News

Democrats react to scant House budget details

House Minority Leader Darren Jackson (D-Wake), flanked by his Democratic colleagues, responds to what details are available in the GOP crafted House budget plan.

Democrats in the N.C. House of Representatives responded to the House’s draft budget Thursday afternoon — or at least what they’ve seen of it.

The full budget won’t be rolled out until Tuesday, after the Memorial Day weekend. But some details from various sections were discussed in House committees Thursday.

It’s not how things should be done, said the House Minority Leader, Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake). But without the chance to see the full budget until the day the House is expected to vote on it, people should start contacting their representatives now.

“We’re going into a holiday weekend and this is the time for members to hear from their constituents – be seen out at holidays things, events that are happening,” Jackson said. ” We’ll come back, it’ll be rolled out on Tuesday morning and we’ll vote. So this will be the people back home’s only opportunity to speak to their representatives and inform him or her how they feel about the budget.”

Jackson admitted that what has come out about the House’s budget plan is an improvement over the Senate’s – but overall, it wasn’t that encouraging.

“The House budget’s top line numbers are the same as the Senate’s and significantly short of the governor’s [proposed budget],” Jackson said. “That means there are missed opportunities in this budget – missed opportunities to invest in education, work force development and job creation, especially in our rural communities.”

Jackson said the top line numbers also suggest more tax cut proposals rolled out next week.

“Tax cuts, at least in the past, have been 200 times larger for millionaires than they have been for families at the medium level of income,” Jackson said. “That is the Republican record on tax cuts the last few years.”

Budgets are all about priorities, Jackson said – and Gov. Cooper’s budget proposal showed emphasis on the right priorities without fee or tax increases. The proposed House budget, crafted by the GOP majority? Not so much, Jackson said.

Governor’s Cooper had more money for community colleges, Jackson said, which are a generator of jobs and help people in both urban and rural communities better themselves.  But the House budget, like the Senate’s, does not include funding for the NC Growth Scholarships that would have allowed North Carolinians to attend community college for free – a move other states are now adopting. Additional job training through community colleges aren’t funded either, Jackson said.

Rural job growth isn’t a priority in the House budget, Jackson said – as is obvious beyond the failure to adequately fund community colleges. The house budget doesn’t expand broadband access or NC Job Ready Sites either, Jackson said – and does very little to address the opioid crisis.

“A single pilot project in Wilmington,” Jackson said of the anti-opioid funding in the budget proposal. “That’s great for the Wilmington area and I’m sure that program will be a model for the future – but what about the rest of the state?”

Cooper’s budget called for $12 million for health services and $2 million for law enforcement to combat the problem, Jackson said. Tax cuts shouldn’t come before that sort of essential spending on such a deadly problem, Jackson said.

Jackson and other Democratic representatives on hand also criticized proposed K-12 education spending.

Though some of the infamous 3 a.m. cuts to education programs proposed in the Senate budget  have been restored under the House plan, Jackson said no one but the Republican House members know exactly which line item was cut to restore that funding.

Since the amount of spending is the same in both budget plans, Jackson said, every sigh of relief at a program or funding stream restored will be followed by a mad dash to find the cut that made that possible.

That’s going to be the work of reporters, citizens and House members next week, Jackson said.

Once the House has approved their budget, leaders from the House and Senate will confer on a compromise between their two plans. That compromise will go to the governor for his approval or veto.

agriculture, Environment

What’s that smell? The Farm Act of 2017.

This is a farm. To keep wedding venues from posing as farms, Senate lawmakers had to define the term in the Farm Act.

W hile the House dashed through its version of the state budget at the speed of light, for the past two days the Senate Agriculture/Natural Resources Committee plodded through other Very Important Business: the finer points of the farm act, the criminal element that is rumored to loiter near stream buffers, a hinky provision concerning coastal development, and what has become a crowd favorite — leachate aerosolization.

First, SB 615, the farm act.

Veterans of the legislature rightfully become concerned when a lawmaker says “All this section does is x.” Or, as Sen. Brent Jackson, a Sampson County Republican, quipped: “This is one of the shortest ones I’ve run in the last few years and the least controversial. We’ll see here in a moment.”

The 16-page bill (that started as four) would temporarily exempt from odor rules those farms that store poultry manure to be used for renewable energy. The Environmental Management Commission would have to craft an amendment to the existing odor rule governing waste-to-energy storage. These changes must go through public comment so the rule could take several months, if not a year to enact.

“All this does is allow a farmer to buy poultry litter from multiple sources to burn as renewable energy,” Jackson said. Otherwise the facility would fall under an industrial class and be subject to odor rules. “If there’s just one source, you may not have enough to keep the system running.”

The premise sounds reasonable, except the so-called hog nuisance bill just became law, and the language is vague enough that poultry operations could be included in it. Under that statute, citizens are limited in the amount of compensatory damages they can be awarded for agricultural inconveniences like bacteria from fecal matter on their homes or acrid odors in their living rooms.

“Let’s say I’m a citizen who wants to complain about odor, can I get an injunction?” asked Sen. Angela Bryant, a Democrat from northeastern North Carolina.

The answer is yes. Citizens can file an objection with the NC Department of Environmental Quality. They can sue and/or ask a judge for an injunction. But lawsuits require money and time. And odor exemptions could be abused.

The other reasonable-on-its-face-questionable-in-real-life section would strip counties of their authority to adopt zoning regulations governing all types of farms. If a farm is “bona fide” — that is, generates at least 75 percent of its gross sales from farming activities and qualifies for a conservation agreement — then it is exempt from local zoning regulations.

Jackson said the 2007 permanent moratorium on the construction of new hog farms removes the need for county ordinances governing them.

We’re trying to clean up our boots,” Jackson said.

Existing farms are grandfathered under the moratorium, although they can’t expand. Farms with advanced waste systems can be built, but none have been, so far. But if such a modern farm were to be constructed, a county could not use its zoning power to restrict its location.

And finally, it might seem silly that lawmakers have to define the term “farm,” but indeed they do. Many rural Orange County residents oppose the Barn of Chapel Hill, aka “the Party Barn,” which hosts weddings, because of concerns over noise, bright lights and drunken driving.

The Barn is on 22 bucolic acres near White Cross. But two beehives and a smattering of flowers do not a farm make. There must be official government paperwork. There must be evidence that you’re legit. Only then can there be noise, bright lights and drunken driving.

The bill passed the Senate Ag committee. It now heads to Finance and Judiciary.

Next: HB 56 and HB 576, environmental laws and the leachate bill.

News

A few highlights from the House budget on Justice and Public Safety

The House’s base budget for Justice and Public Safety was unveiled this morning at an appropriations meeting.

Committee members are still working through the amendment process and they will reconvene at 12:15 p.m. Below are a few highlights from the budget and this morning’s meeting.

  • Similar to the Senate’s budget, the House budget will fund an opioid pilot program. It appropriates $250,000 this year and next for the Department of Public Safety in conjunction with the City of Wilmington to develop and implement a pilot project to establish a “Quick Response Team” to address the needs of opiate and heroin overdose victims who are not getting follow-up treatment.
  • Eliminates litter crews and road squads — the program was funded by receipts from the Department of Transportation and they will no longer be supporting the program, according to the budget. JPS Appropriations Committee Chair, Rep. Allen McNeill (R-Moore, Randolph) said everyone fought to keep that part of the budget but DOT ultimately won. He said private contractors can clean up the litter cheaper than inmates and that it will create more private sector jobs. Rep. Charles Graham (D-Robeson) said he didn’t understand how that could be, and pushed further with more questions. McNeill cut off questions on the topic and said they’d have to wait for the full appropriations meeting to proceed.
  • The budget would provide funding for the State Crime Laboratory to outsource testing of sexual assault evidence collection kits in the custody or control of local law enforcement. General Assembly staff couldn’t answer if there was a need to do this or if it would create delay for victims.
  • There weren’t any legislative changes to the Indigent Defense Services Budget, but a provision would require the agency, along with the Administrative Office of the Courts, to study and develop specific statewide standards for determining indigency for defendants. The study shall include a review of the practices of other states regarding determination of indigency, analysis of cost-effectiveness of alternatives to the status quo and implementation plans for the standards agreed upon.
  • The budget provides over $2.7 million recurring funds to add 37 new assistant district attorneys. It’s unclear though, exactly which counties would get those positions, and a budget provision eliminates a requirement that legislators consult the workload formula established through the National Center for State Courts.
  • The budget includes a provision that would make it nearly impossible for judges to waive court costs for defendants. Rep. Joe John (D-Wake) and Rep. David Rogers (R-Burke, Rutherford) pointed out the impracticality of the provision, and McNeill said it was to try reign in judges waiving fees across the state (though it should be noted only about 8 percent of criminal cases across the state result in a waiver of court fees). The provision would require the court to provide notice to government entities directly affected by the remission or waiver of all or part of the order of court costs at least 15 days prior to a hearing. John said the provision would slow courts to a grinding halt. Legislative staff said a study had not been done to see what effect it would have on the courts.
  • Another provision in the budget would eliminate access to civil justice funds. That means that $1.50 of each court fee collected by the State Treasurer would no longer go to general legal services, and 95 cents of each fee would no longer go to programs that represent domestic violence victims. This provision moved through the first part of the meeting without discussion.
  • The budget does not eliminate emergency recall judges like the Senate’s did, but it does limit the number of them.

Stay tuned to Progressive Pulse for amendment updates as the meeting continues on.

Commentary, News

BREAKING: CBO report says Trumpcare would cost 23 million their health insurance

The Congressional Budget Office has released its much anticipated analysis of the American Health Care Act (aka “Trumpcare”). Here’s a link to the report: https://www.cbo.gov/publication/52752

And here is a summary from the New York Times:

A bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act that narrowly passed the House this month would increase the projected number of people without health insurance by 14 million next year and by 23 million in 2026, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. That 10-year figure is slightly less than originally estimated.

It would reduce the federal deficit by $119 billion over a decade, less than the $150 billion in savings projected in late March for an earlier version of the bill. And in states that seek waivers from rules mandating essential health coverage, the new law could make insurance economically out of reach for some sick consumers.

“Premiums would vary significantly according to health status and the types of benefits provided, and less healthy people would face extremely high premiums,” the budget office concluded.

The new forecast of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Capitol Hill’s official scorekeeper, is another blow to Republican efforts to undo President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement. The Senate has already said it will make substantial changes to the measure passed by the House, but even Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, is sounding uncertain about his chances of finding a majority to repeal and replace the health law.

“I don’t know how we get to 50 at the moment,” Mr. McConnell told Reuters on Wednesday. “But that’s the goal.”

Check back later for more updates and detailed assessments from experts at the North Carolina Justice Center as to the impacts in North Carolina.

News

NBA All-Star Game returns to Charlotte over LGBTQ protests

The NBA has announced its 2019 All-Star Game will be held in Charlotte.

This year’s game was held in New Orleans due to the NBA’s opposition to HB2.

But LGBTQ advocate groups Equality NC and the Human Rights Campaign are denouncing the decision. The HB2 compromise recently struck by the General Assembly wasn’t a true comprise, the groups said in a statement Wednesday – and corporations and sports groups shouldn’t be rewarding it.

The groups pointed out that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said  event sites, hotels, and businesses involved with the NBA All-Star Game must put in place LGBTQ inclusive non-discrimination policies inclusive of the LGBTQ community. But no such guidelines have yet been put in place by the city or the state.

“We need to see concrete guidelines and policies put in place that will live up to the proposed principles put forward by the NBA designed to protect all of its players and fans,” said Equality NC Interim Executive Director Matt Hirschy in the statement. “As we move forward with the NBA All-Star Game returning to Charlotte, LGBTQ people must be invited to the discussions between the NBA, the city of Charlotte and NCGA leadership to provide input and feedback on how to best protect LGBTQ people.”

“North Carolina’s discriminatory law prohibits the city of Charlotte from implementing non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ residents and visitors attending the All-Star Game. Nothing has changed that fact,” said JoDee Winterhof, HRC Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs. “It’s critically important that people understand the gravity of this situation, which has had the effect of extending discrimination and endangering LGBTQ people across the state of North Carolina.”

HB 142 is not a true HB2 repeal, the groups said in their statement. Instead it replaces one discriminatory, anti-transgender bathroom bill with another and bans local LGBTQ non-discrimination protections statewide through 2020. It substitutes the previous anti-transgender bathroom provisions with a new provision that forbids state agencies, public universities, primary and secondary schools, and cities from adopting policies ensuring transgender people have access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity, the groups said.