Commentary

Chart shows what GOP budget blockade is costing North Carolina

North Carolina Republican lawmakers have been traveling around a good bit of late making claims that Gov. Cooper is somehow preventing a host of essential state services from a being funded by his refusal to sign the draconian budget that they sent to him in June. The truth is just the opposite. As the chart below (which was part of a powerful slide presentation prepared by the N.C. Budget & Tax Center) shows, Cooper has proposed a budget that would actually provide more generous funding across the board. In fact, it’s the Republican attachment to unwarranted and destructive tax cuts for corporations and their refusal to agree to life-saving and economy-boosting Medicaid expansion that is the problem.

Commentary

Cooper should nix “back to the bad old days” association health plans bill

As noted in this radio commentary, Gov. Roy Cooper should veto the so-called Association Health Plans bill that the General Assembly presented to him today. The bill would allow the establishment of cut rate insurance schemes that would provide for lower premiums for some by allowing insurers to skirt consumer protections and cherry pick customers.

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.

The following is a from a fact sheet on the subject prepared by Brendan Riley of the N.C. Justice Center’s health Advocacy Project (the Justice Center is the parent organization of NC Policy Watch):

Association Health Plans Increase Costs for People with Pre-Existing Conditions

Under S.B. 86, Association Health Plans (AHPs) can avoid Affordable Care Act rules for selling health insurance to small businesses and individuals. As a result, AHPs can undermine the ACA markets by siphoning off young and healthy enrollees. But any reduction in premiums that AHPs may offer to some small businesses and individuals come only at the expense of others who would have to pay higher costs.

Association Health Plans’ promise of lower premiums rests on skirting consumer protections and cherry picking enrollees.

AHPs would increase premium costs for ACA-compliant coverage, putting people with pre-existing conditions and others in need of comprehensive coverage at risk. Read more

Commentary, Trump Administration

Editorial: Trump’s outrageously shortsighted attack on the Endangered Species Act

An endangered red wolf in eastern North Carolina

You really can’t make this stuff up. We have more and more evidence every day that humans face an existential crisis as a result of, in effect, drowning themselves and the rest of the biosphere in their own effluent, and what do the Trumpists propose? Give yourself a gold star if you guessed weakening the already inadequate Endangered Species Act. As today’s lead editorial in the Greensboro News & Record observes, this is a dreadful idea, After noting that bills to eviscerate the law failed when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, the editorial explains that Trump and his minions plan to go ahead without Congress:

So the Trump administration has decided to gut the law on its own, by rewriting the rules of its enforcement. Unless something is done, less than a month from now, there will be fewer protections for threatened species. It will be easier to remove species from the endangered list. It will be easier for mining, drilling, logging and other business activities to proceed even if they will harm species.

Regulators will now be able to take into account “economic factors” when deciding if a species merits protection. That strikes at the heart of the law, which rightly has weighed science-based judgments taking the long view over immediate profits.

Equally bad, the changes would make it harder for regulators to consider effects of climate change on wildlife. Trump doesn’t believe in human causes of climate change anyway, so his administration isn’t likely to value scientific projections looking 20 or 30 years down the road. A recent U.N. report estimated that human activity is pushing 1 million species toward extinction.

After noting the long list of disastrous environmental policies Trump has been pursuing (on the climate crisis, coal, preserving open spaces and many others), the editorial concludes this way:

One of Trump’s rallying cries is about removing the “regulatory burden,” as if all regulations are bad. Sure, bureaucracy can be frustrating at times, but sensible regulations are needed to make sure that the self-interest we pursue is the enlightened kind.

Some states, members of Congress and environmental groups are gearing up to fight Trump’s move to cripple what may be the most important environmental law of the last 50 years. Good for them. A few years of wrongheaded policy could do damage that will last forever.

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary

GOP game playing and waste of public dollars at the legislature is hitting absurd new lows

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore

The North Carolina General Assembly is not a college fraternity or a high school student council, but unfortunately, the people in charge of the show there seem to think it should be treated as such — a place where deception and dirty tricks can be used to enact laws that affect the lives of 10 million people.

In recent weeks, House Speaker Tim Moore and his minions have stooped to this kind of behavior on a regular basis in an effort to manufacture an override of Gov. Cooper’s budget veto. Time and again, Moore has played games with the schedule of the House in a desperate attempt to find a way to conduct an override vote on the Governor’s budget veto at a moment when enough Democratic members happen to be off the House floor.

Members have been kept late into the evening for no good reason other than to sit around in hopes someone will leave early. House sessions have been convened for five minutes and then recessed (or members have been told the House is “at ease”) for indeterminate periods. Some sessions have been convened only to adjourn almost immediately without having taken any votes or meaningful actions at a cost of thousands of dollars. Repeatedly, Democratic members and the millions of people they represent have been kept utterly in the dark as to House schedules and plans.

It’s gotten so absurd that Moore has intentionally scheduled House sessions to conflict with evening in-district meetings scheduled by Democratic members. On multiple occasions, House Democrats have been unable to attend to family needs and illnesses for fear of not being on the House floor at precisely the wrong moment.

Last night, Moore sent an email to members which was clearly intended to give the impression that there would be no meaningful action taken on legislation in today’s session. It read:

“For your planning purposes, there will be no 2nd or 3rd  reading recorded votes tomorrow (Wednesday 8/14).

Please watch your emails for committee meeting notices.

Thank you,
Speaker Tim Moore”

A moment’s careful reflection, however, reveals that Moore’s memo does not rule out the possibility of a veto override vote, which is not technically considered a “second reading” or “third reading” item in the General Assembly’s parliamentary parlance.

The bottom line: Moore’s trickery and deceptions are outrageous and unworthy of the chief lawmaking assembly for our state. The 2019 session needs to come to an end. Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger have lost the veto override battle. They need to stop acting like immature college frat boys and sit down with Gov. Cooper and Democratic leaders to negotiate a final agreement. This kind of behavior sullies our state, undermines democracy and sets a dangerous precedent for the future.

Commentary, News

A disturbing fact you may not have heard about the Mississippi ICE raids

Was the recent ICE raid on a Mississippi poultry plant carried out in response to workers there having recently won a significant racial and sexual harassment lawsuit against the owners of the plant?

The following is from a story last week on the website Payday Report:

Today, ICE carried out what is believed to be the largest immigration raid in decades when they detained 680 workers at seven poultry plants in Morton, Mississippi.

The workers, many of them members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), were employed by a company called Koch Foods Inc, which employs 13,000 workers throughout the US. (Koch Foods Inc. has no connection or relation to the billionaire political donor Koch Brothers)….

In 2018, following a nearly eight-year-long legal battle, Koch Foods Inc. settled a $3.75 million brought by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Koch Food Inc at the plant. The lawsuit alleged that Koch Foods Inc supervisors engaged in both racial and sexual harassment of Latina workers at its Morton, Mississippi plant.

The lawsuit brought by the EEOC against Koch Food Inc’s alleged “that supervisors touched and/or made sexually suggestive comments to female Hispanic employees, hit Hispanic employees and charged many of them money for normal everyday work activities.”

As part of its settlement, Koch Foods Inc. agreed to a three-year federal consent decree to change its discriminatory practices. As part of the consent decree, Koch Foods Inc. was forced to create a 24-hour-a-day bilingual hotline for workers to use to file complaints.

Some activists see this as a familiar pattern: immigrant workers band together and stand up against mistreatment by their employers and then, mysteriously, ICE shows up to break up the workforce and deport complaining workers. Again, here’s the Payday Report story:

Many immigrants rights advocates have speculated that workers are targeted for raids after their facilities get investigated for worker abuse.

In June of 2018, ICE raided a unionized Fresh Mark meatpacking plant in Salem, Ohio; arresting 140 workers.

A week before the raid on a Fresh Mark’s Salem facility, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined Fresh Mark $211,194 for three separate incidents in which proper guards for dangerous machinery were not in place. OSHA found that the lack of safety guards resulted in the death of an undocumented worker.

In December of 2017, Domingo Ramos, a 49-year-old undocumented worker from Guatemala, was killed in the plant when his foot was sucked into a rotating auger, ripping off his lower leg and leading to him bleeding to death.

Suspicion was also raised that workers complaining about working conditions in plants lead toa raid at the Southeastern Provision in Morristown, Tennesse. The raid came after federal authorities were tipped off by a local bank that the owner of the plant may have been paying undocumented workers under the table….

While it’s unclear if the raids are being triggered by federal authorities responding to the mistreatment of workers, the overall effect of these raids has had a chilling effect on workers speaking out.

“These raids send a real signal to immigrant workers not to speak up, and we feel like these raids enable employers in the most dangerous industry to cut corners and violate labor standards,” said Debbie Berkowitz, who served as chief of staff of OSHA under Obama from 2009 to 2013 and now serves as the director of the worker health and safety program at the National Employment Law Project (NELP).