Commentary

Editorial: Early voting scheme proves GOP can’t be trusted on voter ID

In case you missed it, the Fayetteville Observer had a somewhat unique condemnation of the GOP plan to pass a voter ID constitutional amendment this week. In a new lead editorial, the editors say while they were inclined to be receptive to the idea, last week’s scheme to limit early voting in such a way that would target Black voters convinced them Republicans are up to no good.

While one might reasonably be inclined to say that it was always remarkably naive and delusional to have ever thought GOP leaders had any purity of motives, the editorial still gets it right in the end. This is from “Voter ID plan best taken with a grain of suspicion”:

“During its session on Thursday, members of the N.C. House approved rule changes in the state’s popular early voting period. They decided to end early voting on the Friday evening before Election Day or a primary, instead of on Saturday. They would keep the polls open for the same number of days by starting early voting one day earlier.

So, what’s the harm? Well, it’s this: The final Saturday before the actual election is one of the most popular early-voting days for African-American voters. Cutting that Saturday out may well cut the black vote. Anyone need to guess which party most African-American voters are registered in? Yup, Democrat. There they go again, trying to restrict the black — and hence Democratic — vote, with what one federal judge in another voting case called “almost surgical precision.”

Different place, same tricks. Whether it’s with gerrymandering or with voting rules, the Republican majority in the General Assembly remains committed to doing everything it can to cut the Democratic vote, even if that means resorting to racial discrimination. It’s no wonder so few African Americans are interested in joining the GOP….

But what about voter ID? Perhaps this argument will never be settled, but it is true that so far, most claims of widespread voter fraud have turned out to be bogus. Various investigations across the country have found most claims to be false. Only a tiny fraction of voter fraud allegations turn out to be true — a handful of cases.

But still, as hacking and computerized counterfeiting get more common, we wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see some level of voter fraud become more common. We’ve long said we could support a straight-up, fairly operated voter ID law in place, if the law made it impossible for legitimate voters to be denied access to the polls. That means no charge for the IDs, and a substantial outreach effort to find the people who need them — often voters who are extremely poor, old and minorities.

Given this latest attempt to alter early voting, we’re finding it hard to trust voter ID efforts, or anything else related to voting reform. Before a voter ID goes on the ballot, we want lawmakers to debate and enact the comprehensive rules and guidelines that will govern how the ID process will work.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary, Environment

Bill to limit hog nuisance suits passes; coalition of nonprofits urges gubernatorial veto

The controversial North Carolina Farm Act was sent to Gov. Cooper today after the state Senate concurred with the House amendments. The bill has attracted intense opposition from a variety of parties, including environmental advocates, rural advocacy groups. trial lawyers and even some Republicans.

Last night, veteran GOP lawmaker John Blust of Guilford County delivered a stem-winder of a speech decrying the bill, in which, among other things, he blasted his fellow Republicans for rushing the bill through. Click here to see the speech.

This afternoon, a coalition of nonprofits that includes the North Carolina Justice Center (parent organization of NC Policy Watch) delivered a letter to Gov. Cooper calling on him to veto the bill. Here is an excerpt:

S711 deserves your veto for multiple reasons:

  • S711 eliminates property rights that pre-date North Carolina statehood and strips neighbors and communities of access to the courts in an effort to protect a single industry from liability. The bill constrains nuisance challenges so tightly that the only example of a viable claim the bill sponsor could imagine is a lawsuit following the complete abandonment of a farm by its owners.
  • The communities surrounding intensive hog farms in North Carolina are already disproportionately burdened based on their race or ethnicity. In January 2017, the US EPA expressed its concern that the impacts of animal agriculture, coupled with inadequate state remedies, violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Your Administration has shown leadership on this issue and recently settled negotiations resulting from that EPA letter. S711, section 10 would entrench the same unequal protection that concerned the federal agency, and is inconsistent with the values and direction of your Administration.
  • Even viewed from the perspective of H467’s supporters, S711 is unnecessary. There have been no nuisance suits filed against any agricultural operations in North Carolina other than the suits against Smithfield in a number of years. Furthermore, it is our understanding that no lawsuits filed after the effective date of H467 have reached a judgment against Smithfield or any other farm or integrator, and the ongoing lawsuits are not subject to either H467 or S711. Thus, even if one believed it was important to limit nuisance claims against the corporation, there is no evidence that S711 is needed to reach that goal.
  • Because the bill precludes lawsuits that have not been filed as of the date of the bill’s enactment, it effectively ‘takes’ the accrued but as yet unfiled claims of an unknown number of neighbors. Under Rhyne v. K-Mart Corp, 258 N.C. 160, 594 S.E. 2nd 1 (2004), S711 may leave the State responsible for compensating each of these residents for their lost claims, imposing an unknowable financial liability on state government.

Cooper has 10 days to act on the bill, which means a veto would have to happen by Monday, June 25.

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Conservative leaders go with corporate power over human wellbeing (and even property rights)

It usually happens a few times every legislative session: at some point during their annual stay in the state capital, North Carolina lawmakers come to a bellwether moment or two at which they provide a full expression of who they are and what they stand for. Sometimes, these moments are about race; sometimes they are about human rights or civil liberties; sometimes they are about basic questions of environmental sustainability; and sometimes they are about the clash of human beings and corporations.

Recently, we arrived at one such moment that arguably relates to all four categories. It happened when lobbyists for one of the state’s most powerful and frequently destructive industries prevailed upon conservative leaders in the state Senate to insert some significant new law changes into a previously innocuous bill. The changes would alter the relationship between industrial hog factories (“farms” seems much too genteel of a term to describe these massive and grim operations) and the mostly powerless people of limited means (many of them people of color) who tend to live nearby.

As Policy Watch environmental reporter Lisa Sorg has reported here, here and here, legislators are seeking to make it much more difficult for individuals and families injured by the overpowering and life-degrading output of these massive, corporate-controlled operations – the stench, the airborne fecal matter, the insect swarms, the buzzards, the truckloads of hog carcasses – to bring common law nuisance suits against the multinational corporations that control them. The action is in direct response to a series of lawsuits brought against the pork giant, Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of the Chinese corporate behemoth known as the WH Group. [Read more…]

***Bonus:  WATCH: Republican legislator chide colleagues on rushed process, legislation to protect “one giant corporation” (video)

2. Early voting bill stirs controversy among watchdogs, Board of Elections

3. GOP leaders seek to poison school safety bill with partisan attack on the Affordable Care Act

4. Allegations of sexism, partisanship follow local election board’s disqualification of Berger challenger

5. Landowners along potential MVP Southgate path fighting unwanted land agents still waiting for attorney general to intervene

6. PW exclusive: Previously undisclosed fiscal note says victims’ rights constitutional amendment could cost state millions

7. N.C. State’s hyped voucher study tells us nothing about N.C.’s voucher program

Commentary

Cooper rightfully blasts Trump’s “ransom” proposal on offshore oil and gas drilling

In case you missed it amongst all of the hubbub and chaos at the General Assembly this week, Gov. Roy Cooper issued strong statement of opposition yesterday in response to the Trump administration’s latest scheme to force Atlantic Coast states to allow oil and gas drilling. The Trump plan would actually force states to pay the federal government to be exempt from drilling. Here’s Cooper’s statement:

Cooper Joins Governors to Oppose Legislation Demanding Ransom In Order To Be Exempt From Offshore Drilling
Proposed Legislation Would Charge States Hundreds of Millions of Dollars to Prevent Drilling Off Their Coasts

Governor Cooper today joined a coalition of Atlantic Coast governors from Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Virginia to urge Congress to oppose the Enhancing State Management of Federal Lands and Waters Act. In a joint letter, the governors called on congressional leaders to reject the proposal to charge the taxpayers of states opposed to offshore drilling if they want to secure an exemption.

“North Carolina should not have to pay a ransom to protect our beaches from the dangers of offshore drilling. Our coastal communities generate more than 30,000 jobs and the risk posed by offshore drilling simply isn’t worth it,” said Governor Cooper.

Since the Trump Administration’s proposal to open the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to offshore drilling, bipartisan Governors of coastal states have spoken out in opposition, citing the critical threat posed by drilling to tourism, commercial fishing and coastal economies. The Enhancing State Management of Federal Lands and Waters Act would charge states based on a formula to receive an exemption. Initial calculations estimate North Carolina could have to pay more than $500 million to receive a waiver to protect its shores from offshore drilling.

Nags Head Mayor Ben Cahoon is set to testify today against the bill before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources in Washington, DC. For more on that hearing, please click HERE.

In the letter, the governors are clear in their opposition to the federal government using the health of coastal economies as leverage to extort money from Atlantic Coast states.

“Our constituents have been clear about the need to protect our shorelines: our environment, our jobs, and our economies depend on it. We ask that Congress recognize and respect the rights of states to protect our waters without being held hostage by the combined effects of the Interior Department’s dangerous proposal and this misguided legislation,” the letter states.

In North Carolina, dozens of coastal communities and elected officials from both sides of the aisle have expressed opposition to offshore drilling. Last year, Gov. Cooper submitted public comments opposing seismic testing and drilling off North Carolina’s coast and on January 20th, he requested an official exemption for North Carolina in a call with Interior Secretary Zinke. In February, Cooper hosted Zinke along with Attorney General Josh Stein and a bipartisan group of coastal elected officials to express their opposition to drilling off of North Carolina’s coast.

Read the full letter here.

Commentary

Charlotte Observer condemns legislative plan to end protection for people with preexisting conditions

In case you missed it this morning, there was an excellent editorial in the Charlotte Observer condemning the last-minute scheme by Republican leaders at the General Assembly to undermine one of the most important and popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Under the last minute bill, the state Farm Bureau would be empowered to establish new, cheapo insurance plans (featuring no protections for people with preexisting conditions) with which it could cherry pick young and healthy enrollees and leave a sicker risk pool in the individual market, thus destabilizing the insurance market and causing premiums to skyrocket for those in need of comprehensive coverage.

This is from “NC Republicans rush to eliminate a key Obamacare benefit”:

“True to form, N.C. Republicans are wasting little time making life more difficult for the vulnerable in our state.

This time, that means those among us who have preexisting health conditions — the kind that used to result in high insurance premiums or denial of coverage altogether before the Affordable Care Act made those practices illegal. Protecting Americans with preexisting conditions is one of the most popular elements of Obamacare, but Republicans from Washington to Raleigh are nevertheless doing their best to eliminate such benefits.

In Raleigh, the newest effort is a legislative provision that allows for non-profits to offer health benefit plans to its members. Those plans would offer varying degrees of benefits, including some less expensive tiers that don’t cover preexisting conditions….

Supporters of the plans say they’re about offering coverage to people who don’t want or can’t afford pricey Obamacare plans. But Republicans know that nothing happens in a vacuum with health insurance, and the cascade that would result from such plans is clear. Health benefit plans would allow non-profits to pluck young and healthy customers from the ACA, which in turn would force insurers to raise premiums even more to cover the costs of the less healthy folks and elderly who remain on Obamacare.

Eventually, people with preexisting conditions will pay much more for insurance, especially if non-profits are allowed to let non-members join for a small fee to get access to the cheap health plans. The result: Obamacare will be gutted. So will its preexisting conditions benefit.”