Commentary

Speaker Moore’s big whopper about legal aid

House Speaker Tim Moore

As a growing number of editorials in the state’s major news outlets have noted in recent days, House Speaker Tim Moore’s unilateral, backroom decision to slash funding for Legal Aid of North Carolina is an example of modern North Carolina politics at their absolute worst.

This is from last Tuesday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer:

To the list of legislative actions that have slapped the poor across their faces in North Carolina – no Medicaid expansion, higher sales taxes, tax cuts for the wealthy that have to be made up by those taxes – add reductions in state money for legal aid services. Assistance for several legal aid programs in the state has been reduced drastically in the last few years by Republicans in the General Assembly, who’ve conducted a one-sided war against the poor since taking control of the legislature.

The legal aid cuts done in the name of budget-balancing but now said by longtime observers to likely be permanent deny the poor a fair shake in the complicated legal system. That might mean a handicapped person can’t get access to a wheelchair, or worse, it might result in someone unjustly being thrown out of an apartment.

What’s more the decision is premised on a blatant falsehood. As this morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com rightfully observes:

Weeks after the budget was passed and rammed into law over the veto of Gov. Roy Cooper, Moore told reporters: “There were examples being brought to a number of us, where for example you had a ‘mom and pop’ who were landlords in a lease and where they were coming in and getting served with discovery and all these things and a lot of frivolous motions.”

Moore then left it to his press aide, Joseph Kyzer, to refuse to provide any details of the supposed complaints. “It wouldn’t be appropriate for our office to comment about actual cases,” Kyzer said.

Say what? A huge budget cut and then the Speaker’s office stonewalls the public about the reasoning?

In other words, this is just hogwash. Legal Aid doesn’t have enough lawyers or time to be taking frivolous actions of this kind — certainly not on any kind of scale that would warrant punishing the entire organization or the thousands of poor people it serves. If Moore has actual evidence of such behavior, he is a lawyer and a member of the bar and he ought to take action through the appropriate channels to expose and seek sanctions against the lawyers he is accusing. To simply slash the program and punish the people it serves based on such vague and flimsy allegations is just the latest in a long line of embarrassing decisions by the Speaker and his minions.

Commentary

Statement from Rick Glazier: NC Justice Center condemns white supremacy, racism on display in Charlottesville

 The North Carolina Justice Center adds its voice to the chorus condemning the white supremacy and racism on display this weekend in Charlottesville, as well as the continued everyday violence of institutional racism and outright bigotry in our society. The events of this past weekend made it clear – once again – that such ideas are all too prevalent in our country.

Our nation is experiencing a rising tide of racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia. The President’s tacit encouragement of outspoken white supremacists has only made them more empowered and dangerous. His initial statement on Saturday conflating the victim and perpetrator was exceptionally destructive.

Here in North Carolina, we have seen clear and explicit policies that would further systemic racism and oppression, such as racial gerrymandering, voter suppression, and the re-segregation of our schools – all policies that seek to divide rather than unite us. It is not only our moral responsibility to stand against the bigotry, hatred, and evil on display over the weekend, but also to fight against institutions and policies that give rise to the credibility of that ideology.

To remain silent in the face of hate – in any form, violent or otherwise – is to tolerate these destructive views.

We must also acknowledge a painful but very real truth. Not all individuals who hold these beliefs march in rallies or wear white hoods, nor will they ever acknowledge their own biases. We must stand against the institutional racism and outright bigotry in our society, and not just when they result in terrible violence, for the touchstone of violence is words. It requires an everyday commitment if we are to truly challenge racism and white supremacy. It is too easy to label the perpetrators as the “other,” when, in reality, “they” may well be the person next door.

Today is not a day to be silent, or to tolerate evil. The NC Justice Center strongly rejects hate and condemns white supremacy, and we reaffirm our commitment to advancing racial justice.

Commentary, News

New report: DACA program a success in North Carolina

The N.C. Budget and Tax Center is out with a new report today about DACA — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program implemented under President Obama. Its conclusion: the program is a success that we should build on:

“The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy was initially introduced in 2012 by President Obama to address the needs of some undocumented immigrants who had arrived to the United States as minors — a subpopulation within the undocumented immigrant community. DACA provides temporary protection from deportation and work authorization (applicants must apply for renewal after two years), and has led to an increase in employment opportunities and participation in higher education among many beneficiaries. Since its inception, approximately 1.5 million individuals have enrolled in the program. In North Carolina, there are currently 49,712 DACA beneficiaries. In the five years since its inception, DACA has proven to be an effective strategy for boosting beneficiaries’ wages, employment opportunities, and education. While there are several shortcomings to this policy, DACA has been a good first step in addressing our outdated immigration system.”

After examining some of the many benefits DACA has produced, some of its shortcomings and the dangers that would result from ending the program, the report offers three specific recommendations for moving forward:

  1. In-State Tuition. The high cost of higher education continues to be a barrier to college for many DACA beneficiaries. Pursuant to state policy, undocumented students are considered “out-of-state” for tuition purposes and are therefore required to pay out-of-state tuition, despite the fact that many have lived in North Carolina long enough to otherwise qualify as state residents. Additionally, beneficiaries are not eligible for federal financial aid and must instead lean on personal savings, private scholarships and high-interest private loans to cover tuition and college-related costs. Therefore, one policy change would be to increase DACA beneficiaries’ access to higher education by recognizing their state residency for tuition purposes.
  2. Access to Occupational and Professional Licenses. Another way policymakers can strengthen outcomes among beneficiaries is by making them eligible for occupational and professional licenses. In North Carolina, no state law has been passed that specifies DACA beneficiaries as a category of non-citizens eligible for obtaining occupational and professional licenses. Their ineligibility means that some cannot put their education and training into action despite their investment in their education. Despite receiving training to aid those in need, professionals such as nurses and doctors who have DACA cannot put their much needed skills into practice. The absence of this policy can also be a deterrent to enrollment in programs that require licensure, and it contributes to a shortage of skilled labor in our state.
  3. A Pathway to Citizenship. The DACA program as it stands today does not provide a pathway to citizenship for most beneficiaries. The policy provides only temporary relief from deportation for most participants (though there has already been one reported case of a DACA beneficiary deported to their country of birth). The temporary nature of the policy can therefore be a barrier to long-term successes for beneficiaries. For this reason, policymakers should expand eligibility for residency and citizenship in a way that includes all DACA beneficiaries.

Click here to read the entire report.

Commentary

Two “must reads” on Saturday’s tragic violence in Charlotteville

If you missed it yesterday, it’s worth checking out the transcript of the interview with Charlottesville mayor Mike Signer on CBS’s Face the Nation yesterday. When asked by reporter John Dickerson for his response to Donald Trump’s take on the weekend violence, the mayor said this:

“You know, I don’t want to make this too much about Donald Trump, we have a lot of grieving, a lot of work to do as a– as a city and as a country, but he should look in the mirror. I mean, he made a choice in his presidential campaign, the folks around with him, to, you know, go right to the gutter, to play on our worst prejudices. And I think you are seeing a direct line from what happened here this weekend to those choices. He has the opportunity, as do we all, to have a fresh beginning.

Like I’ve said, our democracy has been through much worse than this, but that requires us to rise to the occasion. We’re going to do that work here — we’re going to work on civility and– listening, deliberation, first amendment, religious toleration, pluralism. I mean, those are ideas– are what got us here now. But, you know, we’ve just seen this– this– tide of coarseness, cynicism, bullying, and– you know, a festival of going to the absolute worst elements that previously have been hidden. Now they’ve been invited out into the daylight. I mean a lot of people were coming here this weekend saying this will be a shot heard ’round the world, this will be the Alt-right’s moment, this will be Alt-right 2.0. You know, all that kind of rhetoric. And I think they were– they’re getting– you know, they’re getting okays for that, because they were invited into basically a– a presidential campaign. That has to stop, and it can stop now.

What I did not hear in the president’s statement yesterday, as well-intentioned as it may have been, is I didn’t hear the words ‘white supremacy’. And I think that it’s important to call this for what it is and to say, okay, this– this show has run its course, this shark has been jumped, let’s– let’s move on.”

Meanwhile, for sobering, but terrifically thoughtful assessment of the disaster, be sure to check out national columnist Charles P. Pierce at Esquire. As Pierce notes in “This is the bleakest moment for America in my lifetime,” “anyone who followed the presidential campaign saw this coming.” After noting the absurdity of proposals like the ones seriously debated in several states including North Carolina this year to give a pass to some drivers who run into protesters in public streets, Pierce says this:

“Essentially, the statutes would create a protected class of vigilante motorists empowered to curtail free assembly with 4,000 pounds of mobile iron. This became an acceptable solution almost exclusively among Republican politicians.

So when anybody, especially the president*, talks about what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, from the Citronella Putsch on Friday night, to the violence on Saturday morning, to the graphic fulfillment of the philosophy behind these lunatic laws on Saturday afternoon, tells you that what happened in Virginia has anything to do with ‘polarization,’ or that it is a problem equally shared by Both Sides, that person is trying preemptively to pick history’s pockets.

Every Republican who ever spoke to, or was honored by, the Council of Conservative Citizens and/or the League of the South owns this bloodshed. Read more

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Company that benefited from secret budget provision refuses to disclose chemicals it proposes to introduce into Triangle’s Jordan Lake

The SePro Corporation is receiving as much as $1.3 million in taxpayer money to chemically kill the algae in Jordan Lake, but the company is keeping key details of its proposal — including a full ingredient list of the products and the amounts to be released — secret from the public.

The proposed chemical treatment of a drinking water source for 300,000 people is yet another questionable technique backed by some lawmakers and business interests, who have been reluctant to instead enforce rules limiting development in the Jordan Lake watershed.

SePro’s proposals were marked “confidential,” but Policy Watch obtained them under the state’s public records law. However, more than half of the eight-page document had been redacted by SePro, under a state statute allowing companies to refuse to divulge material they deem as proprietary or a trade secret. [Read more…]

2. The scandalous special sessions that subvert our democracy

The General Assembly will convene a special session next week but most people in North Carolina, including the vast majority of the members of House and Senate, have no idea what legislation they will consider while they are in town.

Last week lawmakers met in a one-day special session supposedly to consider overriding a series of vetoes by Governor Roy Cooper. That was the stated purpose anyway.

But a number of lawmakers didn’t make the session so votes on the vetoes were delayed and instead the House and Senate considered a series of bills, including one that would make it far more difficult to enact new environmental or workplace safety regulations no matter how desperately they are needed. [Read more…]

3. Republicans and Democrats disagree on a lot at redistricting criteria meeting

Less than a month after publicly stating that he “sincerely” hoped Democrats would engage in the redistricting process, Rep. David Lewis kiboshed all of the minority party’s suggestions for map-making criteria Thursday.

Democratic Senators and Representatives offered several amendments throughout Thursday’s meeting to adopt criteria submitted by Republican committee chairs. None of their amendments were adopted, despite many reflecting the public comments from last week.

House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson said after the meeting that he didn’t feel like his party has been part of the process at all, not only in voting but also in the presentation of the criteria.

“The Democratic criteria were submitted in advance of today’s date, so that they were prepared, whereas we were handed theirs this morning,” he said, adding that they did get to caucus but didn’t have time to prepare beyond that. “I think if you want people to be included, you don’t wait til the last minute.” [Read more…]

*** Bonus video: Republicans reject the consideration of race in redrawing legislative maps

4. The fight for democracy gains momentum
Despite lawmakers’ latest big stall, redistricting reformers are on the offensive

“The dog ate my homework.” If you thought this old cliché of an excuse lost all currency in the world after about the fourth grade and/or when students start turning in their assignments online, think again. Unfortunately, the phrase also pretty much sums up the position of North Carolina Republican legislative leaders as they do everything they can think of to delay the process of redrawing the legislative district maps that a three-judge federal panel struck down as unconstitutional because of their “surgical precision” in discriminating against African-American voters.

That’s because the legislators’ excuse for their ongoing failure to draw lawful maps in the face of repeated findings that they have failed to do so and directives to get to work boils down to what one major North Carolina newspaper labeled yesterday as “pitiful stall tactics.” As Chris Fitzsimon observed in last week’s “Monday Numbers” column, the magnitude of the stall is pretty startling: [Read more…]

5. Hotly contested local races set to take the political stage in NC

Across the state, this year’s historically crowded municipal elections have drawn new types of candidates.

Young candidates. First time candidates. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender candidates.

And, importantly, many more non-white candidates.

In each of North Carolina’s three largest cities – Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh – white female mayors are facing minority challengers.

That does not mean the races are all of one stripe.

In Charlotte, where the mayoral race is on track to be the most expensive in history, Mayor Jennifer Roberts faces two very different black challengers – both Democrats, like Roberts. [Read more…]