Commentary

A constitutional amendment on hunting and fishing? Why not baseball, bird watching and bowling?

If you needed compelling evidence that past it’s time for North Carolina lawmakers to end the 2016 session and get the heck out of town, consider the fact that the state Senate is seriously considering an amendment to the state Constitution to guarantee the right to hunt and fish. As syndicated columnist Patrick Gannon explains in an essay in the Jefferson Post, this is a nutty idea. Here’s the excellent conclusion:

“Don’t get me wrong. Fishing is one of my favorite things to do and has been for most of my life. I’m not a hunter, but I have nothing against hunting, as long as it’s done legally, safely and humanely.

But this proposed constitutional amendment is perilously close on the asinine index to a bill filed a few years ago to require couples seeking divorce in North Carolina to be separated for two years instead of one. (Yes, a real-life senator filed that bill.)

I also enjoy baseball, birdwatching and bowling, but they shouldn’t be protected in our state’s founding documents, even if college basketball threatens to dethrone baseball as the national pastime or bowling balls get regulated because they can fall on your toes.

Yes, 19 states guarantee the right to hunt and fish in their constitutions, with 17 of those approved by voters, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Vermont’s language dates back to 1777, but the rest have passed since 1996. (I’m guessing the sponsors in those states were up for re-election, too.)

The hunting and fishing amendment, just so you know, would be Section 38 of the Constitution, right after a section on the rights of crime victims, including ‘the right as prescribed by law to be informed of and to be present at court proceedings of the accused.’ It would be a few sections down from the right to bear arms.

Senate Bill 889 currently resides in the Senate Rules Committee, where some bills go to die and others get resurrected. I can only hope in this case it’s the former. But if the constitutional amendment shows up on your ballot in November, vote against it.

As Big Bird would sing, it ‘just doesn’t belong’ in the Constitution.”

Commentary

The best op-ed of the weekend: A devastating ten point indictment of state lawmakers

Gene NicholIn case you missed it over the weekend, Professor Gene Nichol’s essay in Raleigh’s News & Observer (“Making the case that lawmakers are destroying North Carolina”) is an absolute “must read.” In it, Nichol provides a scathing 10-point indictment of the performance of state leaders in recent years. Here’s #1-5:

“When I read the other day that lawmakers are now telling schools how to teach math, I remembered Lily Tomlin’s quip: “No matter how cynical I get, it’s impossible to keep up.” We’ve gotten used to a lot of insanity during this campaign to destroy the meaning of North Carolina.

I know that sounds overblown. Courts sometimes demand a “bill of particulars” to clarify such vague assertions, a detailed itemization of claims made against one’s adversary. In the spirit of clarity and particularization, here’s mine.

The governor and General Assembly have:

1. Tragically refused to expand Medicaid. Merely to show disdain for President Obama, they’ve denied health care to a half million poor Tar Heels though the federal government would pay almost all the fare. Hospitals have closed, tens of thousands of jobs have been lost, over $30 billion in federal funds are surrendered and a thousand or more of us die each year as a result of one of the most cruel and indefensible decisions in N.C. history.

2. Enacted the most aggressive voter suppression law in a half century. The central purpose of North Carolina’s monster voting law – imposing a biased ID requirement, limiting early voting and eliminating same-day registration, out of precinct voting and early first-time registration – is to make it harder to cast the franchise. It is foundationally un-American.

3. Launched an internationally derided war on LGBT people. Beginning with Amendment One, followed by a discrimination-abetting religious exemption law, the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of state dollars to pursue already-concluded litigation and, most famously, the passage of House Bill 2, Republicans have inflicted enduring wounds on North Carolina merely to prove they despise the LGBT community.

4. Moved systematically and pervasively to dismantle the public schools. Through teacher and teaching assistant layoffs, reductions in pre-K programs, massive budget cuts, the expansion of charters, the introduction of vouchers, the (attempted) elimination of tenure, the closing of a celebrated teaching fellows program, the creation of a destructive A-F school grading system and, now, the adoption of achievement school districts, the General Assembly has worked to lay waste to public education.

5. Initiated the nation’s most appalling crusade against poor people. Despite burgeoning poverty and hunger rates, enacted the sharpest cut to unemployment compensation in history, ended the earned income tax credit, drastically cut food-stamp eligibility, abolished legal aid appropriations, sharply reduced child care subsidies and greatly increased regressive sales taxes – all to cut taxes for the wealthy. As if it’s no longer thought unworthy to steal from the poor.

Commentary, News

This Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch:

Session adjournment#1 – Ending discrimination is more important than ending the session

It’s that time of the General Assembly session when legislative leaders are talking about adjourning and leaving town. House Speaker Tim Moore said this week that the odds are 50-50 that the session will end before July 4th while Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown says the odds are better than that.

Most of that speculation comes from news that House and Senate negotiators working behind closed doors on a final budget agreement are close to a deal which is always the biggest hurdle standing in the way of ending a typical legislative session.

But this is not a typical year. [Continue Reading…]

Anca Stefan#2 –  Could proposed teacher background check bill silence protesting educators?
Supporters say bill is about safety; others worry activists arrested during protest could lose licensure

For the better part of 24 hours, Anca Stefan’s phone has been humming. Messages, calls, social media notifications are pouring in from her now viral, diaristic account of her arrest, along with 13 other protesters, last week for demonstrating against state education policies near the state capitol in Raleigh.

Stefan, a social studies teacher in a Durham public school, had penned a passionate Facebook screed about her otherwise peaceable booking for impeding traffic and resisting an officer—she says one officer called her protest the “noblest” reason for arrest—after Stefan’s group blocked off the intersection of Fayetteville and Morgan streets in Raleigh during rush hour.

[Continue Reading…]

Wake Forest#3 – The Koch Brothers-funded invasion of NC universities continues as Wake Forest joins the network

Love them or hate them, there’s one thing that most everyone can agree on when it comes to the nation’s most visible and ambitious billionaire plutocrats: the Koch brothers know what they want and make no bones about pursuing it. Simply put, they want to control public policy making at the national, state and local levels in the United States and are prepared to do whatever it takes and spend whatever is necessary to make their dream a reality.

[Continue Reading…]

Classroom-desk-400#4 – NC Senate’s math bill doesn’t add up

Last week, the North Carolina Senate passed a bill that would require high schools across the state to simultaneously offer two completely different math tracks: the integrated math sequence that is currently taught in middle and high schools and the old Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II sequence that was previously taught.

The most glaring problem with the bill is the obvious impracticality of requiring administrators and educators to create two sets of classrooms, schedules, lesson plans, professional development modules, textbooks, instructional supplies, and assessments—all while hiring additional teachers to correspond with each track.

[Continue Reading…]

Women's health and safety#5 – Despite posturing, NC lawmakers are ignoring women’s health and safety in the places that really matter

During the tumultuous 2016 legislative session, access to affordable, quality health care doesn’t seem to have been on the mind of many state lawmakers. While preparing and submitting a demonstration waiver to the federal government to alter and “reform” the state’s Medicaid program is an accomplishment, lawmakers and administrators have ignored health care policies that are truly innovative and that could extend access to affordable, quality health care to all North Carolinians..

[Continue Reading…]

 

Commentary

Prominent physician skewers McCrory administration’s disastrous Medicaid policies

If you missed it this morning, be sure to check out the fine op-ed in Raleigh’s News & Observer by Robert Bilbro, the  head of Raleigh Medical Group. As Bilbro points out, the McCrory administration’s two overarching policies toward Medicaid (i.e. refusing to close the coverage gap for hundreds of thousands of people in need and selling off the state’s successful, homegrown nonprofit provider system to Wall Street investors) will be a disaster for the state. Here’s an excerpt:

“North Carolina’s Medicaid reform proposal ignores some highly pertinent facts and is not in the best interest of our state. The plan as presented to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services seeks approval for dividing the state into three regions, with each having a for-profit managed care organization to compete with local provider-led entities. Such a format would be cumbersome to formulate and would add layers of bureaucratic complexity to the Medicaid system in North Carolina.

This terribly divisive proposal ignores the fact that, contrary to rhetoric from our governor and other politicians describing Medicaid as ‘broken,’ the N.C. Medicaid system is nationally recognized as doing well. It has over 90 percent of primary care physicians across the state participating. These physicians and many specialists are supported by nonprofit Community Care of North Carolina, which is a consortium of 14 nonprofit entities covering all 100 counties.

CCNC began about 20 years ago and has evolved, building grassroots connectivity with health care providers across the entire state. It works with every hospital in N.C., with thousands of private practicing physicians, with every county health department, with all 34 federally qualified health centers and with all 27 rural health centers. CCNC is a model that numerous other states have tried to emulate.

While enrollment growth has generated an increase in total costs, the per capita cost of health care for Medicaid patients in N.C. has gone down since 2010. There was a 4 percent decrease in 2011, and by 2015 a greater than 8 percent reduction as compared with 2010. No Medicaid program in any other state has had such experience. In fact, no commercial insurance company or any MCO can show such results….

NC DHHS Secretary Rick Brajer, in striving to implement the reform package as developed by the legislature, has held 12 public hearings across the state. He did an effective job in articulating the message and in listening to comments in sessions that were well-conducted. I attended the hearing in Raleigh and noted that each of about 15 physicians to speak expressed disapproval of the reform plan and spoke in support of CCNC. Read more

Commentary

Damage from Supreme Court blockade continues; Large majority of North Carolinians want it to end

Merrick Garland

Judge Merrick Garland

The fallout from the U.S. Senate’s disastrous blockade of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland continued yesterday as the Court was forced to issue several new and momentous rulings without its full complement of justices. The lowlight occurred, of course, when the Court deadlocked 4-4 on a critically important immigration law decision. This from a story in the New York Times:

“Mr. Obama said the court’s immigration ruling was a stark reminder of the consequences of Republicans’ refusal to consider Judge Merrick B. Garland, the president’s nominee to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

‘If you keep on blocking judges from getting on the bench, then courts can’t issue decisions,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘And what that means is then you are going to have the status quo frozen, and we are not able to make progress on some very important issues.’”

Meanwhile, at the same time that the Supreme Court was issuing its short-staffed rulings, new polling confirmed once again how opposed North Carolina voters are to the blockade of Garland that Senators Burr and Tillis continue to help prop up. This is the latest from Public Policy Polling:

“Another issue that plays well for [Democratic Senate nominee Deborah] Ross is the Supreme Court vacancy. 56% of voters in the state think there should be hearings on Merrick Garland’s nomination, to only 24% who are opposed to those. There’s strong support from both Democrats (69/9) and independents (56/25) for hearings and even Republicans are pretty closely divided (38/42) on holding them. Voters say by a 19 point margin that they’re less likely to vote for a Senate candidate opposed to hearings on Garland’s nomination.”

The bottom line: One gets the distinct impression that time is running out on the conservative ideologues who continue to block progress in so many critical aspect of American law and policy, but sadly, it also appears these people are determined to do as much damage as they can before they’re forced to cede power.