case for repealing the anti-LGBT law known as HB2.

What’s on tap for the environment this session?

Be sure to listen to our radio interview with reporter Lisa Sorg, who covers everything from coal ash, to renewable energy to the new Secretary for the Department of Environmental Quality:

#5 Medicaid expansion case back in court – Finally, a federal judge in New Bern will hear arguments Friday surrounding Governor Roy Cooper’s efforts to expand the state’s Medicaid program.

House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger won a temporary restraining order last week blocking expansion. Moore and Berger will be seeking a more permanent solution this week. The Cooper administration says expansion could benefit more than 500,000 North Carolinians.

The case is being heard in the U.S. Eastern District  of North Carolina, 413 Middle Street, New Bern at 8:00 a.m. Policy Watch’s Courts and Law reporter Melissa Boughton will provide coverage of Friday’s hearing.


North Carolina politicos remember former state Rep. Ruth Samuelson

Two days ahead of the 2017 legislative session, Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly are coming together to honor former state Rep. Ruth Samuelson, who died of ovarian cancer Monday.

Samuelson, a Republican, served as a Mecklenburg County Commissioner from 2000-2004 before serving four terms in the NC House.

The Charlotte Observer notes “she became known for her stands against abortion and for the environment, and for an ability to forge agreements between warring sides. She was endorsed by both the Sierra Club and the National Rifle Association.”

Governor Roy Cooper described Samuelson on social media as a “dedicated leader and champion for our state.”

Funeral services will be held Friday at 2:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church in Charlotte.

Here’s how others are remembering Samuelson:

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis:
“Her devotion to her faith and her family served her well in the halls of the North Carolina legislature, where she worked with both sides of the aisle to become one of the most influential leaders in the state. As Speaker of the House, there was no one I counted on more than Ruth Samuelson.

“Ruth bravely fought this disease with the same strength, grace and dignity that have defined her life’s work.  In doing so, she left a final legacy of unshakable faith and unwavering hope that should inspire us all.  As we mourn her loss and pray for her family, we rejoice in knowing that the faith that guided Ruth’s life has now carried her home.”