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[Updated: The Senate adopted the conference committee report as its first act this morning]. As state lawmakers prepare to gather this morning for what could be the final day of the 2013-14 General Assembly, it should come as no surprise that one of the final acts is likely to be the enactment of a polluter “wish list” that was crafted mostly out of public view.

According to  environmental protection advocates who finally got a chance to  begin reviewing  the last minute conference committee report that emerged to Senate Bill 734 last night, the legislation contains at least a dozen gifts to industry. Many of the changes are technical, wonky and even minor on their own, but make no mistake, the cumulative effect will be to weaken environmental protection, hasten the development of more open land and wetlands and further imperil our increasingly fragile environment.

Here are just a few of the changes identified by an expert with one of the state advocacy groups that’ve been trying to  monitor the legislation: Read More

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Tillis_McCrory_Berger-400You know…the day that North Carolinians can finally say adieu to the 170 members of the 2013-14 General Assembly? As has almost always been the case with the current crop of state lawmakers, the signals are mixed and confusing.

News reports this morning indicate that even as legislative leaders  look for ways to append a badly needed fix onto the terribly flawed budget that was just passed a few days ago, they’re once again playing political games with each other and the citizenry.  If this is how things end — with a critical provision to help schools made contingent upon a new corporate giveaway scheme — it will be a fitting conclusion to a remarkably ineffective and discombobulated session.

As Charlotte Observer columnist Fannie Flono notes this morning:

Perhaps it’s only fitting that the N.C. legislature comes to the end of its long short session in a squabble over how and when to end it. It hasn’t mattered much that the Republicans are in charge of everything – the state House and Senate and the governor’s office. GOP infighting and House vs. Senate power plays – along with a little muscle-flexing or attempts at it by Gov. Pat McCrory and his staff – have been constant backdrops during the session that began May 14.

In the plaintive words of Rodney King, paraphrased: Can’t they all just get along? Or at least agree to close down the shop and get out of town? And save us taxpayers the $50,000 a day it typically costs for them to be in session?

Of course, there’s a very good chance this will not be THE day. Having apparently failed to fashion a coal ash clean up plan in the more than six months that have passed since the Dan River disaster, the General Assembly may return yet again after the fall election for a rare “lame duck” session. If that happens, at least a couple of things appear to be certain:

1) It won’t be the first time the adjective “lame” will be used in the same sentence with the 2013-14 legislature and  2) Coal ash will be far from the only mess that will be left behind for future General Assemblies to clean up.

/www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/08/14/5106886/legislative-session-was-a-squabble.html#.U-3lMKMf6So#storylink=cpy

 

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Advocates at the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation have formally called on the state Environmental Management Commission to conduct a review of questionable circumstances surrounding the demise of rules designed to prevent water pollution.

According to a letter from the groups that was delivered to the Commission yesterday, proposed rules governing riparian buffer mitigation (i.e. the use of vegetated strips of land along side waterways to protect them from pollution) were scuttled last year when the Rules Review Commission received several letters of objection. Under state law, when the Commission receives 10 or more such letters, the rule(s) in question are forwarded to the General Assembly for additional review.

In this case, however, four of the 11 letters of objection ultimately submitted were from McCrory administration staffers employed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). As the environmental advocates note, this may well have been an unprecedented and highly questionable set of circumstances: Read More

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People_16_Teacher_BlackboardThe verdict on the confusing new pay structure enacted by the General Assembly and the Governor’s office continues to draw, at best, mixed reviews. As Raleigh’s News & Observer noted — somewhat charitably — last week:

Once again, the inexperience of Republican leaders is showing. Their teacher pay plan does address the need to pay less-experienced teachers more, and that’s good. But more experienced teachers aren’t getting much, which is going to encourage more of them to retire, and that’s not good.

Even if one gives state leaders credit for bumping up the pay for some of the state’s teacher workforce from its bottom-of-the-barrel status, however, it’s becoming increasingly clear that their stubborn adherence to implementing new tax cuts is forcing the raises to be purchased at a very high price.

For the latest example of this troubling phenomenon, check out Lindsay Wagner’s story this morning over on the main PW site: “N.C. Department of Public Instruction forced to eliminate more than 50 jobs that serve struggling schools, technology infrastructure.” As Lindsay reports:

The agency tasked with implementing the state’s K-12 public school laws and policies is coping with a 10 percent funding cut handed down by lawmakers last week by eliminating more than 50 jobs, many of which are devoted to helping struggling schools.

“We’re abolishing approximately 54 positions out of roughly 450 state-funded staff positions,” said Dr. June Atkinson, State Superintendent of Public schools and head of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

It’s a 10 percent funding cut to DPI, the largest reduction to any state agency, said Atkinson.

And while defenders of the DPI cuts will argue that they’re all about slashing “bureaucracy,” the hard truth is that they are far from the only new “belt tightening” measures enacted in this year’s education budget. In other words, the pay raises remain essentially a fig leaf for what remains an ongoing, long-term war on public education waged by people committed to privatizing the single most important function of state government.

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Lennie and Pearl

Lennie Gerber and Pearl Berlin — Photo credit: ACLU of North Carolina

Michael Biesecker of AP has a wonderfully heartwarming story this morning that’s available in several news outlets about one of the couples leading the legal fight for marriage equality in North Carolina. Pearl Berlin and Lennie Gerber have been together for 48 years and the notion that they might taste victory in the near future as Pearl battles health problems is a very cheering notion.

(As an aside, it should also be pointed out that, in addition to being a plaintiff in the legal challenge to North Carolina’s marriage discrimination amendment, Gerber (on the left) was once one of North Carolina’s finest consumer rights attorneys — she managed the Winston-Salem legal aid office for years and helped save countless people of modest income from various financial predators.)

All that said, it should also be noted that when marriage equality does come, the fight for justice will be far from over. As a our panelists eloquently explained at last week’s Crucial Conversation luncheon on the subject (watch the video here), LGBT North Carolinians can still be summarily fired by their employers because of who they are.  In other words, if same sex couples get the chance to be married in the near future, many will still have to remain in the closet for fear that placing their wedding photo on their desk at work will still get them fired.

And rest assured, even if the courts soon order marriage equality, Paul Stam and the other theocrats in the General Assembly will be doing their utmost to prevent passage of a law banning discrimination in the workplace and/or public accommodations. In other words, there’s a heck of a lot of work still to do.