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(UPDATED – See below) There’s not a whole lot of encouraging news Moms Demand Actionemanating from the North Carolina General Assembly these days. Today at 12:30, for example, a House Judiciary committee took up legislation to allow some public servants to refuse to perform their sworn duties when it comes to marrying same-sex couples.

So, it was especially encouraging this morning to see and listen to the group of caring and informed citizens pictured at left who came to the Legislative Building to speak out against the ongoing gun violence epidemic that plagues our state. The group, Moms Demand Action, brought more than two dozen gutsy advocates to the halls of the General Assembly (some of them survivors of gun violence) to deliver cookies to legislative offices and inform state lawmakers that there is a wind shift underway when it comes to public attitudes toward guns.

Where once widespread apathy from average citizens allowed the N.R.A., the gun industry and other extreme pro-gun groups to bully lawmakers into doing whatever they asked without organized opposition, the Moms Demand Action citizen lobbyists informed lawmakers today that things are changing. Indeed, with more than 93,000 members in North Carolina and a growing list of successes around the country, there is every reason to believe that the group has begun the long, slow process of reintroducing a measure of sanity into the state’s gun violence debate.

Moms Demand Action tableThat said, there is certainly a heck of a mess to clean up — one that some lawmakers appear to remain bent on making even worse. Yesterday, in the latest effort to bring killing machines into every conceivable nook and cranny of our society, two Forsyth County House members introduced a “local bill” that would allow private school personnel in their county to bring guns onto campuses.

Moms Demand Action opposes the measure and has added it to its list of action items (along with the current and energetic #GroceriesNotGuns campaign to get Kroger and Harris-Teeter to join the list of responsible companies that ban loaded firearms from their stores). (Note: the original version of this story incorrectly stated that Moms Demand Action had taken no position on the bill).

If you’d like more information, visit www.momsdemandaction.org.

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UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser. In background is the Old Well.In case you missed it, be sure to check out the thoughtful essay written for the group Higher Education Works by former UNC chancellor James Moeser yesterday.

In it, Moeser laments the morale-busting policies of the current state political leadership:

“My point here is not to re-litigate the closing of the Poverty Center at UNC Chapel Hill, the Center for Biodiversity at East Carolina University, or the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at N.C. Central University; or the abrupt dismissal without explanation of President Tom Ross.  Rather, it is to focus on the collateral damage to the university from these actions and from statements from people in high places that suggest a lack of support for academic freedom, a lack of understanding of the real purpose of a public university.”

In holding up a recent letter to Raleigh’s News & Observer by Professor Joseph Ferrell, Moeser also says this:

“Joe Ferrell speaks of the ‘right of inquiry that lies at the very foundation of the university.’  That is the right to speak truth to power, to question the assumptions and the motives of those in power, and yes, to advocate for action and change.  It is that tradition that has made Carolina one of America’s truly great universities.  It was, indeed, the pioneering work of people like Howard Odom and Frank Porter Graham, viewing the racism and poverty of the South through the critical lens of scholarship, that allowed North Carolina to surpass all other Southern states.  It was the courage to do that work, often unpopular at the time, that led North Carolinians to love UNC.

Charles Kuralt famously asked the question, ‘What binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well, or the bell, or the stone walls, or the crisp October nights and the memory of dogwoods blooming. . . . No, our love for this place is based on the fact that it is, as it was meant to be, the University of the People.’

Now, I believe, it is time for the people to come to the aid of their university, so that it may continue as a place of free expression and free inquiry, with a positive climate in which great faculty and students can thrive for the benefit of all North Carolinians.”

Amen.

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There are new numbers out out today that confirm the remarkable, ongoing and encouraging growth of North Carolina’s immigrant population. As the American Immigration Council reports:

“Immigrants, Latinos, and Asians account for growing shares of the economy and population in the electoral swing state of North Carolina. Immigrants (the foreign-born) make up 7.6% of the state’s population, while more than one in 10 North Carolinians are Latino or Asian. Moreover, Latinos and Asians wield $25.7 billion in consumer purchasing power. At last count, businesses owned by Latinos and Asians had sales and receipts of $10.1 billion and employed more than 63,000 people. As the economy continues to grow, North Carolina can ill-afford to alienate such a critical component of its labor force, tax base, and business community.”

The following infographic provides more details:

Immigrants infographic 2015

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The good folks at Environment North Carolina and Environment America are out with a new report that flags one of North Carolina’s biggest industrial polluters for polluting our national policy debate as well. This is from the release that accompanied the report:

New Report Links Smithfield River Pollution to Political Spending

Raleigh, NC – The owner of Smithfield Foods spent $1.4 million on lobbying in a single year, according to a new report by Environment North Carolina The enormous spending came after Smithfield Packaging dumped over 2.3 million pounds of toxic chemicals into North Carolina’s waterways in 2012.

“Spending millions on lobbying and campaign contributions shouldn’t give polluters a free pass to dump toxins into our waterways,” said Liz Kazal, Environment North Carolina Field Associate. “We need to do more to ensure that the streams that flow into places like Jordan Lake and the Deep River are protected.”

Environment North Carolina’s report links discharges of toxic chemicals as reported in the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory for 2012 with federally reported campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures for 2014.

Major findings of the report include:

  • Smithfield Foods dumped 2,339,770 pounds of toxic pollution into North Carolina’s waterways.
  • Smithfield Packaging Company spent $1.4 million dollars on lobbying and $204,006 on 2014 campaign cycle.

Right now, polluters are lobbying their allies on Capitol Hill to derail EPA’s plan to restore Clean Water Act protections to 135,907 miles of streams in North Carolina. Loopholes in the law currently leave the waterways that feed the drinking water for 4.7 million North Carolinians at risk.

The report goes on to explain the horrific impact of water pollution like Smithfield’s (both on our natural environment and surrounding businesses). Click here to read more and learn about corporate lobbying to block clean-up efforts by the federal EPA.

Commentary

Health careCharlotte Observer reporter Ann Doss Helms makes things perfectly clear this morning just how big the stakes will be this week when the U.S. Supreme Court hears the King v. Burwell case challenging the lawfulness of Affordable Care Act health insurance subsidies in states like North Carolina.

“More than 500,000 North Carolinians stand to lose subsidized health coverage based on a challenge to the Affordable Care Act that goes to the U.S. Supreme Court this week.

Also at stake is the financial stability of the insurance companies, medical professionals and others that have come to count on the federal money the act provides to help low- and moderate-income people who don’t have workplace health coverage.”

And as was explained in last week’s N.C. Policy Watch Weekly Briefing, that could be just the beginning of our problems if the Court opts to provoke a crisis because of what amounts to a typo.

Fortunately, congressional Republicans have a contingency plan if the Court really issues such a terrible ruling…NOT. As Ezra Klein argues this morning on Vox, Congress isn’t at all likely to be able address the crisis if the Court sets it in motion:

“If the Court rules against the Obama administration, the outcome is perfectly predictable: nothing will happen. Some Republicans will come up with some plan to gut Obamacare that the Obama administration could never accept. The Obama administration will ask Republicans to simply fix the law, which they’ll never do. The two sides will blame each other just as always happens, and their attached partisans will think their side has the better of the argument, just as always happens. We have seen this movie before.”

Let’s fervently hope, however, that the Court does the right thing and if it doesn’t, Klein is wrong.