Commentary, News

This was announced this afternoon by the good people at the ACLU of North Carolina:

Rep. Duane Hall to Advance Student Data Protections as Part of National Focus on Privacy Issues
North Carolina Joins Nationwide, Bipartisan Effort to Empower Americans to #TakeCTRL of Their Privacy

RALEIGH — Today, Representative Duane Hall (Wake County) asked his legislative colleagues in North Carolina to focus on the issue of student data privacy and to support legislation, which Rep. Hall plans to introduce during the 2016 session, that would prohibit school officials from forcing or coercing students or applicants into providing access to their personal social media accounts, except under a limited set of specifically defined circumstances, such as investigating specific allegations of harassment.

“In the twenty first century, social media platforms have become some of the most important and vibrant forums for people to exchange ideas and exercise their right to free speech with a selective audience,” Hall said. “When school officials demand access to an individual’s social accounts, it constitutes a significant violation of personal privacy, and it would have a chilling effect on free speech. That’s why it’s important that school officials be prohibited from forcing or coercing students to provide access to their social media accounts, except under a very narrow set of circumstances.”

The announcement in North Carolina is one of 16 taking place simultaneously throughout of the country — from Hawaii to North Carolina, from Alaska to Alabama, and from New Hampshire to New York to New Mexico — with a diverse, bipartisan coalition of elected officials and citizens coming together to tell the nation they care about their digital privacy and are willing to join together to fight for it. The message from these collective actions by the states is clear: where Congress is unwilling or unable to act to protect Americans’ privacy, or takes actions that are insufficient, the states are more than willing to step up and fill the void. Together, these states have introduced a range of new legislation that includes protections for student privacy, location tracking and personal data.

The multi-state effort is using the Twitter hashtag #TakeCTRL.

The bipartisan actions by the states, which are intended to highlight the strong and diverse nationwide support for legislation that empowers people to take control of their privacy, are mirrored by the results of a recent poll conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, which found that 90% of Americans believed (73% of them “strongly”) that the next president should make “protecting privacy so we have more control over our personal information” a policy priority.

The 16 very diverse states, plus the District of Columbia, making announcements represent more than 30% of the nation’s states; their bills have the ability to impact nearly 100 million people; and they collectively account for 169 electoral votes.


School busThe latest, maddening real world example of how North Carolina’s chronic under-investment in public education is harming our schools and causing destructive penny-pinching can be found right now in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School District. As the lead editorial in this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal explains, the school system is actually imposing a pay cut on certain bus drivers.

According to the editorial, the school system recently slashed the hourly rate paid to school activity bus drivers by a minimum of almost 8%. Many lost a lot more.

“Most of them were being paid a starting rate of $12.94 per hour, moving up according to a salary schedule for each year worked. But the board of education approved a change to pay them all a flat rate of $12.35 an hour on Oct. 27, effective Nov. 1. The district didn’t have a good mechanism in place to differentiate between activity runs and regular school bus runs for drivers who are eligible to drive both until this year, so the activity bus drivers had continued to receive their regular rates. For some, their payment is now significantly lower.

‘I lost $300 a month,’ Jessie Easler, an activity bus driver who works Monday through Friday, told the Journal. She’s a 40-year bus-driving veteran.”

To add insult to injury, the school system announced the cuts clumsily (“over bus radios” and via communiques to school principals and secretaries) so that many drivers weren’t even aware of it until they saw their monthly paychecks.

This is, in a word, outrageous and a classic example of how North Carolina’s disastrous education cuts of recent years are producing real world hardship. It was bad enough that most drivers weren’t even making a living wage to begin with, but to impose large, unannounced pay cuts on top of that in the middle of the school year is a classic example of how far our schools have plummeted under the state’s penny-wise, pound-foolish conservative leadership. Surely we can better than this.


Tax shiftIn case you missed them over the weekend, at least two lead editorials in major state newspapers once again condemned North Carolina’s mad rush to shift taxes from the rich to the poor and middle class.

After quoting the Budget & Tax Center’s Cedric Johnson, Raleigh’s News & Observer put it this way:

“Growing tax revenue doesn’t mean happy days are here again for most North Carolinians. It means the wealthy and big corporations are paying less and middle- and low-income earners are paying more. Johnson notes, ‘The regressive sales tax hits low-income families and individuals particularly hard, as they spend a larger share of their income on goods and services subject to the sales tax. Thus, to point to increased revenue as evidence that low- and middle-income North Carolinians are better off is an inaccurate assessment of reality.’

The revenue numbers are not only about a shift in the tax burden. They are also about what’s missing. Had the General Assembly’s tax changes been revenue neutral – as McCrory originally requested – the state would be seeing a much larger revenue increase as the economy recovers.

A bigger rise in state revenue would have supported salary increases for teachers and state employees, reduced pressure on tuition at UNC campuses and allowed for overdue investments in roads, water and sewer systems and other forms of infrastructure. The tax revenue that could have helped the state restore funding cut during the recession is instead being given back disproportionately to the wealthy and large corporations in the form of tax cuts.

Arthur Laffer’s trickle-down theory has been proven a fairy tale of riches from nothing since the Reagan administration first sold it as fact. But that won’t stop the tax cutters from telling it as true once more.

Meanwhile the Greensboro News & Record said this after taking note of some recent crowing by the right-wing Tax Foundation that state revenues have been up lately:

“While that’s true, the legislature has moved too hastily to cut taxes for some at the expense of others. Income-tax rates on top earners have fallen the most, while eliminating the earned-income tax credit has taken money from the poor. Meanwhile, the impact of sales taxes is often felt most sharply by people who get less benefit from income-tax reductions. That should not continue.

Slashing or eliminating income taxes might work in Texas, which collects energy industry taxes, or Florida, where a huge tourism industry pulls in massive sales-tax revenue. It may not be so beneficial for North Carolina….

There are legitimate arguments that tax cuts fuel economic activity. Because the recovery has generated natural revenue growth, the timing has been good to lower rates. But rearranging the tax landscape tends to produce winners and losers. Legislators should look more closely at who’s hurt and helped before rushing further along this path.”


Kristin Collins of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation authored the following post for the NC Center for Alternatives to the Death Penalty blog today:

Let’s punish lawyers who put innocent people in prison, instead of those who free them

Chris Mumma with Joseph Sledge on the day of his exoneration.

Chris Mumma with Joseph Sledge on the day of his exoneration.

Joseph Sledge spent 37 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. At his trial, the state paid a lying snitch to testify against him. While he was in prison, the district attorney opposed the DNA testing that would eventually prove Sledge’s innocence. And when the long-delayed tests showed Sledge wasn’t the culprit, the state waited another two years to release him from prison.

Now that Sledge is finally free, the only person being punished is the lawyer who fought to prove his innocence, Chris Mumma. On Thursday, the State Bar found that Mumma violated professional ethics by testing a water bottle for DNA without permission from its owner — all in an attempt to gain an innocent man his freedom against long odds. (The test of the water bottle was inconclusive and had no impact on the final outcome.)

We can’t say it better than the N&O’s Barry Saunders:

“It seems like something out of a dystopian, Twilight Zone world that the woman whose efforts rectified a three-decade miscarriage of justice is the only person being held accountable.”

More disturbing, Jon David, the Bladen County district attorney who fought to keep Sledge behind bars, was involved in filing the bar complaint against Mumma. It appeared to be payback for her exposing the many errors in Sledge’s case to the media. The woman from whom the bottle was taken has strongly supported Mumma and her work to free Sledge, and did not want her to be punished.

Again and again, the prosecutors and cops who put innocent people in prison — even send them to death row — face no consequences, even when their misconduct is glaring. Read More


In an op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer, retired schoolteacher Ned Gardner of Apex does a good job of giving voice to the reasons that some progressives are unhappy about the state bond package that’s coming up for a statewide vote in March. According to Gardner, it’s not the idea of funding important public structures; its the disingenuous way that the Governor and General Assembly are going about it:

“I will vote ‘no’ on the Connect NC bond issue in March. Do I support the higher education and state parks capital expenditures that the bond would fund? Most definitely. But I reject Gov. Pat McCrory’s “no tax increase” shell-game bond financing. If we support new expenditures for education and parks, we should create a clear revenue stream to pay for it: increase taxes.”

According to Gardner, the fact that the transportation component in the original bond package was removed and replaced by, in effect, a lasting revenue source (i.e. gas tax hike plus the end of the use of highway money for other important state uses) ought to be a lesson. Here’s how Gardner sums up:

“The Highway Fund issue is troublesome. Peter will be robbed to pay Paul. Presumably worthwhile on-going expenditures from the Highway Fund will be discontinued to accommodate the proposed ‘bond’ transportation projects. So to continue those previous on-going expenditures, a source of funding will be needed. I imagine that in the eyes of our current Republican political overlords, the huge state education budget looks like an inviting source for a bit of reallocation.

…The financial obligation of the bond issue if passed will be a given: It must be paid. So the cost will be extracted by the continuing educational trends of stagnant faculty wages, increasing class sizes, a dropping per pupil expenditure and ongoing large tuition hikes in the UNC system (already increased by 42 percent since 2008) and N.C. community colleges (increased by 81 percent since 2009).

If the bond issue passes, I can anticipate McCrory’s self-congratulatory ads in the upcoming gubernatorial campaign – the Champion of Education! My foot. We need to elect politicians who actually support education. And parks. Let’s work on that, and reject this fiscal shame of a bond issue. A grand bipartisan coalition of Democrats, tea party groups, far-right bloggers and your ordinary Republican voter (who views a bond issue with the same relish as a colonoscopy) can do it!

The bond campaign motto is, ‘Vote yes to invest.’ I say, ‘Vote no, but vote for Democrats who will properly fund education and parks – and quit giving tax cuts to the rich.’”

Many other progressives have a different view of the matter, of course. From their perspective, passage of the bonds is a pragmatic way to lessen the impact of the bad situation conservative leaders have produced. It will be fascinating to see which side holds greater sway in March and what it says about the long-term political debate in North Carolina.