Commentary

One more time: What you need to know about the Senate healthcare debate today

As Sydney Idzikowski reported earlier this morning, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the controversial GOP healthcare proposal today. There’s obviously been a lot written on this subject, but for those who may have lost track, here is a handy set of links to the key recent stories in this space that explain what’s at stake:

Progressive advocates are obviously hoping against hope that Senators Burr and Tillis will finally see the light and recognize the need to
start from scratch with a different, bipartisan approach that sets aside the efforts to gut Medicaid and focuses instead on making real improvements to marketplace stability and affordability.

Stay tuned — we’ll have updates here as they become available.

Commentary, News

Human rights advocates call on Cooper, Stein to support inquiry into NC’s involvement in CIA torture

Human rights advocates are calling on Governor Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein to support the work of a non-governmental commission that’s been formed to examine, among other things, North Carolina’s role in the illegal and immoral torture program administered by the U.S. government in early years of the last decade. As is explained on the website of the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture:

“In the years following 9/11, North Carolina was used as a staging ground to launch flights that picked up suspected terrorists abroad and transported them to CIA ‘black sites’ and third-party countries where they were illegally detained and tortured. Declassified documents and news reports have confirmed that the CIA front company Aero Contractors, which is headquartered in the state, used North Carolina’s aviation infrastructure and public airports to launch these ‘torture taxi’ flights in support of the United States’ Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program.

The North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture (NCCIT) is a non-profit organization dedicated to investigating and establishing public accountability for the role that North Carolina’s government and state resources played in helping to facilitate the U.S. torture program. The NCCIT has established a blue-ribbon panel of policy experts, academics, and community leaders to do the job their government refuses to do: investigate North Carolina’s involvement in the U.S. torture program, prevent it from happening again, and make North Carolina a leader against torture.”

A draft letter to Cooper and Stein prepared by advocates at NC Stop Torture Now calls on the two leaders to cooperate with and aid the investigation. In support of the request, the letter notes that:

  • The U.S. government has done nothing to hold officials responsible for the CIA’s failures or for the terrible damage caused by U.S. torture, both at home and abroad.
  • Torture has boosted terrorism and damaged U.S. global standing. 
  • President Trump has repeatedly endorsed torture as a foreign policy “strategy.”
  • New evidence has recently emerged that the U.S. may be re-engaging with torture in Yemen.
  • A North Carolina-based contractor has played a key role in torture, has used the state’s public public airports in its efforts and could again.

Let’s hope the effort bears fruit. To learn more about the efforts of Stop Torture Now NC, visit their website by clicking here.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Senate to vote today on mystery health care bill

President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell aren’t giving up on passing damaging legislation to repeal and (maybe) replace the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid. Despite McConnell delaying the Senate’s August recess to give his caucus more time for deliberations, the GOP has not been able to agree on a health care bill.

Now, McConnell is pushing a last ditch effort to move GOP healthcare plans forward against the wishes of the American public and nearly all provider and patient groups. Senators are expected to vote Tuesday on a “motion to proceed,” which, if passed, would allow the Senate to debate the future of the Affordable Care Act and Medicare and vote on amendments. However, many Senators are concerned because they have been left in the dark about which bill they will actually be voting on. There’s no shortage of bills that could possibly make up the motion to proceed, including: the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act, or the House-passed American Health Care Act.

The fact is, each of the proposed health care plans would do irreversible harm to millions of Americans. What’s more, each proposed bill would wreak havoc on health insurance markets nationwide.

Here’s what we know about the proposals on the table:

  • Over 20 million Americans risk losing health care coverage altogether.
  • Medicaid funding—which covers 1.4 million North Carolina children, as well as people with disabilities and seniors in long-term care—would be slashed by 26 percent over ten years.
  • Protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions would be weakened, if not outright eliminated.
  • Plans may no longer be required to cover essential health benefits, such as hospitalization, maternity care, mental health, and medication.
  • Premiums would increase, especially for people with low-incomes and older adults.
  • Health insurance marketplaces would be destabilized as healthy consumers leave the risk pool.

The mystery bill needs to get past the motion to proceed before it can be discussed and signed into law. If the vote is unsuccessful the bill is considered dead…for now. That doesn’t mean the GOP will give up on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid. Since the ACA was passed in 2009, the House has held more than 50 votes to repeal former-President Obama’s signature legislation. Prior to May of this year, none of the bills were considered by the Senate. In the last month, however, the Senate had attempted to vote on a health care bill four times. Both the public and legislators are becoming impatient with the incessant focus on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. A recent report from Axios states that many Trump supporters do not view repealing the Affordable Care Act a priority. Another report shows that 71% of the public favor a bipartisan effort to improve-not repeal- the Affordable Care Act.

We will see later today whether voters will get their wish.

Sydney Idzikowski is an MSW intern at the NC Justice Center

Commentary

Best editorial of the weekend: 10 things state lawmakers should do to mend their ways

The best editorial of the weekend actually turned up a day early this week. Friday’s Capitol Broadcasting Company essay on WRAL.com did a great job in listing the “10 items N.C. legislators need to repeal, repair or replace.” Here’s the list:

  • Take an open and non-partisan approach to the court’s orders to draw new legislative and congressional districts. Additionally, they should lay the groundwork for a non-partisan commission that will handle redistricting in the future.
  • Fully fund, as has been promised, the legislative mandate to cut public school class size in the lower grades. Local schools – and the people who work for them – have again been left in limbo and should not have to wait until next spring to know how to handle the budget and whether teachers will need to be dismissed or rehired. Fulfill this obligation to our children before giving more corporate tax cuts to those who don’t need it.
  • Restore $10 million that was irresponsibly cut from the state Department of Justice’s budget. Petty partisan politics in the legislature has become a threat to law and order – leaving the agency ill-equipped to protect the state’s interests in court and properly enforce the law.
  • Expand Medicaid while there’s still the chance. Politicians in Washington are recognizing they aren’t going to be able to, nor should they, repeal Obamacare. Continuing to deny health services to half-a-million needy North Carolinians is cruel and unnecessary.
  • Restore $1.8 million in cuts to the state’s legal aid funding. The cuts hurt poor people trying to deal with mortgage foreclosures, evictions, disability cases, veterans’ benefits and disaster relief. The cuts even hurt victims of domestic abuse who are trying to get restraining orders against abusers. Do these cuts really reflect legislators’ best intentions? Surely not.
  • Reverse the action legislators took to make several local school board elections partisan. There has been no grassroots movement to do this and it is unwise and unproductive – just leading to more unproductive legal battles – as the Lexington City School District is threatening now.
  • End the foolish and insulting impeachment effort aimed at Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. It is a needless diversion and waste of time. She’s done nothing to deserve such mistreatment. If any change is needed, the voters are more than capable of making that determination.
  • Repeal H17 – the law passed late last year that has set off the battle between the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education. This is little more than another unnecessary power grab that wastes taxpayer money on legal bills.
  • Repeal the ideology-driven wind farm ban. State Sen. Harry Brown’s hot-air bluster is tarnishing one of the few economic development bright spots for North Carolina.
  • Look for money that’s been left on the table. In the hastily drafted final budget legislators forgot to include matching funds for a $9.2 million federal grant to protect military bases. Fix that omission and at the same time, think about how much more might have been overlooked, and go after it.

The list isn’t totally exhaustive, but it’s a great start for any conversation about next steps in our state. Print this post and tape it to your refrigerator if you’d like to keep it handy.

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. General Assembly-ordered cuts likely to hamper services for poor, rural schools

Support for needy districts and key positions within North Carolina’s top public school agency may be in jeopardy this week as the State Board of Education mulls ways to pass down millions in legislative cuts.

Officials confirmed that the State Board of Education could vote as early as Wednesday on how to dish out $3.2 million in General Assembly-ordered funding reductions for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

State Superintendent Mark Johnson, a Republican, turned over multiple options for distributing the cuts to the state board, which has provided feedback behind closed doors, Policy Watch has learned. Neither the board nor Johnson’s office would turn over specific details given the cuts broach confidential personnel matters. [Read more…]

2. From pills to heroin in Wilmington

When Gov. Roy Cooper signed the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention or STOP Act into law last month, he called it an essential tool in the fight against an opioid epidemic now gripping the state.

The law imposes limits on the prescription of opioid pain medications – no more than a five day supply of the pain medications on an initial visit. It also requires doctors electronically submit the prescriptions they write as part of a reporting system to prevent over-prescription and drug seeking behavior.

For some active addicts in Wilmington, ground zero for opioid abuse in the state, doctor shopping is a way of life. They go from doctor’s office to hospital to treatment center – some widely known as “pill mills” where it is easy to score – maintaining habits for years or decades without ever breaking the law. [Read more…]

3. Sorry Republicans, facts matter—in Raleigh and in Washington

It’s not an original thought to point out that the Trump Administration is a larger version of what has been happening in North Carolina for the last seven years, a takeover by far-right ideologues hell-bent on dismantling the fundamental institutions of the government they lead, without regard to the suffering their decisions will inflict on the people they are supposed to represent.

At least two distinct battles are now constantly raging in Raleigh in Washington. One is being led by the new regime’s political opponents both inside and outside of government who are relentlessly reminding voters of the devastating consequences of decisions to privatize public schools, repeal a health care law that has cut the number of people without insurance in half, and wage war on the environment by recklessly rolling back key regulations and abandoning efforts to address climate change.

The other battle is internal, between the new rulers and a few reasonable holdovers within their ranks from the days when the Republican Party was not dominated by vindictive extremists determined to punish their political opponents while remaking the government they detest. [Read more…]

4. GenX, Chromium 6 and 1,4-dioxane: No federal, state regulations and less guidance about how to protect drinking water

When Gov. Roy Cooper visits Wilmington on Monday, it’s unlikely that he will be greeted by the friendly faces he encountered during his campaign. Instead, the people of New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties want answers to questions about the safety of their drinking water now that the chemical GenX has been detected in it.

GenX, an “emerging contaminant,” as classified by the Environmental Protection Agency,  is entering the Cape Fear River and public water treatment plants from the Chemours plant upstream in Fayetteville.

But GenX is only one of several known emerging contaminants that have been detected in drinking water throughout the North Carolina. Chromium 6 has been found in private drinking water wells near coal ash plants; 1,4-dioxane, prevalent throughout the US,  has been found in the Haw River and other state waterways.[Read more…]

5. Trump nominates hyper-partisan conservative activist to NC federal court vacancy
Why this is not “business as usual” and should not be condoned

Sometimes all one can do is stand and marvel in slack-jawed wonder at the breathtaking brazenness, hypocrisy and double standards that Donald Trump and his allies in the modern conservative movement are willing to employ and embrace. Six months into this dark new era, it’s truly gotten to the point at which it’s hard to think of any political act under the sun that conservatives would be unwilling to engage in in order to pursue and accomplish their goal of radically overhauling the American social contract.

The ultimate manifestation of this appalling new reality is, of course, Trump’s symbiotic relationship with one of the globe’s most powerful and immoral organized crime bosses, Vladimir Putin, but there are dozens of other – if more mundane – examples.

Here in North Carolina, the steady decline in any pretense by legislative leaders of adhering to basic rules of process and open government stands out. So too does the startling willingness of self-described “Christian” conservatives to cozy up to Trump and his serial mendacity. [Read more…]

***Bonus reads from Courts & Law:

*** Upcoming Crucial Conversation luncheon on Wednesday, July 26th: Professor Nancy MacLean on her provocative new book, “Democracy in Chains”

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