Commentary

Paid sick days and family leave should be a moral imperative for NC voters

Image: AdobeStock

Except for summer jobs in high school when I was mowing yards and babysitting for the neighbors, I have always had paid leave and paid sick days. Always. When each of my children were born, I didn’t work for eight weeks. When my mother was hospitalized, I left work that day and stayed with her for a week. Losing my salary, much less my job, never crossed my mind.

This means I have to pay close attention to what it’s like for the more than 85% of people in this country who don’t have paid leave, never mind paid time off to care for sick family members or welcome new children into the home. When they rush to their mother’s side in the hospital, they don’t get paid to sit there for a week. And if it turns out to be a grandmother they rush to care for, the Family Medical Leave Act does not guarantee their job since immediate family only includes parents, children, and spouses.

Most of the people in North Carolina know these things because most of them don’t have paid leave. Prior to COVID-19, 1.2 million private-sector workers in North Carolina were already not entitled to any earned paid sick leave. That means 33% of the private-sector workforce have been forced to give up needed wages and possibly risk their jobs so they can care for their own health needs or the health needs of family members. Workers earning low incomes (disproportionately women and workers of color) are significantly less likely to have earned paid sick days. Sixty percent of those earning less than $20,000 per year lack access to paid leave. Many of these same people are working in low-wage jobs now considered “essential.”

Since so many employers appear reticent to provide paid leave, it falls to society to make these things happen. As a society we have the responsibility to ensure that our neighbors have the same advantages we have. If I can rush to my mother’s side, everyone should be able to rush to a mother’s side—and a grandmother’s. We can elect lawmakers who will protect all workers by crafting legislation that requires paid leave and living wages.

For people of faith, especially those who read the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament, this moral imperative is grounded in the Great Commandment—love God, love your neighbor. Imagine if we all entered the voting booth this year asking ourselves: Who can I vote for that will ensure the best outcome for my neighbor’s well-being? Who can I vote for that will work to create paid leave, paid sick days, and raise the minimum wage?

Can I get a witness?

The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Copeland is the executive director of the North Carolina Council of Churches.

Commentary, Courts & the Law

Veteran journalist: Supreme Court’s legitimacy hits new low with unseemly Barrett confirmation

Mourners line up outside the U.S. Supreme Court for the public viewing for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Photo: Laura Olson.

Be sure to check out veteran Washington Post columnist Dana Millbank’s morning essay on the dreadful spectacle that was the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation process.

As Millbank explains:

Senate Republicans rammed through Barrett eight days before an election Trump seems likely to lose, and even though Trump has made clear he’s counting on the Supreme Court to overturn the result. They did this in an extraordinary public display of hypocrisy, four years after refusing to seat an Obama nominee to the high court because, they said then, that doing so more than eight months before an election was too soon. And they did this after abolishing the minority’s right to filibuster.

Barrett, in her confirmation hearing, made a mockery of the supposed “originalism” and “textualism” she professes to practice. She conspicuously refused to say whether a president could unilaterally postpone an election and whether voter intimidation is illegal — matters unarguable under the clear words of the Constitution and statutes.

As Millbank explains, it’s now up to Chief Justice John Roberts to save the high court:

If the chief justice wishes to restore dignity to the Roberts Court, it’s clear enough what needs to be done:

He can lean heavily on Barrett to recuse herself from any case arising from the presidential election next week.

He can use his influence to make sure the court upholds the Affordable Care Act after it hears arguments next month — not a legalistic punt on technical matters of “severability” but a ruling that puts an end to the constant assaults on Obamacare.

He can persuade his conservative colleagues to join him in upholding the rights of LGBTQ Americans as established in the 2015 Obergefell case, by rejecting a challenge to it by Catholic Social Services that will be argued the morning after the election next week.

He can forge a majority to reject Trump’s latest tired attempt to use the Supreme Court to further delay handing over his financial records to New York prosecutors.

And he and his colleagues can agree to hear one of the many challenges to Roe v. Wade now making their way through lower courts — and vote to uphold Roe for now. That would be the surest sign that the Roberts Court is not going to turn (immediately at least) into the reactionary caricature that most expect.

If Roberts and his conservative allies on the court don’t do at least some of this in the next few months, they can count on being joined next year by a whole batch of new colleagues. Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the court: Your move.

Click here to read the entire essay.

Commentary

Legendary national journalist: Three hopeful developments in combating political extremism

Hedrick Smith

[Editor’s note: The following essay was written by former New York Times Washington, DC bureau chief, frequent NC Policy Watch contributor and all-around legendary journalist, Hedrick Smith. It originally appeared on Smith’s own website, Reclaim the American Dream.]

WASHINGTON– With the election just days away, are you getting tired of the scaremongering and mud-slinging in the presidential campaign?   How about some good news for a change?

Good news about political reforms to make American elections fairer, more transparent, and more inclusive, and to help rebuild the political middle, so desperately missing in today’s bitterly polarized politics.

From the mainstream media, you’d never know anything was happening, but from Florida to Alaska, and in states like Missouri, Massachusetts, and Virginia, grassroots citizen movements are pushing for adoption of political reforms on Nov. 3, and were it not for the coronavirus, there would  be a lot more.

What made it onto the ballot are different reforms in different states. But they share some very important common threads – more voice and choice for average voters and more ways to combat political extremism and rebuild the political middle.

Independent voters want more voice

One strategy is to give more voice and clout to political independents – the fastest growing group on our political landscape, the mass of Americans in the middle who have become disenchanted with political parties and partisan warfare.

Back in 2004, only 27% of Americans identified themselves as political independents to the Gallup Poll. This fall that number has shot up to 42% and it’s even higher (44%) among younger voters under 40. And of course, that boom means that our two big parties have been shrinking –  Republicans down from 38% to 28%, Democrats down from 35% to 27%.

Florida Capitol Building – The state has 3.6 million independent voters.

But there’s a fly in the ointment. That burgeoning mass of independents is shut out of party primaries that are often the decisive elections for congress, the state legislature, and other offices. And independents want in on the action.

Take Florida, which now has more than 3.6 million independents – NPA’s, they call them, No Partisan Affiliation. In the Sunshine State this year, a broad grassroots movement called All Voters Vote is campaigning for the adoption of a non-partisan primary for all statewide offices and the legislature to open the door to independent voters and to reduce the “partisan extremism” that is fostered by political party primaries.

What the Florida reformers propose is one big, wide-open primary election where Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, all candidates compete and all voters vote, including independents. The top two vote-getters for each office in the primary qualify for the general election. No party gets a lock on any office.

Alaska – attacking dark money and party primaries

Five thousand miles away in Alaska, they’ve got an even more ambitious reform plan. With more than 54% of Alaskan voters declaring no party affiliation, a trans-partisan citizens coalition, Alaskan for Better Elections, is also calling for a non-partisan primary election, open to all six of Alaska’s political parties, to be followed by a so-called “instant runoff ” using rank choice voting in the general election. Read more

Commentary, News

One of NC’s top journalists joins the Policy Watch reporting team

Lynn Bonner

NC Policy Watch is delighted to announce that one of North Carolina’s most experienced and best-respected journalists has joined its already formidable and award-winning reporting team.

Lynn Bonner, who for the last 25-plus years has covered several important beats for Raleigh’s News & Observer, joins the PW team this week as an investigative reporter.

Most readers will know Bonner best for her two decades of covering state government for the N&O — a period during which she authored thousands of stories on the machinations of the General Assembly, politics and elections, and the workings of numerous public agencies.

As Bonner’s former longtime former colleague and current States Newsroom national editor Mary Cornatzer puts it:

“Lynn’s knowledge of the inner workings of the legislature and state agencies has served North Carolina readers well for more than 25 years. Her stories have long centered on how the state’s policies and legislation affect residents. She has deep understanding of the state’s Medicaid program and state employees’ health care. Her reporting over the years has unearthed problems in nursing homes and inequities in education. And she has spent countless hours making sense of the state budget. Lynn is a fair, accurate and thorough reporter, and I am thrilled she has decided to bring her many talents to NC Policy Watch.”

But despite her deep familiarity with state government and the stories surrounding it, Bonner’s award-winning skills have broken and provided in-depth coverage of numerous important stories that extend well beyond the Raleigh beltline — from hurricanes to mental health, Medicaid policy to state and local education, the environment to infant mortality and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to read her front page story from today’s N&O: “As mold grows in the aftermath of hurricanes, more NC asthma patients suffer.”

Our entire Policy Watch team is delighted to have Lynn as our new colleague and look forward to many years of reporting the stories that matter. She can be contacted at [email protected].

Commentary

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: A not-so-grim fairy tale

Once upon a time, in the borough of Queens, N.Y., there lived a troll named Trumpelstiltskin. He was prone to fits of pique, kicking his tiny, bone-spurred feet into the dust when angered.

Using his outsized personality and bravado, Trumpelstiltskin became legendary in the borough of Queens, less so in neighboring Manhattan, which vexed him bigly.

One day, he encountered a blonde woman, call her Marla, who had been locked in a dungeon after her father, drunk on mead, bragged to the king of Queens his daughter could spin straw into gold.

“I was really speaking metaphorically,” Marla’s dad said later. “Who knew the king was so literal? Also, totally giving up mead.”

Trumpelstiltskin got wind of this deal and snuck into the dungeon where he offered to spin straw into gold in exchange for Marla’s necklace.

“Duh, if you can spin gold, why don’t you just buy your own necklace?” she thought but didn’t say because fairy tale.

Trumpelstiltskin hired many construction workers to replace the stacks of hay with fake gold from a nearby condo he was building. When they asked to be paid, he laughed.

“Sue me,” said Trumpelstiltskin. “Instead of paying you money, please enjoy these delicious steaks which are just a little bit beyond their expiration date.”

The king, a simpleton who was easily duped, was delighted with the “gold” in his dungeon and ordered the fair Marla to make him some more.

“Whoa. It’s just never enough for you people, is it?” she muttered under her breath.

After the king left, Trumpelstiltskin said, “I like your ring. Gimme that for another roomful of (snicker) gold.”

Cheating contractors made it harder to find workers but Trumpelstiltskin lured a few with promises of overnight degrees from a “college” he owned out by the interstate.

The next day, fresh out of baubles to trade for “gold,” Marla offered to give Trumpelstiltskin her firstborn child. The king, while dim, was going to propose, she just knew it.

“We’ll name her Ivanka if it’s a girl!” he said.

“I was thinking maybe Tiffany,” said the fair maiden.

“Blech,” said Trumpelstiltskin.

And it came to pass, the maiden married the king, had a child and the troll came around to collect.

“No deal! You can’t separate a mother from her child!”

“Watch me. By the way, get rid of the baby weight. You’re more of a four these days.”

“Your hair looks like butterscotch pudding flung from a fan,” she replied icily.

Trumpelstiltskin decided to make her a deal, artfully: She could keep her baby if she could guess his weird name.

That night, she snuck across the Queensborough Bridge, following him to a seriously gaudy apartment where she watched him preen before a mirror and sing: “The queen will never win the game, for Trumpelstiltskin is my name!”

What were the odds? The next day, Queen Marla correctly guessed his name and Trumpelstiltskin was escorted out of the castle in defeat. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Celia Rivenbark finds the spectre of four more years Grimm indeed.