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As Think Progress reports this morning, there’s good news today for average American workers in the new proposed rule from the Obama administration:

“On Tuesday morning, the Department of Labor released its proposed changes to the rules regarding who is eligible for overtime pay to expand the coverage to more workers.

The proposal would increase the salary threshold to $50,440 by 2016, meaning anyone who makes that much or less would have to be paid time-and-a-half for putting in more than 40 hours a week. It would also increase the total annual compensation a worker would need to make to be exempted as a highly compensated employee, raising it to $122,148 a year for full-time salaried workers. And it would automatically update both requirements to make sure only actual executives and administrative and professional workers get exempted.

On a call with the media, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez estimated that for the subset of workers who work more than 40 hours a week and will become newly eligible for overtime pay, they will collectively see $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion in extra compensation as a result of the change.”

This is precisely the kind of rule change we’ll need lots more of (e.g. a big boost in the minimum wage) if the nation is going to address its destructive and mushrooming gap between the haves and the have nots. Let’s hope the administration keeps ’em coming.

Commentary

Driver's edAccording to the folks who run North Carolina government, these are fabulous times in the Old North State. To hear Gov. McCrory, Senate President Pro Tem Berger and House Speake Moore tell it, North Carolina’s economy is soaring and state government is humming along like a finely tuned machine. In other words, it pretty much doesn’t get any better than this.

All of which makes this story from this morning’s Greensboro News & Record all the more striking.

“Hitting the brakes

A few hours behind the wheel stands between 937 local teenagers and a driving eligibility certificate.

They could remain in that holding pattern for a month or more until it is clear how much state funding, if any, Guilford County Schools will get to cover its driver education program.

The state funding for the program expires Tuesday. Starting Wednesday, Guilford’s program is suspended until the General Assembly decides how much money, if any, to spend on the state-mandated program.”

The article goes on to detail how lawmakers continue to seriously consider all kinds of proposals to cut driver’s ed, move it out of K-12 education to community colleges or even eliminate it all together.

You got that? In a state of 10 million people with vast wealth, supposed good times and an obvious and growing need for safer streets and roads, the government of the state cannot even get its act together to maintain something so basic to the health and well-being off the community as a functioning, well-funded driver’s education program.

But, of course, this should come as no surprise. The same people letting the driver’s education program go to seed are the same ones who are bent on transforming the teaching profession itself into temporary, early career option and the public schools into no-frills education factories.

If this is government when times are “good,” one hates to think of what things will look like the next time the the economy turns sour again.

Commentary

The story broken by NC Policy Watch reporter Lindsay Wagner (i.e. one of the reporters unwelcome at Gov. Pat McCrory events) about the Senate’s secretive plan to cut health insurance benefits for future state retirees is the subject of the lead editorial in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer. Here’s the N&O:

“Now, the state Senate is looking, in a rather secretive way through a provision deep in its budget, to end that health care insurance benefit for those hired by the state after Jan. 1, 2016. Current employees wouldn’t be affected. But don’t think of that as some kind of generosity on the part of Republican senators pushing this idea. If benefits of those under the current plan were ended, legal challenges would ensue.

There’s a reason this idea was buried in the Republican Senate budget, and that was to avoid debate that would generate tremendous and doubtless angry response from tens of thousands of current and former state employees. Perhaps that’s why, asked by a reporter about the proposal, Senate budget writer Sen. Harry Brown just walked away. That is a most discouraging action on the part of an elected official, to decline to explain or defend an action….

As House and Senate negotiators hammer out a final budget, we must hope that cooler heads prevail and that lawmakers who have doubts about targeting an important benefit for state workers will speak up and stop this movement. It smacks of political payback by Republicans who haven’t liked the criticism they’ve occasionally gotten from SEANC and some members. The problem with such payback is that taking away this benefit will hurt state government from top to bottom – and will thus hurt the people government is supposed to serve and often serves well.”
As an aside, it would be ironic if the secret provision was somehow the result of the Senate is being mad at the State Employees Association. When SEANC was headed by its corrupt former leadership, it regularly bestowed honors on Senate GOP leaders — including making Phil Berger its “legislator of the year” at one point.
Commentary, News

Health numbers1. Senate pushes to eliminate health retirement benefits for North Carolina’s teachers and state retirees

Buried deep in the Senate budget proposal that lawmakers passed last week is a provision that would eliminate state-paid health retirement benefits for teachers and state employees who are hired after January 1, 2016.

“This puts the state at a major disadvantage in the recruitment and retention of state employees, teachers, and university faculty compared to other states,” said Chuck Stone, director of operations for the State Employees Association of NC (SEANC), of the Senate’s push to jettison the health retirement benefit.

[Continue Reading…]

Berger-Moore-McCrory2. The missing sense of urgency in Raleigh

It promises to be a long hot summer in the Legislative Building in Raleigh as House and Senate leaders try to come up with a final budget agreement for the next two years with hundreds of millions of dollars and dozens of policy issues in dispute between the two chambers’ spending plans.

A report prepared by staff members that lists the differences between the House and Senate budget runs 372 pages long and does not include many of the major policy sticking points like Medicaid reform and changing the way local sales tax revenues are distributed.

Nobody seems eager to start tackling the daunting process. Speaker Tim Moore says the House is prepared to stay in Raleigh and Senate leaders vow not to adjourn until Medicaid reform is finished.

[Continue Reading…]

Fair-housing3. Senate budget also took aim at anti-discrimination law

North Carolina might scale back its efforts to fight unlawful discrimination, if a Senate budget provision to repeal the state’s fair housing act is adopted as law.
The provision, which would repeal the State Fair Housing Act and shut down the state office that investigates discrimination complaints, was buried deep in the 500-plus budget (pages 390-391) that was made public and quickly passed the chamber last week.

The elimination of the state anti-discrimination measures got no attention during debates when the budget passed the Republican-controlled Senate last Thursday.

[Continue Reading…]

Voter ID4. Lesson learned on Voter ID

Last week’s abrupt turnabout in the General Assembly on Voter ID surprised lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as well as attorneys in the lawsuits set for trial this summer.

The changes, which include provisions allowing voters lacking photo ID to cast a provisional ballot once they’ve signed a sworn statement indicating that they had a “reasonable impediment” to getting such an ID, surfaced at the last minute as part of a joint House and Senate compromise to House Bill 836.

The House, while supporting the changes as improvements on an otherwise bad law, decried the lack of process and wondered aloud what happened to bring about such a quick reversal.

“Why now,” asked Rep. Mickey Michaux. “This could have been done two years ago.”

[Continue Reading…]

Gun tragedy5. Hints of hope amongst the carnage: Average North Carolinians are pushing back against the gun fundamentalists…and winning

It’s hard to feel very optimistic about much of anything in the aftermath of last week’s horrific tragedy/terrorist act in South Carolina. The idea that a hate-filled sociopath could and would enter a sanctuary of peace and then execute nine innocent, welcoming people with whom he had been purporting to engage in Bible study minutes before is so shocking and disturbing that it almost renders rational responses impossible….

And yet, unspeakably horrific as the murders were, there are growing signs that maybe, just maybe, the cumulative impact of this nation’s ever-lengthening list of mass murders and racist hate crimes is finally starting to move public opinion and policy in a positive direction.

[Continue Reading…]
Commentary

While equality advocates are universally celebrating today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision, critics have issued mixed responses.

Not surprisingly, Equality NC hailed the decision:

“Chris Sgro, Equality NC’s executive director, called this ‘a historic day’ for the United States and the state of North Carolina.’Today’s ruling granting loving, same-sex couples the freedom to marry across our United States is a historic moment for our country, and for tens of thousands of same-sex families who call our state home,’ said Sgro. ‘With it, gays and lesbians in every corner of the United States will finally be able to marry the person they love. Today, love won and we celebrate all who have worked tirelessly over many decades to change hearts and minds and make this ruling a possibility.’

Sgro added, ‘Even as we celebrate, we know our progress does not and will not end at the Supreme Court. Same-sex couples can legally marry in North Carolina—and the very same day, be denied public services, fired from their job or denied housing simply because of who they are. With these harsh realities in mind, Equality NC remains committed to fighting for full equality for LGBT North Carolinians wherever they work or live.’”

And this is from the ACLU:

“‘The Supreme Court today welcomed same-sex couples fully into the American family. Gay and lesbian couples and our families may be at peace knowing that our simple request to be treated like everyone else – that is, to be able to participate in the dignity of marriage – has finally been granted,’ said James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV Project. ‘Today’s historic victory comes on the backs of same-sex couples and advocates who have worked for decades to dismantle harmful stereotypes and unjust laws in the quest for equal treatment.’

The court’s 5-4 opinion holds that state marriage bans violate the due process and equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Recognizing that ‘marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death,’ the Court held that the Constitution grants to same-sex couples the right to “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”

‘Today’s decision has been 50 years in the making and will stand with Brown vs. Board of Education as one of the landmark civil rights moments of our time,’ said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. ‘Now we take the battle for full legal equality to the states, where 31 states have yet to pass any statewide LGBT non-discrimination laws. The wind is at our backs, and we are now on the cusp of achieving full legal equality for LGBT Americans across the country.'”

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger offered somewhat muted criticism:

“The majority of North Carolina voters who define marriage as between one man and one woman deserved a final resolution from the Supreme Court. while this decision is disappointing, we respect the ruling and will continue to work to ensure North Carolina complies with the law of the land.”

Meanwhile conservative social warriors were scathing in their reaction.  Read More