Environment

Got something to say about coal ash? This is your week to share that input.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is accepting public comment through Friday (February 15th) on how Duke Energy should handle the storage of its coal ash.

Duke Energy has proposed leaving the coal ash at six unlined pits, but environmental groups say it will keep polluting groundwater, lakes, and rivers.

Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center says Duke should be required to excavate the remaining ash as it has done at eight other sites in North Carolina and all of its sites in South Carolina.

Click below to listen to our recent interview with Holleman:

To learn more about Duke Energy’s progress on closing the ash basins, click here.

Image: Appalachian Voices

To comment on the Allen Steam Station coal ash cleanup, email: allencomments@ncdenr.gov
To comment on the Belews Creek Steam Station coal ash cleanup, email: belewscomments@ncdenr.gov
To comment on the Marshall Steam Station coal ash cleanup, email: marshallcomments@ncdenr.gov
To comment on the Mayo Power Station coal ash cleanup, email: mayocomments@ncdenr.gov
To comment on the Rogers Complex coal ash cleanup (formerly Cliffside), email: rogerscomments@ncdenr.gov
To comment on the Roxboro Steam Plant coal ash cleanup, email: roxborocomments@ncdenr.gov

News

Poll: Slim majority in NC support closing ABC stores, private liquor sales

A new poll from Elon University suggests a slim majority of North Carolinians would support ending the system of government operated ABC liquor stores and instead allow private sales.

The poll, conducted in conjunction with the N.C. General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division, found 52 percent of respondents would support such a proposal. Fifty-seven percent said any store that can currently sell beer or wine should be able to receive a permit to sell liquor as well.

The poll results, released Tuesday, follow a report from the Program Evaluation Division that examined the potential outcomes of ending total government control of wholesale and retail sales.

North Carolina is one of only three states that exercises that level of control over liquor sales. The other two are Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Interestingly, the same slim majority of respondents said they would support ABC stores remaining closed on Sundays.

Respondents who said they don’t shop at ABC stores were far more likely to support the stores remaining closed on Sundays. Only 16 percent of non-shoppers said they believe ABC stores should be open on Sunday, compared to 44 percent of shoppers.

“That support for Sunday sales varied substantially by party and use of ABC stores suggests to me that some local autonomy for Sunday liquor sales might be popular among North Carolinians,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon Poll and associate professor of political science.

The poll was a live-caller, dual-frame (landline and cell phone) survey of 379 registered voters in North Carolina. It was conducted from Oct. 1 to Oct 4. The margin of error was +/- 5 percent.

Read the full results – with methodology – here.

 

 

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Cheri Beasley to become first Black woman appointed as NC Chief Justice

Justice Cheri Beasley (Photo courtesy of the NC AOC)

Cheri Beasley will be North Carolina’s next Supreme Court Chief Justice. She is the first Black woman to take the helm of the state’s highest court.

Gov. Roy Cooper made the announcement Tuesday afternoon. Beasley, who has served on the high court since 2012, will succeed current Chief Justice Mark Martin. He announced at the end of last month that he would resign Feb. 28 to become dean of Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach, Va.

“It is absolutely not lost on me that this week this nation will celebrate Valentine’s Day, and I think it must be fitting, because I am certainly feeling love,” Beasley said at a news conference.

She said she was excited to continue working with her colleagues and to work with other people in the judicial system, like court clerks and law enforcement. She wants to make sure the justice system is sound and that it are serving the people of North Carolina in the way that it should.

“I know that we will find successes along the way, especially through our commitment and our pursuit of justice for all people,” she said.

Beasley was initially appointed to the Supreme Court by former Gov. Bev Perdue to replace retiring Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson. She ran for re-election in 2014 and won a full term, which was to expire in 2022. She said she absolutely plans to run for election again next year to keep the Chief Justice post.

She previously served on the state Court of Appeals – where she was the first Black woman to win election to a statewide office in North Carolina – and as a district court judge for the 12th judicial district in Cumberland County.

“Justice Beasley has long been a leader, both in and out of the courtroom,” Cooper said. “She’s mentored students, aspiring attorneys and new judges. … I know Justice Beasley to be fair and deeply committed to viewing all North Carolinians equally through the eyes of the law.”

Her appointment to the Chief Justice position leaves another vacancy on the bench for Cooper to appoint. He has not yet announced whom he will choose, but it could shift the court’s balance to a 6-1 Democratic majority. Republicans had hoped to keep a balance on the court and urged Cooper to appoint another Republican to replace Martin or bestow the Chief Justice title to senior associate justice Paul Newby, who is also a Republican.

State Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse criticized Cooper on Twitter before he even made the announcement that Beasley would be Chief Justice for not choosing Newby. The party as a whole released a statement after that Cooper’s choice to not choose Newby and Justice Robin Hudson, who has also served more time than Beasley, was purely political.

Newby also released a statement on Twitter indicating his disappointment with Cooper.

“Sadly, today, Gov. Cooper decided to place raw partisan politics over a non-partisan judiciary by refusing to honor the time-tested tradition of naming the Senior Associate Justice as Chief Justice,” he stated. “The Governor’s decision further erodes public trust and confidence in a fair judiciary, free from partisan manipulation.”

When asked if he felt any obligation to choose a Republican to fill Beasley’s vacancy, Cooper said he would choose the best person for the job. He said he expects to make that announcement next week.

Former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory appointed Martin, who had the longest tenure on the high court with more than 20 years on the bench.

Republicans have been trying to retain power over the courts for the past two years. In 2016, there was talk of GOP legislators considering making a rare court-packing move to keep partisan control after the election of Democratic Justice Mike Morgan over Republican incumbent Justice Bob Edmunds.

When that fizzled, Republican lawmakers hatched a plan to redistrict state courts in an effort to get more GOP judges on the bench. They had also proposed legislation to transfer judicial appointment power from Cooper to the General Assembly and considered plans to change judicial selection altogether.

In the most recent Supreme Court race, there was more talk of court-packing if Republican incumbent Barbara Jackson was re-elected to change the majority of the high court from Democratic to Republican control. Democratic Justice Anita Earls was ultimately elected to the bench.

Martin’s announcement that he would be resigning was unexpected. A couple Republicans have already announced they would run for a seat on the high court in 2020:  Phil Berger Jr., who currently serves on the state Court of Appeals (he is also the son of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger), and former Senate member Tamara Barringer, who is an attorney.

Newby has confirmed he will run for Chief Justice in 2020.

A little more than a week after Martin announced his resignation, his second in command and appointee, Administrative Office of the Courts Executive Director Marion Warren announced he too would be leaving and following the Chief Justice to Regent.

Warren will be the senior associate dean of the university under Martin. Feb. 28 is both of their last days with the North Carolina judiciary.

Martin appointed McKinley Wooten as interim director of the AOC in Warren’s absence, but Beasley has the power to appoint the permanent director once she takes over as Chief Justice. McKinley has served as a deputy director with the AOC for over a decade.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more information becomes available. A fuller version of this story will be made available Wednesday morning on ncpolicywatch.com.

Commentary, News

House members introduce bill to raise NC’s minimum wage, improve worker rights and incomes

In case you missed it, State Representatives Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) and Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe)  introduced some long overdue legislation yesterday to dramatically improve the treatment of workers in North Carolina. House Bill 46 — the “Economic Security Act of 2019” — would make the following changes to state law:

  • it would increase the state minimum wage to $15 per hour over five years;
  • it would add North Carolina to the list of states that guarantee pay equity by barring employers from paying employees of one gender less than employees of another gender for the same work;
  • it would require employers to provide workers with paid sick days and family medical leave (with some exemptions for small employers);
  • it would increase the tipped minimum wage;
  • it would enact new protections against “wage theft” by employers;
  • it would enact new “ban the box” protections to bar employers from inquiring into the criminal history of job applicants on initial application forms;
  • it would repeal the state’s ban on collective bargaining by public employees;
  • it would reinstate the state earned income tax credit and state child care tax credit.

Needless to say, the measure faces an uphill battle in the GOP-led General Assembly, but if there was ever a bill around which North Carolina working families could and should rally in 2019 and beyond, this is it.

Commentary, News

AFL-CIO unveils its 2019 “Good Jobs Policy Agenda”

The good people at the North Carolina AFL-CIO are unveiling the group’s “Good Jobs Policy Agenda” for 2019 today at a conference in Raleigh that Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to attend and address.

Among the highlights of the agenda:

  • Raising our poverty-level state minimum wage, as a majority of states have done.
  • Raising the wage for tipped workers, which is currently a paltry $2.13/hour.
  • Adding public school employees to the list of state employees who are entitled to a minimum wage of $15/hour.
  • Improving our laws to better eliminate the deliberate “misclassification” of workers as independent contractors—a practice that cheats employees as well as lawful employers, and it also cheats our state government out of tax revenue.
  • Restoring the level and duration of unemployment benefits, now that the Trust Fund is more than solvent, so that they are no longer among the lowest in the country.
  • Allowing municipalities to require employers in their communities, and particularly contractors doing work for those municipalities, to pay more than the state minimum wage, or to require workplace benefits or safeguards greater than what state law requires.
  • Requiring employers that receive tax incentives to provide jobs that will raise, not lower, the standard of living of working families.
  • Restoring the film industry rebate program to expand film jobs in our state.
  • Making employers that relocate call centers overseas ineligible for state subsidies and requiring that call center work contracted by or for state agencies be performed within our state.
  • Requiring that domestic and agricultural workers be covered by minimum wage, overtime, and recording-keeping laws. Maintaining a stable workers’ compensation system that pays adequate benefits to those injured on the job. This includes increasing the maximum allowable amount for permanent injury to body parts including the heart, lungs, and brain—a maximum that has not be raised in a quarter century, and creating certain presumptions for firefighters injured in the line of duty.
  • Requiring employers to provide work breaks—something not currently required under state law.
  • Requiring two-person crews on trains and creating strong penalties for those who assault transportation employees on the job.
  • Ensuring workplace safety for all workers, including our migrant workers. Guaranteeing a minimum number of paid sick days for workers to care for themselves and their loved ones, including expanding the definition of “family” in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to allow leave to care for siblings, grandparents or grandchildren, while preserving the exemption for family farms.
  • Providing funding for child care subsidies to offset costs of affordable, quality childcare for low income workers and those pursuing education and training.
  • Creating work-sharing programs that will keep people employed, preserve the skills of our workers, and reduce both lay-offs and costs to employers.

The agenda also includes a number of other important recommendations, including supporting public education, healthcare for all, an end to big money domination of our elections. Click here to read the entire list.