Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend

In case you missed it, the Greensboro News & Record hit the nail on the head with its Sunday editorial, “Red tape for red flag.” In it, the N&R blasts the the General Assembly leadership for its inexcusable refusal to take up common sense gun safety legislation that would allow for judge-issued “extreme risk protection orders” like the bill introduced six months ago by some House Democrats.

Here’s the conclusion:

A red flag law is a reasonable next step. Filed by state House Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham Democrat and a former judge, the bill would allow family members or law enforcement to request that a judge issue a temporary order to remove guns from a person who is considered a danger to himself or others. Among the primary sponsors is Greensboro Democrat Pricey Harrison.

Also called “extreme risk protection orders” and “risk warrant laws,” such bills have been passed in 17 states and the District of Columbia. President Trump voiced his support for red flag laws after the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. “We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms,” the president said in an address to the nation on Aug. 5, “and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process.” (Then again, late last week, the president was backing off tougher gun laws, as he has before.)

In states that have passed them, red flag laws have shown promise, especially in reducing suicides. In Connecticut, the first state to adopt a red flag law in 1999, firearm suicides dropped by 1.6% after its initial passage. In 2007, when the law was more aggressively enforced following the Virginia Tech shootings, firearm suicides dropped by 13.7%. That’s significant, since nearly two-thirds of gun deaths in America are suicides. In the 10 years following passage of Indiana’s law in 2005, gun suicides dropped by 7.5%. A separate study by Duke University study found that, for every 10 gun seizures in Connecticut and Indiana, roughly one suicide was prevented.

To be sure, the impact of red flag laws on mass shootings is not clear. And there are valid questions about possible unintended consequences of such laws (if only Congress would fund national research on gun violence, which it still refuses to do). But to not consider such a law in North Carolina, in the open, on its merits, is both indefensible and irresponsible.

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: #MoscowMitch

Image: www.senate.gov

In these terrible times we must cling to things that restore joy to our world-weary souls…visiting a waterfall, picking daisies in a meadow with a giggling grandchild, sharing a banana split with a sweetheart, watching Mitch McConnell’s jaw clench til his molars turn to sand when protesters call him “Moscow Mitch.”

Yes, it’s the little things.

I’ve decided Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Neptune), is the root of all evil. Not Trump, because he’s just a bloated puppet who says stupid stuff all the time. I swear when Trump said he could end the war in Afghanistan by killing them all (boom!) but didn’t want to hurt all those people and then looked around like, “What? Where’s my Nobel?” I realized he truly is an imbecile. That was no earthquake in Cali that week, that was a tremor generated by heads hitting desktops as a thousand highly respected military strategists marveled at such an exquisite example of dunderheaded-ness.

You look in the dictionary under dunderhead-ness and, well, you won’t find it because, obviously, it’s not a real word but if it were, it would look a lot like Trump.

But Moscow Mitch? Yeah, he’s the real deal.

The swamp has been drained, says Trump, so how is it that the swamp’s biggest, scaliest, most malevolent creature is left behind? Having Moscow Mitch in charge of monitoring decency and democracy makes as much sense as letting R. Kelly own a chain of after school daycares. (She said she was 12; she looked like she was 14…)

While you could argue calling someone such a slanderous name amounts to bullying (somebody wake up Melania!) I think it’s OK, when it’s this treasonous pile of Kentucky horse poo.

The moniker “Moscow Mitch” is trending like #metoo, #goals and #trumpsadunderhead (OK, I made that one up) after a boost from an increasingly agitated Joe Scarborough of “Morning Joe” fame. And it’s driving McConnell nuts. After all he’s done for us, this is the thanks he gets?

That’s a legitimate question. Let’s take a gander at some of Mitch’s accomplishments.

For starters he has blocked legislation to help prevent Russia from interfering in the 2020 elections.

He’s greased the wheels for a high-ranked Putin friend to do unprecedented levels of business in the United States, that same oligarch pouring millions into a Kentucky company that used the services of former members of Moscow Mitch’s staff. Yeah, that sounds totally above board.

AND, he has fought every piece of gun control legislation—including a call for universal background checks that has wide bipartisan support. Moscow Mitch has refused to bring that bill to the Senate floor even though it passed the House in February or, as I like to call it, exactly FOURTEEN mass shootings in the United States ago.

The Senate is taking a wholly undeserved vacay this month plus Moscow Mitch broke his shell, er, shoulder in a fall over some patio furniture so I guess that means further inaction will just have to wait.

Celia Rivenbark is a New York Times-bestselling author and columnist. Visit www.celiarivenbark.com.

Commentary, Environment, News

The week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch

1. Plastic is not fantastic: Durham considers 10-cent fee on single-use bags

They clutter the gutters and girdle the turtles. They snag in the trees and float in the seas.

Plastic bags are strangling the planet.

To reduce the amount of plastic waste in Durham, the city-county Environmental Affairs Board last week unanimously endorsed a proposed draft ordinance that would assess a 10-cent fee on most single-use plastic and paper bags at many food and retail outlets.

“We need to reduce waste and prevent trash in the first place,” Crystal Dreisbach, executive director of Don’t Waste Durham, told the EAB. “We need a systemic change by business, industry and government, and to provide solutions for consumers.” [Read more…]

Bonus read in environmental news:

2. Budget gridlock: Part of the right’s strategy for undermining state government

There was a fascinating exchange regarding North Carolina’s ongoing budget stalemate last week at a community meeting in High Point between State Rep. John Faircloth – a conservative Republican and co-chair of the House Appropriations Committee – and one of his constituents. The subject of the Q&A was Senate leader Phil Berger – the individual who is widely recognized to be the driving force in the GOP’s ongoing refusal to enter into negotiations with Gov. Roy Cooper and legislative Democrats.

Constituent: Do you members of the House have any clout with Phil Berger? [Laughter in the room] As you said, we are adults, let’s sit down and talk. Because it appears to me that Phil Berger is not willing to sit down and talk unless he can have his way.

Faircloth: He’s…uh…he’s been invited to a lot of discussions.

Constituent: Why should we give in to Phil Berger? Because he’s acting like a spoiled child.

Faircloth: He chooses that style and he’s the head of the Senate.[Read more…]

3. Chief Justice, Governor announce new push to break school-to-prison pipeline

The tobacco fields near East Guilford High School are reminders of bygone times when getting into trouble at school meant a trip to the principal’s office, and maybe a phone call to a child’s parents.

A paddling by the principal, now banned throughout North Carolina, and a severe scolding at home were about the worst outcomes for a student who misbehaved.

But the old ways of disciplining children at school are long gone. The most dramatic changes commenced about two decades ago when school districts began to adopt “zero-tolerance” policies for bad behavior. [Read more…]

Bonus read in courts news:

4. Advocates, officials: New Trump anti-immigration rule is harshest yet

Changes to ‘public charge’ rule will favor the wealthy, keep families divided

By implementing a “wealth test” and limiting the type of person eligible to stay in this country, the Trump Administration’s new “public charge” rule will do more to keep families separated than it will to discourage immigrants from using public benefits.

That’s the assessment of a number of experts, officials, advocates and lawyers who have called the rule the boldest anti-immigration move yet by the Trump Administration. Advocacy groups are already promising legal challenges and the city of San Francisco filed a lawsuit today, even though the rule won’t go into effect until Oct. 15.

“Public charge” is a term that refers to immigrants who the government believes will rely on public assistance for help. The new rule expands the definition of who would be considered a public charge so that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can “ensure applicants [for lawful admission to the country] are self-sufficient,” according to the 837-page document.[Read more…]

5. Correction officials relent to pressure, permit transfer of transgender inmate

Numerous questions remain, however, about the treatment of dozens of other trans inmates

Kanautica Zayre-Brown made history Thursday.

When the Department of Public Safety moved her from Warren Correctional Institution in Manson to Anson Correctional Institution in Polkton, she became the first transgender prisoner in North Carolina to be transferred from a prison designated for one gender to one designated for another.

What will become of the dozens of other transgender people now held in North Carolina’s prisons is, however, far from clear.[Read more…]

6. In N.C., the last days of gerrymandering can’t come too soon

Today we wait.

We wait for the judges, who retired to their chambers weeks ago in the Common Cause v. Lewis case, a case that asserts political gerrymandering is a betrayal of the “equal protection” provision of the North Carolina constitution.

We wait for a remedy for more than half of the state’s voters who should not feel equally protected today, those who, in 2018, did not vote for the Republican Party but found themselves, against all logic, in thrall to a dominant GOP anyway.

We wait for a decision in what will be, surely, one of the most important judicial rulings of our lifetimes, if not the most important decision in the lifetime of North Carolina’s still nascent democracy.

We wait for a resolution to a gerrymandering case that may, if decided correctly, restore a most basic expectation of our leaders as Americans: the expectation that they will leave.[Read more…]

7. Several members of Lumbee tribe, climate coalition ask DEQ to revoke Atlantic Coast Pipeline permit; EPA proposes to clamp down on states’ authority

While the Trump administration proposed rules to strip states of some authority to reject natural gas pipelines, opponents of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline petitioned state regulators to revoke the water quality permit for the controversial project.

“We asked the department to consider the new information in the petition today,” said Donna Chavis, a member of the Lumbee Tribe in Robeson County and Friends of the Earth, during a press conference at the legislature. “The cumulative impacts are worse than previously thought. We urge DEQ to reconsider its decision. We believe they want to do what is right.”

The ACP would run more than 160 miles in eastern North Carolina from Northampton County to Robeson County, which has the largest community of American Indians east of the Mississippi River. [Read more…]

8. Ban weapons of war. Now.

Thirty-two seconds.

That’s how long it took for the madman responsible for the carnage in Dayton, Ohio to shoot 26 people, killing nine, including his sister, and wounding 17 more before he was killed by police.

According to CNN, the Dayton shooter (he will not be identified here) was armed with a .223-caliber high-capacity rifle with 100-round drum magazines. As USA Today reports, the “AR” variants used in Dayton and the El Paso killing that claimed 22 lives barely 24 hours earlier, were legal, as were the high-capacity magazines employed in the shootings. [Read more…]

9. Policy Watch podcasts

Click here for the latest commentaries and newsmaker interviews with Rob Schofield

10. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Commentary, News

March of Dimes explains why Cooper should veto bill to allow cut rate health plans

Image: www.marchofdimes.org

As explained in this space yesterday, there are several reasons to be deeply concerned about the “Association Health Plans” bill that was sent to Gov. Cooper yesterday after passage by both houses of the General Assembly.

Proponents argue that the proposal is about using market forces to promote more affordable health insurance options, but what the proposal really represents is a return to the disastrous era that existed before the Affordable Care Act became law – a time in which insurers refused to cover essential care items like maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, prescription drugs, and other critical services, and were allowed to charge people more based on their age, gender and home address.

Ultimately, such a scheme will drive up costs for people insured in quality plans, expand the coverage gap and assure that more people go bankrupt and/or avoid necessary health care.

Today, one of the nation’s most venerable advocacy groups for promoting healthy pregnancies and births echoed many of those same concerns. This is from a statement from the March of Dimes:

As the oldest organization in the United States advocating for the healthy moms and healthy babies, the March of Dimes urges Governor Roy Cooper to veto SB 86 and to oppose the further creation of association health plans (AHPs) in North Carolina.  We ask the Governor to veto this bill and to continue working with March of Dimes and other health organizations on finding a true solution for closing the state’s health insurance coverage gap.

The March of Dimes believes that SB 86 would hinder access to comprehensive health insurance and would weaken the insurance market for all North Carolinians.  AHPs are a mechanism to provide health coverage to small businesses and self-employed individuals without having to meet the standards and consumer protections that would otherwise apply to plans sold to small businesses and individuals on the Health Insurance Exchange.

Chief among our concerns is that AHPs can exclude benefits like maternity care and may also set annual and lifetime spending caps for any of the essential health benefits not covered. This type of skimpy coverage could be devastating for a family that has a premature baby or a child born with a birth defect. In instances where these critical benefits are not covered, AHPs do not protect patients by providing for a maximum out of pocket maximum spending limit, so patients are often responsible for paying much more in health care costs than they would in the regular marketplace.  Our greatest fear is that these limits could prevent a mother or a baby from getting the treatment they need to live long and happy lives.

The March of Dimes will continue to work with Governor Cooper and the General Assembly to find comprehensive, responsible alternatives for expanding access in our state, but SB 86 and AHPs are bad for patients and bad for North Carolina.

Commentary

A pediatrician’s appeal to legislators: Expand Medicaid now.

As the stalemate over the state budget tips into another week, legislators might want to take a few minutes and read the recent column in the Winston Salem Journal by Dr. Callie Brown, a general pediatrician at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

Dr. Brown makes the moral and economic case for expanding Medicaid and helping North Carolina’s infants and toddlers whose parents are uninsured or simply do not earn enough to purchase private health insurance. Here’s an excerpt from her guest column:

I recently cared for Sofia, a premature infant, in clinic. Sofia stayed in the NICU with health complications costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sofia’s mother had no prenatal care because she didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t afford out-of-pocket costs for prenatal visits. She worked as a child care provider at a small day care that didn’t provide health insurance to employees. Her pre-tax income of $50,000 is over the 200% poverty level threshold required for N.C. Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women. She could not afford to buy Affordable Care Act health insurance, which would have cost approximately $1,000 a month, leaving insufficient funds for rent, transportation, food, child care and daily living expenses. Lack of health insurance for Sofia and her mother resulted in cascading negative consequences: a premature birth with possible adverse neurodevelopmental issues for the child; likely additional costs to schools to fund special education needs; loss of work time for the mother to attend to more frequent visits to the doctor; and gigantic hospital costs.

States that have expanded Medicaid have demonstrated improvements in the health of women of childbearing age. These women have increased access to preventive care, improved health outcomes before, during and after their pregnancies, and reduced maternal mortality rates. These states have also seen improvement in the health outcomes for infants, including declines in infant mortality. This is especially relevant here in North Carolina, where 9.2% of babies are born at a low birth weight (compared to 8.2% nationwide) and the infant mortality rate is 7.3 per 1000 live births (compared to 5.9 nationwide).

Additionally, we know that parents are more likely to enroll their Medicaid-eligible children when they have health insurance coverage themselves. Children whose parents receive Medicaid insurance are also about 30% more likely to receive regular check-ups and necessary preventive care. Receiving consistent health care is especially essential for young children, as it sets them on a path of healthy growth and development.

I commonly see families in clinic in which one parent is struggling with depression or another mental illness. This can impact their ability to take the best possible care of their children. Mothers struggling with post-partum depression are often not able to bond with their infant, breastfeed successfully or care for their child adequately. Parents with untreated mental health problems are often unable to provide their infant, toddler or school-age child with the nurturing environment their child needs for optimal growth and development.

I also frequently see uninsured families who experience financial strain over medical bills. When health crises arise, this can quickly result in debt and financial distress. When parents are going through periods of stress, children feel the adverse effects as well. Children who experience poverty and trauma early in their life can have impaired brain development, negatively impacting their ability to learn, physical health, and emotional well-being.

Additionally, parents not currently working are better positioned to search for and retain new jobs if they have access to health care. Stable employment reduces financial stress on the entire family, providing a financially secure environment for children and lessening their exposure to poverty.

The health of parents and their children are interconnected. To improve the health of both, North Carolina must utilize available federal funding to expand access to health insurance for North Carolinians. As a pediatrician, my goal is to improve the physical, social and emotional well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. One of the most important ways that our community can help to do this is to call on legislators in North Carolina to improve health care access and close the coverage gap, as 37 other states have done.

Investing in the health of children — and their parents — is both the economically sound and morally wise path for North Carolina.

You can read Dr. Brown’s full column here.