News

Second Chance Act clears House committee with support from unprecedented left-right coalition

Legislation supported by an unlikely alliance of progressive and conservative advocates moved one step closer to final passage this morning. The Second Chance Act, a bipartisan “clean slate” bill that would automatically expunge criminal charges that are dismissed or disposed “not guilty” after July 1, 2020, and allow individuals to petition for expungement of all nonviolent misdemeanor convictions after seven years of good behavior, won unanimous approval from the House Judiciary Committee. The measure, which passed the Senate unanimously in May, will now move on to the House Rules Committee for final review before heading to the House floor.

Today’s committee hearing on the bill highlighted what may well be an unprecedented coalition in recent years at the General Assembly. Supporters of the bill include such arch-conservative groups as Americans for Prosperity, ALEC Action, the NC Chamber and Koch Industries (which provided testimony at today’s hearing) as well as progressive groups like the North Carolina NAACP, the ACLU of North Carolina and the NC Justice Center (Policy Watch’s parent organization). The bill also won support from the state Conference of District Attorneys, which also voiced its support this morning.

While some committee members expressed concerns at today’s hearing about potential logistical demands that large numbers of expungement actions could place on clerks of court and other justice system officials, no one spoke against the objectives of the bill, which stands in marked, even stunning, contrast to the rhetoric of past years in which lawmakers of both political parties frequently competed to demonstrate who could be the “toughest on crime.”

The following description of the bill is from a fact sheet distributed by bill supporters:

HOW THE SECOND CHANCE ACT/SB 562 PROVIDES CLEAN SLATE RELIEF

  • AUTOMATIC RELIEF. A misdemeanor or felony charge that is dismissed or disposed “not guilty” on or after July 1, 2020, will be automatically expunged. (Exception: a felony charge that is dismissed pursuant to a plea agreement that results in any conviction) Read more
News

GOP state rep, supporter of Medicaid expansion wins 3rd congressional district primary

Greg Murphy

The turnout was very small (just 11.5%), but the margin was decisive in yesterday’s Republican primary runoff in the race to fill the late Congressman Walter Jones’ 3rd District seat. With all precincts reporting, State Rep. Greg Murphy defeated challenger Joan Perry 59.71% to 40.29%. Murphy had also won the initial primary in a crowded field, but failed to gain the requisite votes to avoid a runoff. This is from a story in the Greenville Daily Reflector:

Murphy won 12 of the 17 counties in the district, which extends from the Virginia border to Onslow County. He received 21,444 votes to his opponent Joan Perry’s 14,472 votes….

There is one more hurdle to overcome, Murphy said, the Sept. 10 special election where he will face Democrat Allen Thomas, former mayor of Greenville, along with candidates from the Libertarian and Constitution parties.

Though the district is rated solidly Republican, Allen Thomas is widely seen as a formidable challenger who has attracted support from Democrats at the national level.

Interestingly, Murphy, a physician, won the endorsement of the far right Congressional Freedom Caucus and its leader, Congressman Mark Meadows, despite his record of having supported a version of Medicaid expansion as a Raleigh lawmaker. In April, Murphy spoke at a press conference at which he and fellow GOP lawmakers touted the bill that was advanced yesterday by the House. At the time, Murphy explained his support for the bill by saying:

“I’m not only a legislator but I still practice medicine. So I see on a daily basis individuals who are caught in that coverage gap – people who put off coming to see physicians, people who put off coming to our emergency department, with life-threatening conditions, often-times with cancer. Cancer doesn’t care if you have an insurance card or not.”

Perry attacked Murphy repeatedly for his stance on the issue, but to no avail. It will be interesting, however, to see if Murphy sticks to such a thoughtful stance if he is elected to Congress and finds himself serving under Meadows.

Commentary, News

The Mad Tweeter strikes again as Trump reverses course on citizenship question

As you’ve probably heard by now, the Trump administration has pulled yet another of its patented 180’s on the Census citizenship question. In some ways, of course, it’s no surprise. The nation has come to expect irrational and irresponsible last minute about-faces from the Great Prevaricator. That said, this one represents an especially unhinged act that deserves to be rejected forthwith by the federal courts.

One of the best summaries of what transpired yesterday and where things stand now comes from David A. Graham at The Atlantic. As Graham explains in A Hearing in the Census Case Turns Surreal:Government lawyers faced an irate federal judge on Wednesday, after the president publicly contradicted what they had told the court.”, the Trump presidency has grown so absurd that even his own lawyers have no idea how to deal with the president:

Federal district-court Judge George Hazel convened a call with attorneys Wednesday, trying to understand what was happening. “I don’t know how many federal judges have Twitter accounts, but I happen to be one of them, and I follow the president, and so I saw a tweet that directly contradicted the position that Mr. Gardner had shared with me yesterday,” Hazel said, referring to the Justice Department lawyer Joshua Gardner.

In short, Hazel wanted to know whether the federal government was still trying to get the question on the census, as Trump had said, or not, as Gardner had said. The question was simple, but the answer turned out not to be. (The transcript is short, and worth reading in full.)

After explaining that the judge was understandably angry, even if he was somewhat sympathetic to the plight of a Justice Department attorney attempting to represent someone as unhinged as Trump, Graham explained that the judge ordered a 2:00 p.m. hearing tomorrow to get the matter settled and that, amazingly, Trump could still end up prevailing:

Incredibly, Trump might yet get away with using a citizenship question on the census to suppress participation. For one thing, Read more

Commentary, Trump Administration

Demise of Census question is an important reminder in battle to combat Trumpism

As the New York Times and numerous other outlets have reported since yesterday afternoon, the Trump administration has finally backed off of its harebrained scheme to intimidate immigrant communities by adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. This is, of course, great news. The decision represents a stinging defeat for the anti-immigrant movement that Trump has championed and ought to send a message to caring and thinking people all over that the fight for immigrant rights is a battle that they can win.

But a lot of damage has already been done.

As Thomas Saenz, of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund told the Times, “No matter what happens, there’s still a lingering hardship from how long the administration had this hanging out there, and the publicity it got.”

And, of course, there’s no indication that Trump and his minions have decided to retreat from their barbaric, fear-based strategy in other places and forums. As Raul Pinto observed yesterday over on the main Policy Watch site, legislation currently being advanced at the North Carolina General Assembly is based on the same premise as the now-rejected Census question and the horrific treatment of asylum seekers at the border: fear.

Of course, the most important antidote to fear is courage — courage to stand up to the bullies who seek to poison America’s longstanding heritage as a beacon — however flawed — of freedom in the world and a hope for the future. Especially as we celebrate the Independence Day holiday tomorrow, let’s take renewed courage from yesterday’s victory and celebrate it as a hopeful sign, and maybe even a turning point, in the fight to defeat the wretched, small-minded, bullying approach to life that Trumpism represents.

Commentary

Gene Nichol: Crisis pregnancy centers violate First Amendment

[This post has been updated.] Click here to see a fine a fine op-ed by UNC law professor Gene Nichol that graced the Raleigh’s News & Observer today. In “Government sponsored religion,” Nichol tells the plain truth about so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” that the Republican lawmakers at the General Assembly continues to fund with public tax dollars: their receipt of public money is violative of the Constitution.

As Nichol explains, the folks who run the centers hold a religious belief that abortion is wrong and use the funds they receive (from the government and elsewhere)  to try and convince pregnant women to adopt the same view. Nichol highlights an Asheville-area CPC in which the “counseling” offered comes from “a Biblical perspective.” As the staff members told the Asheville Citizen-Times, “this is our ministry.”

After also noting that a detailed 2018 report from Dr. Amy Bryant and Dr. Jonas Swartz of the UNC School of Medicine in the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics discredited the centers for placing religious ideology ahead of actual medical care and for dispensing “counseling that is misleading or false” and that “falls outside accepted medical standards,” Nichol offers this on-the-money conclusion:

“I’m not competent to assess the claims of doctors Bryant and Swartz. though I admit I’m inclined to believe them. I do, though have a passing familiarity with American constitutional law. I have taught it for 40 years. The state of North Carolina has no business, and it has no authority, to fund an agency’s “biblical ministry.” This is true no matter how well-motivated the government funded recipients may be or how crucial the role of religion might have become in their lives. Religion and government, in the United States, are to be kept separate — even when the religion is the one that North Carolina Republicans prefer.”