NC Democratic legislators introduce sweeping election reform bills

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Rallying for election reforms, House Democrats unveiled a new bill entitled the “Fix Our Democracy Act” and highlighted a recently introduced measure designed to safeguard voting rights at a press conference Tuesday.

Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, said the Safeguarding Voting Rights bill (HB 446) she’s co-sponsoring “gives no favor to any party” by focusing on four areas to ensure ease and accessibility for voting: voter registration and absentee/mail-in voting, recruitment of pollworkers, increasing flexibility for voting hours and the rights to vote during state holidays.

Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham

Morey stressed the importance of expanding mail-in voting. The bill would require the state Board of Elections to send out absentee ballot requests to every eligible voter with pre-paid postage at least 90 days before Election Day. The bill would make the one-witness requirement enacted temporarily by the General Assembly for the 2020 elections a permanent measure. The bill further requires at least one drop-off site in each county. Ballots postmarked by Election Day would still be counted if received no later than three days after the Election Day at 5 pm.

“My colleagues and myself strongly believe this is the time we encourage people to vote,” Morey said.She noted that  HB 446 seeks to make voting secure and easy and noted the many restrictive voting bills have been introduced across the country.

Rep. Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford, previewed another new bill HB 542. She said the Fix our Democracy Act aims to fix our democracy “each person having an equal voice”

Rep. Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford

Clemmons explained that the proposal builds upon House and Senate bills with the same name from 2019, by advancing a series of reforms in elections, redistricting, voting, campaign finance, lobbying and transparency. Neither of the 2019 bills made it out of their committees.

A Senate version of HB 542, SB 716 has also been introduced by Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg.

Among the Fix Our Democracy Act’s provisions are:

Voting and redistricting

  • Online and automatic voter registration – The measure allows eligible citizens to register to vote automatically whenever they interact with government agencies, such as the DMV, unless they decline to do so. A voter purge would only be allowed when the nonforwarding postcard from the county board of commission was returned.
  • At least one polling place required on college campuses with over 4,500 enrolled students. Read more

Financial questions may doom a small Scotland County town

A small Scotland County town may become a spot on the map with no elected government or authority to collect taxes.

A state commission is recommending East Laurinburg be stripped of its charter after years of shaky finances.

The Local Government Commission, which operates within the state Treasurer’s Office, voted unanimously Tuesday on a resolution to recommend that the town of 300 lose its status as a municipality. Legislative action is required to revoke a charter, and state Treasurer Dale Folwell said he’d spoken to legislators who represent East Laurinburg.

The town has been on the Unit Assistance List for years, said Sharon Edmundson, director of the State and Local Finance Division in the Treasurer’s Office. The Unit Assistance List is a watch list the office keeps of towns, cities, and counties that don’t file audits on time or have other financial problems.

“They have not shown they are viable going forward,” she said. “We’ve struggled with them for years.” During one stretch of time,  state staff couldn’t figure out who the town’s finance officer was. “They wouldn’t return phone calls or anything.”

The commission also voted unanimously to take control over the finances of Pikeville, a Wayne County town of about 700 people.

The town spent more in 2019 from its general fund and utility funds than it had budgeted, according to information given the Local Government Commission. The town is facing debt payments in the coming months and “its financial position is impossible to determine,” said the resolution the commission approved.

North Carolina joins other states in halting use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine following six severe reactions, one death

Photo: Javier Zaya, Getty Images

North Carolina health care providers are being asked to pause use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine following severe reactions in six women — none of them from North Carolina.

Out of an abundance of caution, use of the vaccine will be paused in North Carolina until the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control can complete an investigation and give further advice, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the  North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, in a Tuesday press conference.

“Today’s actions are the result of a vaccine safety system that is working,” Cohen said. “When a problem was identified, even in just six cases, the system was able to let providers know they should pause use of the vaccine for further study. North Carolina is following the FDA and CDC advice.”

The reactions causing the FDA and CDC investigation happened in six women between the ages of 18 and 48. One woman died and another was in critical condition as of Tuesday afternoon.

Dr. Mandy Cohen

The women developed a rare type of blood clot, Cohen said, which shouldn’t be treated in the typical way using anti-coagulants or blood thinners like Heparin. The blood-clot condition, known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, had combined with low levels of blood platelets in the six cases under scrutiny according to the FDA.

The reaction appears to be so rare as to be “literally one in a million,” Cohen said, with more than six million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine having been administered and just six known cases so far.

“This pause will allow them to look further at the data and make sure providers know how to treat this rare blood clot,” Cohen said.

Those who have appointments to get the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines should keep those appointments, Cohen said. Those who had appointments to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will need to reschedule. The state is working to make sure enough vaccine is available for all those who want it.

“COVID-19 vaccines continue to be the most effective way to end this pandemic by preventing the spread of COVID-19, preventing hospitalization and death,” Cohen said. “Our goal is that everyone gets a safe vaccine.”

The vast majority of people who have gotten the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have reported nothing beyond soreness and a bit of fatigue, Cohen said.

“That’s what I experienced when I got the Johnson & Johnson shot,” she said.

Anyone who develops severe headache, abdominal pain, shortness of breath or leg pain within three weeks of receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should report it to their health care provider, Cohen said. But more than 242,000 Johnson & Johnson doses have been given in North Carolina as of Tuesday, Cohen said. So far, no severe reactions have been reported. Read more

Update from Minnesota: Mourners hold vigil for Daunte Wright, while demonstrators clash with police nearby

Katie Wright speaks through tears at a vigil on April 12, 2021, near where her son, 20-year-old Daunte Wright, was killed by Brooklyn Center police the day before. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Hundreds of mourners filled the street at the corner of 63rd Avenue and Kathrene Drive in Brooklyn Center on Monday evening for a candlelight vigil where Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop on Sunday.

Through tears, Wright’s family shared memories of the young father with an “angelic” smile, and Twin Cities’ faith leaders called for the public to continue to fight to end police violence in a state still reeling from the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police last May.

“He didn’t deserve this at all. My heart is literally broken into a thousand pieces,” Wright’s mom Katie Wright said. “I miss him so much already, and it’s only been a day. I can’t imagine what’s going to happen tomorrow or the next day.”

The large wooden fist that was first erected in the middle of the intersection where Floyd died at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue — before being replaced by a metal version — was moved to the site of Wright’s death in the northern suburb, where mourners laid flowers and lit candles in Wright’s honor.

“My brother lost his life because they were trigger happy,” Wright’s older brother Dallas Bryant said, “I could tell my brother was scared. I could hear it in his voice. And for them to call it an accident or a mistake? To be honest, it’s just straight bulls***.”

Earlier on Monday, the Brooklyn Center police department released the body camera footage from the female officer — later identified as 26-year veteran Kimberly Potter — who shot Wright. It shows her shouting “taser!” three times before firing her gun at Wright, apparently mistaking it for her taser.

Several Twin Cities clergy offered prayers that also served as a call to action for people to sustain their support of Wright’s family and continue to fight for an end to police violence.

A spectator records demonstrators clashing with police near the Brooklyn Center police station on April 12, 2021. Hundreds protested the police shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Drawing a connection with the recent Easter celebration, Plymouth Congregational Church Rev. DeWayne Davis said a resurrection is an uprising.

“We are in an uprising. We are not going back to the places of death,” Davis said. “We’re not going to sit down. We’re getting up until all of our children can walk free, that we don’t have to call their names in lament anymore but only in celebration.”

The sound of helicopters could be heard overhead as the vigil ran up against a 7 p.m. curfew ordered by Gov. Tim Walz in Hennepin, Ramsey and Anoka Counties following a night of unrest and looting Sunday, and escalating tensions after the release of the body camera footage. Sporadic looting broke out Monday night, as well.

Civil Right attorney Ben Crump, who earlier announced he would be representing the Wright family, paid his respects at the memorial. Crump represented the family of George Floyd in their civil lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis, winning an unprecedented $27 million settlement.

“This was such an unnecessary killing.” Crump said while leaving the memorial. “The fact that they would stop this young man for having an air freshener and shoot and kill him. Now we can’t be Black and drive with an air freshener. America: We can do better.”

Wright’s family called for peace, asking mourners to go home after the vigil.

While the intersection where Wright died emptied out after the curfew, a crowd swelled just a few miles away at the Brooklyn Center police station.

Hundreds of protesters clashed with police in riot gear. Some protesters lobbed what appeared to be water bottles and fireworks over newly erected fencing surrounding the police station.

Police returned fire with chemical irritants, less lethal munitions and flash bangs, telling demonstrators to comply with the curfew and leave the area or else be arrested for unlawful assembly. Some tear gas canisters landed on the porches of people’s apartments just across the street from the police station.

Max Nesterak is a reporter for the Minnesota Reformer, which first published this story.

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