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Be sure to check out Sharon McCloskey’s excellent story over on the main Policy Watch site this morning summarizing yesterday’s state Supreme Court argument in the school voucher case. You’ll get the history, the basics of the arguments and a blow by blow of yesterday’s proceedings.

If you want to grasp what is perhaps the essence of the plaintiff’s challenge, however, check out the following excerpt that Sharon quoted from the argument of the lead counsel for the plaintiffs, Raleigh civil rights attorney Burton Craige:

“North Carolina’s voucher program is unique. No other voucher program in the country allows the receipts of vouchers by private schools that can be unaccredited; employ unlicensed uncertified teachers — including teachers who don’t even have a high school diploma; employ teachers and staff without performing a criminal background check; teach no science or history; teach only the recitation of religious texts; and discriminate against students with disabilities. In the absence of standards, North Carolina stands in a class of its own.”

And here is a five minute excerpt from Craige’s argument:

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ITony Tata 2t is increasingly clear that a) North Carolina Transportation Secretary Tony Tata is a part-time Secretary who receives full-time pay ($136,000 per year) and b) Gov. Pat McCrory doesn’t give a darn.

How else to explain the Secretary’s ongoing second and third jobs as a novelist and Fox News Commentator on military issues and the silent acquiescence from the mansion?

Today — a day on which large swaths of the state are paralyzed by an unexpected snowstorm, thousands of public employees can’t get to work and numerous Department of Transportation crews are, presumably, working feverishly to clear our roads — the DOT Secretary will be…speaking in Chicago at Pritzker Military Museum & Library to plug his new “thriller” novel.

We’re not making this up. A call to the Pritzker Museum a few minutes ago confirmed  that Tata’s talk for this evening (800 miles from home) is on.

Meanwhile, Gov. Pat McCrory plods cheerfully along — content, apparently, to let one of his most important department heads mail it in and play the role of prima donna media figure on the public dime.

One can only imagine the wild bleats and gesticulations that would have emanated from Right Wing Avenue had a Perdue administration official somehow produced a book on, say, child rearing or healthful living while in office and then gone on Oprah to plug it. When it comes to Tata, however, the only thing one hears from those erstwhile crusaders against government waste, fraud and abuse is the sound of crickets chirping.

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Guilford Co. Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen

Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen

Senate Bill 2, the controversial proposal to allow North Carolina magistrates to avoid their duty to perform marriages for same-sex couples was whisked through the state Senate’s Judiciary II Committee today as thousands of North Carolinians remained stranded by an unexpected snowstorm. By my watch, the meeting featured all of eight minutes in public comment on what is, by any fair assessment, a proposal of great import and serious constitutional implications.

Of course, the lightning-fast review was no accident. When you’re selling a proposal that’s a gussied up effort to legalize discrimination and “separate but equal” public services, it’s best not to linger in any one place for too long lest people quickly see through the pancake makeup.

Let’s hope that, at some point, public outrage at the proposal (see for instance, today’s edition of the Fitzsimon File) forces lawmakers to apply the brakes to this particular train so that additional rational voices can be heard.

In this vein, a great example would be Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen. here is a letter Thigpen sent to the memberso the Judiciary II Committee via email at 7:40 this morning:

Dear Judiciary II Committee members,

I learned late yesterday SB 2 had been put on the calendar for hearing today. It’s snowing in Guilford County and Schools are closed. I don’t know if I’ll be able to attend but I wanted to express a number of concerns I have with the bill, specifically regarding the Register of Deeds provisions. They are as follows:

1) A “sincerely held religious objection” is not defined. If a Catholic employee discovers an applicant is applying for a second marriage, can they file a religious objection based on this bill?

2) As a manager, Register of Deeds will be put on notice by their employee(s) regarding their religious objection (which is not defined). There is no due diligence or deliberation regarding this matter. The employee is given power, without question, to state the religious objection and immediately be exempted from issuing marriage licenses to ANY citizen. The employee is then given a six month free pass from performing their duties processing marriage licenses.

This can have a serious impact on our daily operations and undermines our role as managers of our offices. Read More

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In case you missed it this morning, be sure to check out Adam Linker’s op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer. As Linker writes:

“Health insurance for more than a million North Carolinians is at stake, and Gov. Pat McCrory has two options: He can take the initiative to protect the people he has sworn to represent or he can sit back and let external forces decide our destiny.

Nearly 560,000 people have signed up for Affordable Care Act plans in North Carolina, and many of them receive tax credits to help pay their premiums. Thanks to outreach efforts by nonprofits, insurers, insurance agents and hospitals, our state ranked fourth in Affordable Care Act signups nationally.

Despite these impressive results, there are still more than 500,000 people, many of them the working poor, who do not qualify for North Carolina’s Medicaid program and who do not earn enough to purchase private insurance. Health reform set aside money for our state to provide this population with coverage through Medicaid, but first state leaders must consent to using these funds for that purpose. So far the governor and state legislature have left the money in Washington.”

Unfortunately, of course, Governor McCrory has failed to act. As Linker explains, however, it’s not too late:

“Now comes the governor’s moment.

He, along with legislative leaders, could change course and circumvent the Supreme Court by re-establishing state control over our insurance marketplace. In fact, most of the pieces are already in place. Our Department of Insurance is proactive about reviewing insurance policies. Our health care and insurance communities meet regularly and could easily form an oversight board. Our outreach and enrollment efforts are national models. All we need is for the governor to work with legislators to vest these organizations with the power to form a state marketplace.

McCrory then could release a state-specific plan to tap federal Medicaid funds to expand coverage to 500,000 additional people. This would boost local economies still staggering from the Great Recession. It would allow tens of thousands of women access to preventive screenings like mammograms and pap smears. It would allow thousands of people suffering from the disease of addiction to obtain the long-term treatment they need. Read More

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N.C. Commissioner of the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, W. David Guice

It’s not the most riveting 20 minutes of TV you’ll ever watch, but if you’d like to see a plainspoken, common sense explanation of why North Carolinians desperately need to invest more in public structures and services and reject the notion that the problems of government can be solved via an unceasing regimen of tax and spending cuts, check out this past weekend’s edition of WRAL’s On the Record news show featuring the McCrory administration’s Commissioner of Prisons and Juvenile Justice David Guice.

As Guice, to his great credit, explains repeatedly, North Carolina desperately needs a lot more money for prisons, guards, mental health treatment and higher employee pay as well as a general philosophical shift in which we reject the “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” approach to corrections that hardline conservatives of both political parties have imposed upon North Carolina in recent decades.

In many ways, Guice’s comments echo the recent pleas of the state’s new Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin who has repeatedly  called for dramatic increases to the state courts budget.

Let’s hope that lawmakers pay attention to Guice’s insightful assessments and that the Guv starts appointing more and more people like him throughout his administration.