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Commentary, News

Grade-F1. Grades for a roller-coaster week in Raleigh
Well, that was quite an up and down week in the North Carolina public policy arena. One minute, caring and thinking people were feeling encouraged and hopeful that common sense and relative moderation were mounting a serious comeback in the capital city. The next, they were pounding their computer screens in frustration at the worse-than-ever surge of regressive legislation and the alternately dishonest and vacuous explanations proffered by bill sponsors and Governor McCrory.

So, what to make of the rapid-fire developments and the muddled policy picture that we confront at week’s end? Here’s a thumbnail review of five issues that dominated the news, where they stand and what to make of the Governor’s and General Assembly’s brief and mostly ineffective feints toward the middle. [Continue Reading…]

Court of Appeals2. Court of Appeals says repeal of NC tenure law is unconstitutional
The General Assembly’s 2013 repeal of the teacher tenure law amounted to an unconstitutional taking of contract and property rights as to those teachers who’d already attained that status, according to a Court of Appeals opinion released this morning.
Writing for the court, Judge Linda Stephens said:

“[W]e cannot escape the conclusion that for the last four decades, the career status protections provided by section 115C- 325, the very title of which—“Principal and Teacher Employment Contracts”— purports to govern teachers’ employment contracts, have been a fundamental part of the bargain that Plaintiffs and thousands of other teachers across this State accepted when they decided to defer the pursuit of potentially more lucrative professions, as well as the opportunity to work in states that offer better financial compensation to members of their own profession, in order to accept employment in our public schools.”

[Continue Reading…]

McCrory_budget305-a3. McCrory’s defining moments
Never mind the claims of a Carolina Comeback or his promises to fix a “broken” state government. It will be the next few weeks that are likely to define the governorship of Pat McCrory.

First there is the fate of his vetoes, his decisions to reject legislation that would allow magistrates and other public officials to refuse to marry same-sex couples and another bill that would make it harder for employees to uncover and report abuse or other unethical activity at their workplace.
Many pundits have said politics motivated McCrory to act, to portray himself as more moderate with the 2016 election just around the corner. [Continue Reading…]

Charter schools4. State Board of Education wavers on green-lighting questionable charter school operators: Poor track records, allegations and charges of academic fraud linked to companies hoping to educate North Carolina’s school children
The State Board of Education planned to decide this month whether or not to give the go-ahead to 18 charter schools that hope to open in the Fall of 2016.
But upon learning of allegations and charges of academic fraud and other abuses at charter schools in Florida that are managed by Newpoint Education Partners—a company that hopes to open two charter schools in Wake and New Hanover counties—the Board indicated Wednesday that they are likely to temporarily put the brakes on allowing that charter management company to do business in North Carolina, a decision that will be determined in a final vote Thursday. [Continue Reading…]

Drone5. Another hidden gem in the budget comes to light: Why are lawmakers pushing the use of drones without public debate?
The subject of unmanned aircraft systems – often referred to as “drones” — and their use in American airspace is obviously an enormously complex and controversial subject. In addition to simple safety concerns (a drone landed on the White House lawn earlier this year, for Pete’s sake), the prospect of thousands of camera-equipped machines flying over private homes and businesses at the behest of the government and/or corporate interests raises all kinds of questions about privacy, the Fourth Amendment and, as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously described it, “the right to be let alone.”
Add to this obvious reality the technological advances of recent years and the pressure on drone manufacturers to find new markets for their wares given the declining role of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan and it’s pretty obvious that this is a subject in need of serious public dialogue. [Continue Reading…]

Commentary

Gay marriage 3Even as lawmakers move to override Governor McCrory’s veto of Senate Bill 2 — the proposal to allow magistrates, registers of deeds and assistant registers of deeds opt out of performing same sex marriages — North Carolina public opinion continues to move rapidly in the direction of tolerance.

One of the nation’s most accurate polling firms — Public Policy Polling — has the details:

“PPP’s newest North Carolina poll finds a record high level of support for gay marriage, 8 months after it became legal in the state. Voters are now almost evenly divided on the issue with 44% in support and 46% against it. That marks a massive shift in public sentiment over the last three years. In 2012 North Carolinians passed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage by 22 points, 61/39. Last year we found that voters in the state still opposed it by 13 points at 40/53.

The big shift in attitudes may be a product of North Carolinians finding after gay marriage did become legal in the state that it just wasn’t a big deal. 69% of voters in the state either say that its being legal has had a positive impact on their lives or no impact at all, with only 31% claiming it’s had a negative effect.

The numbers by party in North Carolina on this issue really show the extent to which Republicans are on such a different plane when it comes to social issues than Democrats and independents. 59% of both Democrats and independents say they think gay marriage should be legal- meanwhile only 17% of Republicans do. There’s also a huge generational gap- 57% of voters under 45 favor gay marriage, while only 36% over 45 do. Support will just keep increasing given that age divide.”

See all the details of the new PPP poll by clicking here.

Commentary

Yet another measure to emerge from the General Assembly during a wild week on Jones Street was a proposal to dramatically amend the state Environmental Protection Act. According to advocates at the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, the legislation portends disaster. Here are the statements from the two groups:

NC Sierra Club Statement on Passage of SEPA Rollback

RALEIGH – This afternoon, the NC legislature passed HB 795, SEPA Reform. The bill now goes to Governor McCrory for consideration. The final version of the bill was less protective than the versions passed by either chamber.

SEPA, which became law in 1971, requires an environmental review of public projects using public funds or public lands, to ensure that the full impact on communities and the environment is taken into consideration. It is not a regulatory program and does not affect private companies. Rather, SEPA has served as the state and local government counterpart to NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act. SEPA is not duplicative: where a federal environmental impact statement is required, SEPA is not triggered.

Passage of HB 795 is a top priority this session for the NC Chamber of Commerce.

The measure received brief consideration in committee and was not the result of any study or analysis of the program as currently constructed or proposed. There was no evaluation of how many projects would be affected.

H 795 sets new thresholds for when SEPA will apply, so that going forward only projects that impact more than 10 acres of public lands or use more than $10 million of public funds will have to do a review under SEPA. The concern is that the higher the thresholds are set, the fewer the projects will be reviewed. There is no direct correlation between the cost or size of a project and its adverse environmental impacts. The new thresholds were arbitrarily set.

After the approval of H 795, Molly Diggins, Director for the North Carolina Sierra Club, issued the following statement:

“Although H 795 is called ‘SEPA Reform’ it is essentially a repeal of our landmark State Environmental Policy Act, passed in 1971.

“SEPA has served North Carolinians well. It is all about government transparency and accountability to ensure that taxpayers’ funds are stewarded responsibly and alternatives are evaluated when a publicly funded project has adverse environmental impacts. The public deserves this layer of protection when public funds or public lands are involved.”

“Now the question is: will Governor McCrory be the governor who signs the death certificate for North Carolina’s State Environmental Policy Act?”

And this is from EDF:

North Carolina Lawmakers Wreak Havoc on State’s Environmental Policy Act
EDF statement from David Kelly, Senior Analyst, Ecosystems

(RALEIGH, NC – June 4, 2015) North Carolina lawmakers today gave final approval to a bill that dramatically weakens the state’s Environmental Policy Act (referred to as SEPA). HB 795 “SEPA Reform” will exempt most taxpayer funded development projects from examining potential environmental impacts. Under HB 795, environmental reviews will only be required for projects that cost more than $10 million in tax dollars or that result in permanent changes to more than 10 acres of public land.

“Today’s vote means that millions in tax dollars can be handed out to private companies for projects that will harm our state’s wildlife, waterways, wetlands and forests in ways that the SEPA law has always helped avoid.

“It’s disappointing that lawmakers voted to largely absolve themselves from responsibility for preventing unnecessary harm to our environment and natural resources when spending the public’s money. Ironically, some of the bill’s most outspoken supporters frequently lecture earnestly about elected officials’ obligation to ensure tax dollars are spent responsibly.

“Lawmakers are out of touch. North Carolina taxpayers care about the environment and deserve assurance that when their tax dollars are spent on government projects or handed out to private companies, avoiding unnecessary harm to our state’s land, water and wildlife is a priority.”

Commentary, Justice for McCollum and Brown

The good people at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation issued the following important statement in the wake of Gov. McCrory’s absurdly-delayed pardon announcement today for Henry McCollum and Leon Brown:

With pardon finally granted, McCrory must address broken death penalty system
McCollum and Brown case exposes flaws that could lead to executing an innocent person

Raleigh, NC –Gov. Pat McCrory granted a pardon of innocence today to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, after a nearly 10-month reinvestigation that confirmed the findings of the Innocence Inquiry Commission, the prosecutor, and the judge in their case. The governor’s action will clear their names and allow them to receive up to $750,000 in state compensation for their wrongful imprisonment.

“We are happy that Henry and Leon will finally get the compensation they deserve, and that their innocence has been officially recognized,” said Ken Rose, a senior attorney with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, who represented McCollum for 20 years. “But we cannot stop there. We must reexamine a system that let an innocent man sit on death row for 30 years. How many more innocent people are still awaiting execution? The governor can and should call an official halt to executions in North Carolina until we know the answer to that question.” Read More

Commentary

Wake County businessman Doug Burton had had enough of the unfair competition that North Carolina continues to sanction with its failure to pass meaningful laws to crack down on the wrongful treatment on employees as “independent contractors.”

In an excellent op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer, he lays out the increasing dire problem:

“Treating employees as independent contractors when in fact they are regular employees is a fraudulent business practice that has become an epidemic. Some call this “misclassification,” but it is in fact fraud that lets these cheating businesses – many from out of state – off the hook for basic protections, including minimum wage, overtime pay, workers’ compensation, health and safety protections, unemployment insurance, federal and state tax withholding, social security withholdings and matching and more.

This fraud is a growing problem that harms workers, puts a strain on government resources and provides an unfair advantage when these unscrupulous employers compete with law-abiding businesses. I see it every day. Other legitimate business owners see it, too, when they are regularly underpriced for jobs and there is no other explanation for such bids other than cheating. When cheating businesses classify employees as independent contractors to reduce labor costs, legitimate business and workers alike lose out.”

He goes on to explain why current proposals in the General Assembly are a start but fail to go anywhere close to far enough: Read More