News

Bill eliminating concealed carry gun permits moves forward

A bill making it legal for most people to carry concealed handguns without a permit took a crucial step closer to becoming law Wednesday.

House Bill 746  would, with a few exceptions, remove the state’s requirement for a concealed carry permit, allowing anyone 18 or older who legally owns a gun to carry to conceal it except where expressly prohibited.

In North Carolina, those seeking a concealed carry permit from their county sheriff must now complete eight hours of classroom training, demonstrate familiarity with gun operation and safety and pass a test at a firing range. They also have to undergo a check that looks at any criminal convictions, pending charges or mental health problems.

The North Carolina Sheriff’s Association has opposed changes to that system, though they have been introduced in every legislative session since Republicans became the majority in the General Assembly in 2011.

The previous bills have gone nowhere – and that looked like it would be the fate of HB 746 this year when it failed to make it out of a committee in time for “crossover,” when approved bills head from one legislative chamber to the other. But a rewritten version of the bill surfaced Tuesday evening and was heard in the Judiciary IV committee late Wednesday after a long appropriations committee session on the state budget.

Rep. Chris Millis (R-Hampstead), one of the bill’s sponsors, introduced and defended it during the committee debate.

The thrust of his argument: the bill leaves in place the need for pistol purchase permits and would simply treat concealed carry like open carry.

Millis called the bill “common sense,” using as an example someone who is openly carrying a handgun but puts on a jacket. That person is then breaking the law by concealing their weapon, Millis said.

But lawmakers opposing the bill said it was more complicated than that.

Sales through licensed  gun dealers still require a federal background check, but those checks aren’t performed when purchasing guns from gun shows or for private sales. The additional background check for a concealed carry permit can be helpful in combating that loophole, the bill’s critics said.

The bill would also require that a court find someone mentally ill in order to disqualified from carrying a concealed weapon. A determination from a doctor, psychiatrist or Veterans Affairs evaluation wouldn’t be enough.

“I do recognize the second amendment,” said Rep. Deb Butler (D-Brunswick). “It’s part of our constitution and every citizen has that right. But in a rational society we also put rational limits and reasonable controls on these things.”

Rep. Mary Belk agreed, arguing for changes to the bill that were ultimately rejected by the committee’s Republican majority. Read more

News, Trump Administration

Facing deportation, grandmother takes sanctuary in Greensboro church

St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro is offering sanctuary to a grandmother facing deportation.

Juana Luz Tobar Ortega of High Point is a mother of four and grandmother of two. She fled violence in Guatemala and moved to Asheboro in 1993. Her husband is a U.S. citizen.

The Greensboro church’s leaders voted unanimously to offer Ortega sanctuary.

From the WFDD story:

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has ordered her to leave the country and will not grant her a stay of removal, which led to the church vote.

According to advocacy group American Friends Service Committee, this is the first time in several years that someone has been offered sanctuary in North Carolina.

“There’s absolutely no reason for this woman to be torn away from her family and her community. She’s a child of God and we will give her shelter until ICE drops her deportation order,” said St. Barnabas Rev. Randall Keeney in a statement.

Ortega has four children and two grandchildren, and her husband is a U.S. citizen.

After a welcoming ceremony at St. Barnabas, Ortega’s supporters will head to Senator Thom Tillis’ office in High Point to ask him to intervene.

The News & Record, Greensboro’s daily paper, is following the story:

“I hope not to be here long,” she said during an emotional press conference with family and supporters, which included the pastor at St. Barnabas and a throng of other faith leaders.

“I hope to return to my home soon. To be with my family,” Ortega, an Asheboro resident, said as her grandchildren held “Don’t deport my grandma” signs.

The church voted to offer her shelter instead of seeing her separated from her family.

Ortega, who is from Guatemala, is believed to be the first person in North Carolina to seek sanctuary against immigration officials at a church. It is unclear whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers will enter the church and forcibly remove her.

Ortega has been here more than two decades. Her supporters blame an immigration policy that does not offer a path to citizenship for many immigrants.

“We are here to welcome Juana into our family,” St. Barnabas Pastor Randall Kenney said, from the church’s sanctuary. “Our hopes in doing this is we will be able to change the hearts and minds of people with influence.”

Triad City Beat is also covering Ortega’s story.

Read more

News

Democrats react to scant House budget details

House Minority Leader Darren Jackson (D-Wake), flanked by his Democratic colleagues, responds to what details are available in the GOP crafted House budget plan.

Democrats in the N.C. House of Representatives responded to the House’s draft budget Thursday afternoon — or at least what they’ve seen of it.

The full budget won’t be rolled out until Tuesday, after the Memorial Day weekend. But some details from various sections were discussed in House committees Thursday.

It’s not how things should be done, said the House Minority Leader, Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake). But without the chance to see the full budget until the day the House is expected to vote on it, people should start contacting their representatives now.

“We’re going into a holiday weekend and this is the time for members to hear from their constituents – be seen out at holidays things, events that are happening,” Jackson said. ” We’ll come back, it’ll be rolled out on Tuesday morning and we’ll vote. So this will be the people back home’s only opportunity to speak to their representatives and inform him or her how they feel about the budget.”

Jackson admitted that what has come out about the House’s budget plan is an improvement over the Senate’s – but overall, it wasn’t that encouraging.

“The House budget’s top line numbers are the same as the Senate’s and significantly short of the governor’s [proposed budget],” Jackson said. “That means there are missed opportunities in this budget – missed opportunities to invest in education, work force development and job creation, especially in our rural communities.”

Jackson said the top line numbers also suggest more tax cut proposals rolled out next week.

“Tax cuts, at least in the past, have been 200 times larger for millionaires than they have been for families at the medium level of income,” Jackson said. “That is the Republican record on tax cuts the last few years.”

Budgets are all about priorities, Jackson said – and Gov. Cooper’s budget proposal showed emphasis on the right priorities without fee or tax increases. The proposed House budget, crafted by the GOP majority? Not so much, Jackson said.

Governor’s Cooper had more money for community colleges, Jackson said, which are a generator of jobs and help people in both urban and rural communities better themselves.  But the House budget, like the Senate’s, does not include funding for the NC Growth Scholarships that would have allowed North Carolinians to attend community college for free – a move other states are now adopting. Additional job training through community colleges aren’t funded either, Jackson said.

Rural job growth isn’t a priority in the House budget, Jackson said – as is obvious beyond the failure to adequately fund community colleges. The house budget doesn’t expand broadband access or NC Job Ready Sites either, Jackson said – and does very little to address the opioid crisis.

“A single pilot project in Wilmington,” Jackson said of the anti-opioid funding in the budget proposal. “That’s great for the Wilmington area and I’m sure that program will be a model for the future – but what about the rest of the state?”

Cooper’s budget called for $12 million for health services and $2 million for law enforcement to combat the problem, Jackson said. Tax cuts shouldn’t come before that sort of essential spending on such a deadly problem, Jackson said.

Jackson and other Democratic representatives on hand also criticized proposed K-12 education spending.

Though some of the infamous 3 a.m. cuts to education programs proposed in the Senate budget  have been restored under the House plan, Jackson said no one but the Republican House members know exactly which line item was cut to restore that funding.

Since the amount of spending is the same in both budget plans, Jackson said, every sigh of relief at a program or funding stream restored will be followed by a mad dash to find the cut that made that possible.

That’s going to be the work of reporters, citizens and House members next week, Jackson said.

Once the House has approved their budget, leaders from the House and Senate will confer on a compromise between their two plans. That compromise will go to the governor for his approval or veto.

News

NBA All-Star Game returns to Charlotte over LGBTQ protests

The NBA has announced its 2019 All-Star Game will be held in Charlotte.

This year’s game was held in New Orleans due to the NBA’s opposition to HB2.

But LGBTQ advocate groups Equality NC and the Human Rights Campaign are denouncing the decision. The HB2 compromise recently struck by the General Assembly wasn’t a true comprise, the groups said in a statement Wednesday – and corporations and sports groups shouldn’t be rewarding it.

The groups pointed out that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said  event sites, hotels, and businesses involved with the NBA All-Star Game must put in place LGBTQ inclusive non-discrimination policies inclusive of the LGBTQ community. But no such guidelines have yet been put in place by the city or the state.

“We need to see concrete guidelines and policies put in place that will live up to the proposed principles put forward by the NBA designed to protect all of its players and fans,” said Equality NC Interim Executive Director Matt Hirschy in the statement. “As we move forward with the NBA All-Star Game returning to Charlotte, LGBTQ people must be invited to the discussions between the NBA, the city of Charlotte and NCGA leadership to provide input and feedback on how to best protect LGBTQ people.”

“North Carolina’s discriminatory law prohibits the city of Charlotte from implementing non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ residents and visitors attending the All-Star Game. Nothing has changed that fact,” said JoDee Winterhof, HRC Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs. “It’s critically important that people understand the gravity of this situation, which has had the effect of extending discrimination and endangering LGBTQ people across the state of North Carolina.”

HB 142 is not a true HB2 repeal, the groups said in their statement. Instead it replaces one discriminatory, anti-transgender bathroom bill with another and bans local LGBTQ non-discrimination protections statewide through 2020. It substitutes the previous anti-transgender bathroom provisions with a new provision that forbids state agencies, public universities, primary and secondary schools, and cities from adopting policies ensuring transgender people have access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity, the groups said.

News

A look at the affordable housing crisis in NC

If you’ve been paying attention in the last few years, you already know there’s a crisis in affordable rental housing.

For a good look at the problem in North Carolina, take a look at this recent report from the UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies.

From the report:

Decent, secure, and affordable housing is a fundamental need, but finding such housing is increasingly difficult, and it’s not just an urban or rural problem. An interactive map the Urban Institute recently produced illustrates that this dilemma reaches every county in the nation.

The story is no different in North Carolina, where we face a statewide crisis in affordable rental housing. A quick scan of recent news stories in North Carolina—from Greensboro, Wilmington, Cary, Winston-Salem, and Charlotte—shows that inadequate facilities, affordability, and overcrowding in rental housing is a widespread and diverse problem.

 

The report cites a number of well-crafted stories and columns, including this report from Triad City Beat and this one from Susan Ladd at the News & Record in Greensboro.

The report comes to the obvious conclusion – and an important one during this state budget season: the government simply isn’t doing enough to address this problem.

The stats:

  • Census tracts with extreme housing conditions were found in 46 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and in all regions of the state.

  • In 2013, more than 377,000 (or 28.2 percent) of the state’s rental households experienced severe cost burdens, were overcrowded, or lacked critical facilities.

  • The number of severely cost–burdened households increased by 53,737 (or 22.5 percent) between 2008 and 2013.

  • In eight census tracts, over 60 percent of renter households were severely cost burdened, with the highest percentage being 77.4 percent in a Wake County tract.

  • The number of overcrowded households increased by 20,437 (or 45.4 percent) between 2008 and 2013.

  • In six census tracts, over 30 percent of renter households were overcrowded, with the highest rate being 53 percent in a Wake County tract.

The housing problems described in the report also increase public health care costs and reliance on social support programs and lower productivity. The study’s authors suggest that combined efforts of state and local governments are needed to reverse the negative trends in housing affordability and overcrowding and improve the quality of life and economic productivity of North Carolinians.

Although the state funds the North Carolina Housing Trust Fund and administers federal programs such as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), more needs to be done to improve and expand affordable rental housing. The most important action the state can take is to increase its contributions to the North Carolina Housing Trust Fund, which is used to produce quality affordable rental housing.

Read the full report here.