Commentary, News

UNC Center for Civil Rights sets the record straight in response to Board of Governors’ attack

As was explained in this post late last month, conservative members of the UNC Board of Governors are seeking to muzzle and cripple the Center for Civil Rights that’s a part of the UNC School of Law at Chapel Hill. This week the Center staff shared a detailed response to the BOG with NC Policy Watch that we’re happy to publish below in its entirety:

CLARIFYING THE RECORD

Context & Corrections to the BOG memo on the UNC Center for Civil Rights

Claim: The Center for Civil Rights has no oversight to ensure that it pursues UNC’s educational mission rather than the “personal causes and interests of center personnel.”

Fact: The Executive Director of the Center is a tenured member of the law school faculty and oversees the work of the Center, including its direct representation and advocacy. Additionally, before any litigation can commence, Center staff must submit a justification memo to the Dean of the Law School. The Center cannot engage in litigation without the Dean’s approval.

Claim: Center for Civil Rights staff “are government-funded lawyers,” who have “little incentive to resolve claims and significant incentive to litigate.”

Fact: Although categorized as state employees, Center staff salaries and benefits—as well as all programmatic costs and expenses—are funded by grants, foundations, and private gifts and donations. All direct advocacy engaged in by the Center is on behalf of clients—low-wealth individuals, families, and communities across North Carolina– whose priorities, rights, and interests determine the trajectory of any litigation.

Over half of the cases filed by the Center in the past 9 years were resolved by negotiated settlement. In one of those cases, it was the “government-funded” lawyers retained by the county that unnecessarily prolonged the litigation, filing two interim appeals that delayed the case for over a year, and were ultimately dismissed by the appellate court.

Claim: Law school clinics, unlike the Center for Civil Rights, “provide law students with hands-on legal training through representation of clients,” operate under ABA standards, and focus on educating law school students.

Fact: ABA guidelines require that students get “live-client or other real-life practice experiences, appropriately supervised and designed to encourage reflection by students on their experiences and on the values and responsibilities of the legal profession, and the development of one’s ability to assess his or her performance and level of competence.” There is no formal “in-class” requirement for clinics. 

Since its founding, the Center has directly supervised over 600 students through externships, internships, and pro bono projects. Students learn experientially how to practice law through direct involvement in research, drafting complaints, motions and briefs, conducting discovery, and interviewing clients.  Staff provides substantial supervision, mentorship, and feedback to support students’ personal and professional development.

  • “My summer at the Center for Civil Rights was a marked highlight of my time at Carolina. I feel I learned more about the practice of law in those few months than I did at any other point in my education. . . . I was exposed to numerous types of suits and legal advocacy that I did not experience at other internships or in the classroom. I received hands on training with complex discovery, investigation, client relations, and crafting pleadings.”
  • “I was an intern at the Center when I first wrote sections of legal briefs. These were not the graded writing exercises designed to teach me how to craft a legal argument, but advocacy that would end up before a court. I was an intern at the Center when I conducted my first hours of document review. This was not a Civil Procedure class explaining the discovery process to me, but time spent mining documents. I was an intern at the Center when I had my first interactions with clients. This is a skill that no professor can teach in a classroom and is far more complex in reality than any course could cover.”
  • “CCR gave me the experience I needed to obtain an amazing job after law school. I am now an Assistant District Attorney in New York City, County of the Bronx, and I would not be there without the advocacy and litigation training I obtained during my semester externship.”

Claim: If the State or a local government fails to comply with a legal requirement, UNC should advise those governments so that legal requirements can be met. Pitt County and Brunswick County spent thousands of dollars in litigation brought by the Center for Civil Rights. Read more

Commentary, Trump Administration

U.S. House vote on ACA repeal and Medicaid matters to me

The first brief in the Medicaid Matters series aims to raise awareness and understanding as to why Medicaid is important not only to nearly 75 million Medicaid beneficiaries across the U.S., but to all North Carolinians. While I am passionate about the work I do as part of the Health Advocacy Project, there is a very personal reason why today’s U.S. House vote on proposals to restructure Medicaid as written in the American Health Care Act and the manager’s amendment worries me.

Like many others in my age range, I have reached the stage of life where I have taken on more responsibility for the health and well-being of my parents. My father was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease over ten years ago. The early stages of the disease were challenging, but my family and I developed techniques to calm his fears as he realized that his memory was slipping away from him. My mother retired early to become his full-time caregiver, but recently my father’s Alzheimer’s has progressed to a more advanced stage, and caring for him at home took a toll on her health as well. My father now requires full-time supervision in a locked memory unit at a nursing home. The severity of his condition and health care needs are why restructuring Medicaid into a block grant or “per capita cap affects me.

In the U.S. and North Carolina, three out of every five nursing home residents receive the care they need because they have Medicaid coverage. My father is termed a dual eligible – as a person over 65 years old, he has Medicare, which covers his primary, acute, and post-acute care, but because he needs long-term nursing care, he also has coverage under Medicaid because nursing home services are not covered by Medicare. My father wasn’t always a dual eligible, but after months of paying for expensive nursing home care out-of-pocket, my parents’ savings that was intended for fun retirement activities dwindled to zero as his health care needs increased.

If Congress fails to block the American Health Care Act and Medicaid is restructured into a block grant or per capita cap, my father’s health is at risk. The Congressional Budget Office’s evaluation of the GOP proposal to repeal the ACA and restructure Medicaid shows that funding from the federal government for Medicaid would be cut by $880 billion by 2026. If that dollar amount isn’t shocking enough, the cuts in funding would lead to 14 million people being cut off Medicaid. Advocates and researchers have noted that if funding for state Medicaid programs is cut by either a block grant or per capita cap proposal, states will have three options to reduce Medicaid costs  – 1) cut Medicaid services, 2) cut Medicaid enrollment, or 3) cut payments to providers.

How will states like North Carolina respond to these deep and devastating cuts in federal funding? Will they make reductions to coverage for nursing home care and long-term care services? Will cuts be made to older adult enrollment? Or will states lower payments to providers to the point that they will not be able to cover the costs associated with providing care to the most vulnerable patients? These cuts put my father’s and millions of other American’s health at risk who depend on nursing home and long-term care. My father spent his life serving others — as a veteran, a police officer, and a church volunteer. He enjoyed public service and did not expect to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease right after he retired. As a man who worked all of his life, served his country, his community, and provided for his family, I ask Congress to recognize that he, and millions of other Americans like him, deserve to continue receiving necessary health care services under Medicaid.  That’s why I’m hoping that Congress votes “No,” and protects the care of millions of Medicaid beneficiaries.

Commentary, public health, Trump Administration

Congress sneaking in last-minute change to make Trumpcare even worse

Ahead of a floor vote scheduled for later today, Republican leadership in the House has realized that they do not have enough votes right now to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the Trump-Ryan proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As a result, Trump and others are trying to sneak in disastrous last-minute changes to an already terrible bill to win over conservative votes at the expense of millions of lives.

One such change that they are proposing is repealing the requirement that health insurance plans cover a core set of essential health benefits. This guarantees that plans provide coverage for core services, such as hospitalizations, maternity care, prescription drugs, as well as mental health and substance use disorder treatment.

If this provision is repealed, insurers could offer bare-bones plans that don’t cover services that North Carolinians need, meaning only the most expensive, premium plans would cover services like treatment for opioid addition, for example.

What’s more, other key consumer protections would fall apart. While the AHCA does not repeal the ACA’s prohibition on lifetime limits and annual caps on services, that protection is useless without the essential health benefits requirement. Current law only applies these protections to services considered essential health benefits. If this provision is repealed, insurers may be free once again to arbitrarily cut off coverage for patients because their treatment is too expensive.

The haste with which Congress and Trump are moving to repeal our health care is telling; why rush to change one-sixth of the U.S. economy and millions of lives unless you don’t want the public to see what you’re doing? After all, we still haven’t seen the bill language that the House will vote on today. It seems like the Republicans may have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Trump budget would eliminate professional development funding for NC educators

President Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint offers bad news for public schools. His proposal – which, thankfully, has a way to go before becoming law – proposes eliminating all professional development funding for teachers and principals. The elimination of the $2.4 billion Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program (also known as Title II) would reduce North Carolina school districts’ budgets by approximately $45 million and leave North Carolina school districts without any dedicated funding for professional development.

The elimination of federal professional development funding follows a path already pursued by the North Carolina General Assembly. Prior to the Recession, the state provided school districts with approximately $12.5 million per year for staff development. That funding was eliminated, on what was supposed to be a temporary basis, until state revenues recovered. In 2011, the General Assembly permanently eliminated dedicated state funding for professional development.

The elimination of professional development funding flies in the face of research. High-quality professional development (training that is job-embedded, ongoing, and differentiated) has a direct impact on student achievement. A comprehensive meta-analysis of the impact of professional development found that “teachers who receive substantial professional development…can boost their students’ achievement by about 21 percentile points.” Another more recent report concludes that “investments in high-quality principal training yield substantial benefits in student achievement, as well as teacher quality and retention.” Read more

Commentary

Bill to bring guns into more places of worship in House committee today

It’s good to know that the North Carolina General Assembly is focusing on the critical matters holding back the state these days — things like laws that might (gasp!) dissuade gun owners from bringing their weapons to their church, synagogue or mosque. Today, the House Judiciary I Committee will take up legislation that seeks to solve the “problem” that arises when places of worship are also home to schools.

Notwithstanding the efforts of the gun lobby, current law generally prohibits gun owners from bringing guns onto school campuses, but it does not bar guns from places of worship — so long as the church, synagogue or mosque does not bar them. Apparently, this dichotomy is acting — heaven forbid — to bar some concealed carry holders from packing heat at worship services where the church, synagogue or mosque is also home to a school. The proposed bill would change this to make clear that gun owners can bring their pieces onto the property as long as it’s outside the operating hours of the school and the place of worship doesn’t say “no.”

In other words, the bottom line effect of this bill if it becomes law will be to assure that more North Carolinians will be carrying concealed weapons to worship services. Sigh….

Is this the biggest deal of the 2017 session? Probably not. But it’s another remarkable example of how far the corporate gun lobby (and the small minority of Americans who are obsessed with guns as virtual holy icons) have come in their never ending effort to make sure killing machines can be found in every nook and cranny of our society.