Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend

In case you missed it yesterday, the Greensboro News & Record had another fine editorial that takes the General Assembly to task yet again for its latest unwarranted power grab in the state courts system. As NC Policy Watch reporter Melissa Boughton reported last week, state lawmakers have advanced an array of bills in recent weeks that seek to remake the courts for partisan purposes and without any meaningful input from legal experts or court officials themselves.

As the N&R editorial notes, Gov. Cooper should get out his veto pen:

“The legislature swatted the other two branches of state government at once last week — quite a feat, even for this overly aggressive body.

House Bill 239 reduces the N.C. Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12 through attrition. The next three who leave the bench won’t be replaced.

The measure was approved with the support of all Republicans in the House and Senate over opposition from Democrats.It denies Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper the chance to fill vacancies, starting next month when Republican Judge Doug McCullough reaches the mandatory retirement age of 72.

Two more Republicans, Robert N. Hunter Jr. and Ann Marie Calabria, would be next to retire, both in 2019.

Cooper could be expected to replace all three with Democrats if he had the opportunity.

Partisan politics aside, this move will have a major impact on the state’s appellate courts — and it was made without consultation with judicial officials. That creates the strong suspicion that the changes were not made with partisan politics aside.”

And here’s the conclusion:

“HB 239 also would route more appeals from the District and Superior Courts around the COA and directly to the Supreme Court. The high court’s workload probably isn’t excessive now, but too many additional cases could produce a backlog. What many Democrats fear is that Republican legislators want to create an emergency on the Supreme Court, which Republicans could use to justify enlarging it. Currently configured with seven justices, the Supreme Court is authorized by the state constitution to have as many as nine.

It so happens that the Supreme Court has a 4-3 Democratic majority. Republican legislators tried to add two Republican justices last year, but then-Gov. Pat McCrory said he stopped the move. Lawmakers could try again, giving themselves the authority to make the additional appointments for the purpose of building a 5-4 GOP majority.

All this richly justifies Cooper’s expected veto of HB 239. Changes to the court of this magnitude should be undertaken only after careful study with participation by judicial branch officials and representatives of the state’s legal community. This has the appearance of partisan politics and nothing else.

The courts are meant to be a co-equal and independent branch of state government. Their job is to protect the rights of the people by providing a check on the power of the executive and legislative branches.

The legislature is claiming too much power for itself, and it shouldn’t get away with swatting the other two branches in one bold stroke.”

Commentary

Editorials skewer GOP lawmaker for outrageous Hitler-Lincoln comparison

Rep. Larry Pittman

Rep. Larry Pittman

The controversy over North Carolina state representative Larry Pittman continues to swirl. As you will recall, the Cabarrus County Republican compared Abraham Lincoln to Adolf Hitler on his Facebook page this week in a bizarre rant about the Civil War. Pittman, of course, also introduced a bill this week to reinstate a ban on same-sex marriage in contravention of the U.S. Constitution.

Yesterday, a Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com called on Pittman to apologize and condemned the lawmaker and his shameful views. This morning, an editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer simply lampooned this strange and, obviously, troubled man:

“State Rep. Larry Pittman’s latest comments have some Republicans running for the hills, viewers of his Facebook page challenging him, and doubtless his teachers wishing he’d paid more attention in history class.

We take Rep. Larry’s comments with a silo of salt and ask, “Larry — when are Moe and Curly showing up?”…

One wonders if Pittman will next fix his political sights on Mother Teresa for being a bleeding heart who helped the poor or George Washington for being a revolutionary.”

Let’s hope the pressure and condemnations continue to mount. It’s worth noting that Pittman remains the co-chairman of a House Committee and actually wields some influence in the body. Given this week’s incident, it’s clearly time for House Speaker Tim Moore to alter that situation.

Commentary

Lawmakers advance anti-immigrant bill; Come learn more at next week’s Policy Watch breakfast

In case you missed it, a North Carolina Senate committee advanced a positively Trump-like bill this week that would purport to cut off state funding to cities that are not in “compliance” (whatever that means) with state laws related to immigration. While the bill in question is so poorly drafted and illogical as to be almost certainly unconstitutional, the fact that it has not simply been dismissed out of hand by  lawmakers points out the dire situation that currently afflicts the immigration policy debate in our state.

At such a time, it’s critical that caring and thinking people empower themselves with the truth so that they can push back. Next Tuesday, April 18, NC Policy Watch will host a special Crucial Conversation breakfast, “Immigration policy in the era of Trump: Where do things stand in North Carolina? What is the reality ‘on the ground’? How can caring and thinking people speak out and push back?” at which a panel of experts will provide some of that kind of information. We hope you can join us — here are the details:

Immigration policy in the era of Trump: Where do things stand in North Carolina? What is the reality “on the ground”? How can caring and thinking people speak out and push back?

Register here

Come learn about this vital topic and the need for North Carolinians to speak up as we host a distinguished panel of experts:

Abdo Diya

Julie Linton

Raul Pinto

Dr. Diya Abdo – A first-generation Palestinian born and raised in Jordan, Diya Abdo is associate professor of English and Chair of the Department of English and Creative Writing at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. She is the founder and director of Every Campus a Refuge, a Guilford College Center for Principled Problem Solving initiative which advocates for housing refugees on campus grounds and assisting them in resettlement. Diya’s teaching, research and scholarship focus on Arab women writers and Arab and Islamic feminisms.

Dr. Julie Linton, M.D. – Julie M. Linton, MD, FAAP, is an academic general pediatrician with a career devoted to community pediatrics, medical education, and advocacy. An Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, Dr. Linton works in the primary care setting and serves as the Advocacy Director for the Wake Forest Pediatric Residency Program. Dr. Linton is Co-Chair of the AAP Immigrant Health Special Interest Group and a member of the AAP Executive Committee for the Council on Community Pediatrics. She is a co-author of the AAP Immigrant Health Toolkit and two AAP policy statements: “Promoting Food Security for All Children” and “Promoting Food Security for All Children.” Dr. Linton co-founded and co-chairs the Forsyth County Refugee Health Collaborative.

Raul Pinto – Raul Pinto is one of North Carolina’s most knowledgeable, visible and important advocates on behalf of the rights of immigrants. He is also a staff attorney at the North Carolina Justice Center’s Immigrants and Refugees Rights Project where he represents low-income individuals negotiating the immigration system. Prior to joining the Justice Center, Raul worked as an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.

Don’t miss this very special event at this important moment.

When: Tuesday, April 18 at 8:30 a.m. — breakfast will be available at 8:15 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Space is limited – pre-registration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a light breakfast

Register here

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

Commentary

Mecklenburg, Forsyth schoolteachers speak out on pay, class size, vouchers

Two North Carolina schoolteachers authored fine assessments of state education policy this week. Charlotte-Mecklenburg schoolteacher Justin Parmeter has written another fine post on the reality that confronts North Carolina school teachers in light of rising benefit costs:

Rising cost of benefits means NC teachers earn less each year

Last week, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Ann Clark made her 2017-2018 operating budget recommendation to the Board of Education.  The presentation revealed some sobering data including per pupil spending (North Carolina is currently 12th out of 13 southeastern states in per pupil expenditures, ahead of only Mississippi) and comparatively low local salary supplements (for teachers past twenty years experience, other large districts in the state offer considerably larger supplements than Mecklenburg County).

But the figures that hit closest to home for me were those which compared salary increases with rising health benefits costs over the past several years.

In the run up to last fall’s elections, many of our state legislators were eager to talk about their support for increases in teacher compensation.  While that talking point may have scored points with your average voter, local teachers can tell you that their pay stub paints a very different picture.

A Charlotte-Mecklenburg teacher with a starting salary of $35,000 in 2008 has seen pay increases of $2647 up through the present.  Over the same period, health insurance cost hikes of $3892 have resulted in a net decrease in salary of nearly 4%.  Those figures do not include adjustments for inflation, insurance deductibles, housing, or any other living expenses which have consistently risen over the past decade, so the reality is even more bleak.

Detractors will say that out of control healthcare costs are a problem that every industry deals with, as American as apple pie.  However, education in North Carolina is mired in a unique crisis, with enrollment in our state university teacher prep programs down 30% over the past five years and other states luring our teachers away with higher pay.  We’re unlikely to avert the looming teacher shortage by asking people to commit to a career where they are guaranteed a paycheck that shrinks each year.

If our leaders both in the General Assembly and in the Governor’s mansion are serious about attracting the best and the brightest to teach in North Carolina, it’s high time we include the cost of benefits in our conversations about teacher compensation.  To laud pay increases that are eclipsed by soaring insurance premiums is simply putting lipstick on a pig.

Justin Parmenter, M.Ed, NBCT is an NC Teacher Voice Network Fellow at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, Forsyth County teacher Stuart Egan authored another of his patented
“open letters.” In “Open Letter to Sen. Chad Barefoot Concerning His Words on HB13,” Egan exposes the hypocrisy in the Senate Education Committee chair’s positions on two urgent matters of relevance to public schools: the state’s metastasizing school voucher program and the refusal of state senators to take up legislation providing relief from the state’s new and unfunded class size mandates for grades K-3.

As Egan notes, Barefoot and his conservative Senate colleagues refuse to advance the class size relief bill (a failure that leading to layoffs for TA’s and specialty teachers like those who teach music and P.E.) on the grounds that there is supposedly no accountability in local school district spending (a highly questionable allegation) even as they continue to work to expand vouchers (a program that’s been proven repeatedly to be unaccountable). Click here to read Egan’s entire post.

Commentary

Conservative lawmakers to introduce omnibus Biblical inerrancy law

Image: Wikipedia

(Warning: this post is a parody — though the fact that we have to make that explicit probably says something about the current state of things in North Carolina.)

In an effort to build on the warm reception they received this week to their introduction of the “Uphold Historical Marriage Act”a proposal that seeks to once again ban same-sex marriage in North Carolina in direct contravention of the U.S. Supreme Court based on a specifically cited directive in Genesis that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” — conservative state lawmakers announced this morning that they are laying plans to introduce omnibus legislation to give numerous other key Bible directives the force of state law.

According to Rep. Harley Smidlap (R – Moab) the legislation will be entitled the “Bible is Inerrant, But Leviticus Especially” Act or “BIBLE Act” for short. “We thought of simply introducing the whole Bible itself as a new and separate chapter in the General Statutes,” the veteran lawmaker observed, “but we knew that the printing cost on that would have been pretty big so we decided to keep things simple for now.”

Smidlap was joined in his efforts by Sen. Homer Noodleman (R – Hazor). According to Noodleman, the overwhelming need for the BIBLE Act became apparent when he and several other conservative legislators were drafting the proposed marriage bill. “When we looked at Genesis the other day, it suddenly dawned on us that there are all sorts of divine commandments that North Carolina law is flouting,” the senator said.

When pressed on the fact that numerous directives in the Bible appear to conflict directly with established principles of constitutional law, neither Smidlap nor Noodleman expressed significant concern.

“I’ll admit that there are some things we’ll have to work out,” Noodleman conceded.

“Yeah, like the whole re-institution of slavery thing. We understand that’s not gonna’ happen overnight,” Smidlap added.

Both lawmakers, however, expressed confidence that the recent confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court could pave the way for dramatic constitutional changes in the very near future.

This sentiment was echoed by Sally Subservient, a lawyer for the conservative advocacy group, Christian Religious Advocates for Zero Yielding (C.R.A.Z.Y.).  “Justice Gorsuch is an constitutional originalist,” Subservient noted. “And, obviously, the Old Testament is original as you can get.”

Smidlap and Noodleman indicated that details of the Bible Act are still being finalized in the General Assembly’s bill drafting office, but did provide a preview of some of what it will contain. Among the specific provisions expected to be included:

  • A new requirement that all boys be circumcised in keeping with Genesis 17:14 (“And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.”)
  • An amendment to state criminal law requiring rapists to marry their victims in keeping with Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (“If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.) Read more