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The documentary film, Trials of Darryl Hunt, premiered on HBO last night.  Darryl Hunt’s tragic encounter with an imperfect and impartial justice system cost him a quarter of his life. He may be considered lucky in that respect; he could have lost his life.  Even in the 21st Century where we consider our society humane and tolerant, many face injustices from our law system that has not escaped racial and class segmentation.  False eyewitness testimonies have plagued North Carolina’s law enforcement legitimacy and creditability; with the latest example being the Duke Lacrosse players’ case.  House Bill 1625, which was voted favorably by the Judiciary I Committee Tuesday, proposes a process in which witnesses are protected from intimidation, pressure, influence and assumptions by standardizing procedures that preserve a witness’s accuracy.  Darryl Hunt was subjected to false eyewitness testimony that was motivated by instant ramification, anger, and hatred.  The bill implements a blind administration of the eyewitness identification process with procedures such as lineups being conducted by independent administrators, notifying the witness that the perpetrator may or may not be in the lineup, isolating the witnesses from each other, and many other interesting standards.

 

It is important to reflect on Darryl Hunt’s experience as a logical argument for why the state should not be involved in sentencing people to death.  Without absolute, flawless certainty that fair justice will be handed down, the state should reconsider killing someone.  Darryl Hunt’s case does not exaggerate how susceptible criminal cases are to jury bias, politically motivated prosecutors and many other factors.  In fact, race still plays a part in whether someone receives a death sentence, an arbitrary determinate that is unjust and wrong at its root.  North Carolina still is not at the point at which it can preserve the absence of bias justice influenced by bigotry for those on trial, and until it can, the state cannot justifiably put someone to death. 

 

State Senator Albertson’s Senate Bill 1466 was voted favorably in Tuesday’s Agriculture Committee.  The bill provides for technical changes to the Migrant Housing Law, a law that created housing standards for migrant workers.  The bill adds a requirement that each migrant worker be provided a bed with a mattress in good repair with a clean cover, and allows for self-inspections of housing compliance issues after two consecutive 100% ratings by State inspectors.  There are currently only 5 state inspector positions for inspecting migrant housing in North Carolina.  Just recently, one of the inspectors left, leaving only four to cover one of the largest states in the nation. 

 
The bill does accomplish some measures in the right direction, but to fully standardize the living conditions regulation must be established.  It is nearly impossible for 4 inspection agents to fully monitor the migrant housing conditions on every farm in North Carolina. 

 
Tuesday morning, the Senate Judiciary II Committee voted favorably for Senate Bill 677, which will allow non-violent crimes committed by first-time offenders less than 18 years old to be expunged.  This bill has spurred a lot of debate over the last few weeks, and is now in its 9th version.  Similar bills have died in committee over the past few years, and we will wait to see what comes of this year’s bill.

 
On another note…

House Bill 259, which prohibits smoking in public and work places has officially made today’s calendar of the House Session.  It will be interesting to see how the House members welcome the bill, and if it really has a chance of passing today.

House Bill 265 will also be read of the floor of the House in today’s session.  The bill establishes an Insurance High-Risk Pool, which will enable those that currently cannot afford insurance coverage or have been denied coverage, due to their health condition, to get health insurance at a subsidized cost.  The bill has the potential of helping over 7,000 North Carolinians. 

Friday, Judge “Howdy” Manning, who can be deemed as the State’s educational reformist and also presides over the Leandro litigation, held a special hearing in which some of the recent developments and the future of our state public education system was discussed.  The problems are widespread, and daunting.  Schools in poor, rural areas of our State have difficulty retaining and recruiting teachers, especially in the math and science curriculum.  Judge Manning pointed out that only 3 out of every 10 students at Plymouth High School are proficient in math.  The Leandro case held that every student should be provided a sound basic education, yet the same discouraging trends that stratified our school systems 15 years ago remain a problem today.  Judge Manning also alluded to the fact that because many of these school districts cannot recruit good teachers, the teachers that remain are hesitant to change or the adoption of any new re-structuring changes.  The Judge commented that since “faculty will not change, therefore the leadership will have to change.” 

To facilitate change the Center for School Leadership Development, Principle Executive Program, and the Kenan-Fagler School of Business have created professional development seminars for school administrators and teachers.  School systems are failing across the state, and as Judge Manning pointed out, many of the school administrators are unaware of the tools and resources available to improve their learning environments.  Brad Stephen, the director of the seminars testified that such innovation techniques that will facilitate improvements in our school systems are presented at the seminars by administrators from proven successful school districts, like those from Massachusetts, where poverty stricken districts have 100% graduation rates. 

One problem that kept resurfacing throughout the hearing was the fact that many students come to high school ill-prepared and deficient in many subject matters.  Judge Manning fiercely advocates for ninth grade academies at each high school, which will be one, more accountable, and two, better able to identify and work with students that begin to fall behind.  Middle Schools must be addressed in order to better facilitate a more effective learning environment in high school.      

Currently, there are 35 identified school districts that are having performance composites of 60% or less over the past two years.  This is an increase of 18 school districts since 2005.  For all the reasons posed by educational reformist, and teachers for the decreases in proficiency levels in math and reading, the end result is that more school districts are failing to properly and adequately educate their students.  For most school districts, the problem is a matter of funding.  The Disadvantaged Student Supplement Fund (DSSF) is one avenue laid out for legislators to assist these school systems.  Increasing the DSSF will provide school administrators with more options to improve their schools, and give them the ability to facilitate change.  Presently, school principles that want to re-structure their schools hit a dead-end when inadequate funding is available, or not appropriated.  Funding is not the complete answer for these complex problems with high dropout rates, low proficiency levels in math and reading, and an overall inequitable education system in North Carolina, but funding will bring about change, and will allow for schools to be re-structured in ways that have been proven successful in other states.  

Today, the lawmakers of our state took a step closer to protecting and saving more North Carolinians.  The House Appropriations Committee members voted favorably for House Bill 265, a bill that establishes the North Carolina Health Insurance Risk Pool.  The Pool will provide insurance to those unable to obtain coverage due to health conditions, or those who are paying extremely high premiums.   Those eligible will receive insurance coverage for no more than 175% of the standard risk premiums.  At a cost of up to $2.00 per year added to some 4.5 million North Carolinians’ premium, thousands will be provided with affordable health care, all of whom earn a living yet remain unable to pay for insurance, most of which are the most dependent on health care to survive.

 
The House Judiciary II Committee members also took a step in assuring the health of many North Carolinians is protected.  The committee voted favorably for House Bill 259, a bill that essentially prohibits smoking in State government buildings, businesses where food is served, lodging establishments and bars that cater to people 21 years of age and older.  The Bill also gives local governments the authority to pass ordinances prohibiting smoking in different capacities.  The bill discussed today is a watered down version of the original bill, which posed to ban smoking for all public and work places in the state, but it is a defiant step in moving our state policies in the right direction to protecting the health of many people.

 
The lawmakers of our state are charged with protecting the public, and today, through support for these bills, they provide us with some comfort in the fact that now many sick people will be able to obtain insurance, and that those “secondhand” smokers will not have to suffer anymore.  Although the future of these bills is yet to be determined, and the debate surrounding these “controversial” topics has not ended, it is encouraging to see lawmakers making some initial steps in the right direction. 

House Bill 9 has received much debate in the last couple House Education Committee meetings.  The committee is locked in debate, with the last vote resulting in a 9-9 tie.  The House bill re-structures the lottery revenue proceeds distribution formula to relying solely on the average daily membership (ADM).  The bill differs from the current general statutes formula where only 65% of the revenues are distributed by ADM, while the remaining 35% is based on the county’s tax rate.  The county tax rates percentage is calculated according to the state average tax rate.  For counties to qualify for the funding based on tax rates, the rate must be equal to or exceed the state average.  The controversy lies in the fact that some 60 school districts are poised to lose funds if the bill is passed, and funding is based only on ADM. 

 
The Public School Forum has calculated the per-school district funding changes that the proposed House Bill will affect in today’s– April 13th – issue of their bi-weekly Friday Report.  The report points out several discrepancies highlighted in the current formula with one example that Wake County and Mecklenburg County have comparable student populations, but under the current statute, Wake County receives only half ($9 million) the funds from the lottery revenues that Mecklenburg County does due to its low tax rate.  Most of the counties that have less than the state average tax rate are located mainly west of I-77.  Due to the mountain counties’ lower tax rates, the school districts receive less funding under the current formula.  However, in some cases, if the county commissioners slightly raised the property tax rate, their school districts would qualify for the 35% of the allocation.  The current statute seeks to establish some parity between the counties of different sizes and affluence.

 
The distribution formula debate is about fairness and equity.  Many of the poorest counties in the state, and in the country, are located in the eastern sector of our state.  These counties are struggling with high unemployment rates, low per-capita incomes, “sky-rocketing” Medicaid costs, high property taxes, and schools that drastically need repairing and renovation.  If the proposed formula change is adopted, the majority of these counties lose vital school capital funding, and more pressure is placed on these stressed communities, and ultimately, the ability to provide “sound and basic” education of the children in the school districts suffers. 

 
The current method of subdividing the allocation formula by AMD and tax burden is a fair way of helping poorer counties where the commissioners are simply running out of viable options to pay for school construction.  There is a paradox being formed in many of these counties between low wealth and high taxes. Receiving additional school construction funds (and perhaps Medicaid relief) will provide an avenue for improving their worsening learning conditions, and perhaps relieve some of the poorest people in our state from the highest tax burden.     

 
The graph below is a school district funding distribution comparison between the current formula and the new formula proposed in House Bill 9; adopted from this week’s Friday Report:

Lottery Distribution Comparison

Gain/Loss in Funding Compared w/ Current Lottery Distribution

LEA NAME

Current Lottery Formula

Distribution by Enrollment

Distribution by Enrollment

Alamance County

1,740,224

2,677,268

937,044

Alexander County

453,414

697,561

244,147

Alleghany County

121,943

187,605

65,662

Anson County

639,922

510,440

(129,482)

Ashe County

260,475

400,731

140,256

Avery County

180,281

277,355

97,074

Beaufort County

569,225

875,731

306,506

Bertie County

492,376

392,748

(99,628)

Bladen County

841,603

671,313

(170,290)

Brunswick County

904,942

1,392,218

487,276

Buncombe County

2,028,296

3,120,456

1,092,160

Asheville City

301,752

464,234

162,482

Burke County

1,136,642

1,748,679

612,037

Cabarrus County

3,791,007

3,023,932

(767,075)

Kannapolis City

565,315

450,929

(114,386)

Kannapolis City

171,201

136,561

(34,640)

Caldwell County

1,022,639

1,573,291

550,652

Camden County

292,211

233,085

(59,126)

Carteret County

665,065

1,023,178

358,113

Caswell County

260,318

400,490

140,172

Catawba County

1,357,177

2,087,964

730,787

Hickory City

356,316

548,178

191,862

Newton-Conover City

233,665

359,485

125,820

Chatham County

1,150,495

917,703

(232,792)

Cherokee County

293,418

451,413

157,995

Chowan County

377,888

301,426

(76,462)

Clay County

106,061

163,171

57,110

Cleveland County

2,591,380

2,067,039

(524,341)

Whiteville City

399,573

858,192

(80,851)

Columbus County

1,075,888

318,722

(217,696)

Craven County

1,164,238

1,791,135

626,897

Cumberland County

7,951,713

6,342,757

(1,608,956)

Currituck County

332,336

511,286

178,950

Dare County

391,381

602,125

210,744

Davidson County

1,604,758

2,468,859

864,101

Thomasville City

209,450

371,944

112,780

Lexington City

241,763

322,230

130,181

Davie County

514,897

792,149

277,252

Duplin County

1,375,681

1,097,324

(278,357)

Durham Public

4,817,914

3,843,054

(974,860)

Edgecombe County

1,153,982

920,485

(233,497)

Forsyth County

7,703,933

6,145,113

(1,558,820)

Franklin County

1,230,712

981,689

(249,023)

Gaston County

4,901,165

3,909,460

(991,705)

Gates County

320,264

255,462

(64,802)

Graham County

96,391

148,294

51,903

Granville County

1,335,041

1,064,908

(270,133)

Greene County

500,262

399,038

(101,224)

Guilford County

10,611,635

8,464,469

(2,147,166)

Weldon City

155,432

601,279

(31,451)

Roanoke Rapids City

453,556

361,783

(91,773)

Halifax County

753,804

123,981

(152,525)

Harnett County

2,782,750

2,219,687

(563,063)

Haywood County

620,093

953,990

333,897

Henderson County

1,025,155

1,577,162

552,007

Hertford County

538,475

429,519

(108,956)

Hoke County

1,110,613

885,891

(224,722)

Hyde County

50,240

77,292

27,052

Iredell County

1,653,740

2,544,215

890,475

Mooresville City

395,234

608,052

212,818

Jackson County

292,396

449,840

157,444

Johnston County

4,385,892

3,498,447

(887,445)

Jones County

204,108

162,808

(41,300)

Lee County

1,410,406

1,125,024

(285,382)

Lenoir County

1,503,058

1,198,928

(304,130)

Lincoln County

957,933

1,473,743

515,810

Macon County

344,916

530,640

185,724

Madison County

207,248

318,843

111,595

Martin County

655,844

523,140

(132,704)

McDowell County

510,494

785,376

274,882

Mecklenburg County

19,465,607

15,526,922

(3,938,685)

Mitchell County

179,495

276,145

96,650

Montgomery County

357,417

549,872

192,455

Moore County

957,540

1,473,139

515,599

Nash-Rocky Mount

2,754,546

2,197,189

(557,357)

New Hanover County

1,951,639

3,002,522

1,050,883

Northampton County

470,085

374,968

(95,117)

Onslow County

1,838,817

2,828,949

990,132

Orange County

1,032,064

823,235

(208,829)

Chapel Hill-Carrboro

1,692,608

1,350,125

(342,483)

Pamlico County

243,686

194,378

(49,308)

Pasquotank County

491,389

755,983

264,594

Pender County

599,652

922,541

322,889

Perquimans County

143,407

220,626

77,219

Person County

887,096

707,600

(179,496)

Pitt County

3,411,148

2,720,934

(690,214)

Polk County

198,678

305,659

106,981

Randolph County

1,486,510

2,286,939

800,429

Asheboro City

364,964

561,484

196,520

Richmond County

1,270,139

1,013,138

(257,001)

Robeson County

3,680,309

2,935,633

(744,676)

Rockingham County

2,208,034

1,761,259

(446,775)

Rowan-Salisbury

3,169,282

2,528,007

(641,275)

Rutherford County

785,829

1,208,968

423,139

Sampson County

1,248,303

995,720

(252,583)

Clinton City

474,938

378,838

(96,100)

Scotland County

1,042,982

831,944

(211,038)

Stanly County

1,461,964

1,166,149

(295,815)

Stokes County

1,121,684

894,721

(226,963)

Surry County

1,337,164

1,066,601

(270,563)

Elkin City

189,854

151,439

(38,415)

Mount Airy City

274,014

218,570

(55,444)

Swain County

147,967

227,642

79,675

Transylvania County

303,325

466,653

163,328

Tyrrell County

94,472

75,356

(19,116)

Union County

2,671,740

4,110,370

1,438,630

Vance County

1,236,323

986,165

(250,158)

Wake County

9,993,986

15,375,362

5,381,376

Warren County

442,487

352,953

(89,534)

Washington County

328,908

262,356

(66,552)

Watauga County

355,530

546,969

191,439

Wayne County

2,920,744

2,329,758

(590,986)

Wilkes County

797,229

1,226,507

429,278

Wilson County

1,912,942

1,525,876

(387,066)

Yadkin County

950,178

757,918

(192,260)

Yancey County

203,710

313,400

109,690

 

170,000,000

170,000,000