Commentary, News

News report: Bipartisan “red flag” gun violence protection law working well in Florida

A National Public Radio news story broadcast this morning provides more compelling evidence that Florida’s so-called “red flag” law is working well to place roadblocks in the path of individuals prone to commit murder and/or suicide. The story reports that the bipartisan bill, which was passed in the aftermath of the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, has resulted in more than 2,500 orders to temporarily remove weapons from the possession of potentially dangerous individuals. Judges have been issuing them at the rate of nearly five per day. This is from “Florida Could Serve As Example For Lawmakers Considering Red Flag Laws”:

Bob Gualtieri, the sheriff in Pinellas County, Fla., which has issued more than 350 risk protection orders, believes the red flag law is something Florida has needed for a long time. Before, even if someone was found to be mentally ill, he says police couldn’t take their guns. This law changes, and gives police a tool for dealing with people “that have said things, that have done things, exhibited behaviors that rise to the level of concern.”

Once the order is in place, Gualtieri says, “They can’t run out and buy guns, acquire guns. Because you’re prohibited from possessing, from owning or purchasing under a risk protection order. So, it’s a big deal.”

While the law is clearly not perfect — judges express concerns, for instance, about the challenge of issuing orders based on predictions of possible human behavior — the law gets good reviews in many places. what’s more, it became law without active opposition from the NRA.

The largest number of risk protection orders, more than 380, have been issued in Polk County, an area with no major cities and a population of some 700,000. Perhaps surprisingly, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd is an outspoken supporter of gun rights.

“Yeah I’m a huge second amendment person,” Judd said. “I certainly believe those that are not mentally ill and have not had a felony conviction have the right to possess firearms.”

The NRA hasn’t actively opposed the red flag law here. Judd, a card-carrying member says the law requires a person to surrender their firearms to police or to a family member who agrees to keep them in a secure location. But it’s only temporary. For Judd, that’s an important distinction.

“The risk protection order does not allow the government to seize your firearms,” he said. “It’s more or less a cooling off period.”

While such a law is far from all that is needed, the experience in Florida ought to send a strong message to Republican legislative leaders in North Carolina that they can and should stop their blockade of a similar proposal by Durham state Rep. Marcia Morey.

Environment, Legislature

In the House, a major amendment to controversial Duke Energy rate-making bill hands the hot potato back to the Senate

Rep. Larry Strickland: “Not a lot of people want this bill outside of Duke Energy.”

A key provision in Senate Bill 559 was upended in the House Tuesday afternoon, which made the measure more palatable to opponents but added uncertainty to it future.

Colloquially known as the Duke Energy rate-making bill, it contained a controversial section that allowed the utilities commission to approve multi-year rate plans. Utilities could then avoid requesting rate hikes more often. While bill proponents in the legislature said it would add certainty to rate-making, there’s no guarantee that rates would decrease. If they increased, customers could be locked into higher bills for several years.

The amendment now require the Utilities Commission to study multi-year rate making and other methods. “Not a lot of people want this bill outside of Duke Energy,” said Rep. Larry Strickland, a Republican representing Harnett and Johnston counties. “We need a lot more discussion. This impacts small businesses, industry and families.”

The study would be due no later than March 1, 2020.

The amendment passed 63-51, which teed up the near-unanimous approval of the bill. After a 112-2 vote, the measure now returns to the Senate.

Section 1 of the bill allows Duke Energy to ask the Utilities Commission for permission to sell bonds to recover costs associated with storm damage. It has met no opposition. But with Section 2, and now the amendment, the fate of the bill in the Senate is uncertain. During committee hearings and on the Senate floor earlier in the session, several Democratic senators, including Mike Woodard of Durham County, suggested peeling off the controversial section into a study bill. Sen. Ralph Hise, a bill co-sponsor, quickly quashed the proposal.

The bill has been tweaked several times to attempt to assuage concerns from industry and consumer advocates that Duke could use alternative rate-making to “milk profits from customers,” said Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, who supports the measure.

The original bill contained “earnings bands.”  The banding portion of a multi-rate plan would allow the Utilities Commission to establish a return on investment — a profit — for the utility that acts as a midpoint; from there, the commission also would set a low- and high-end range — a band — for profitability. This provision would require Duke Energy to refund to customers any profits above 1.25 percent on its rate of return.

Bill sponsors changed the bill so that profits from the middle and top of earnings bands were directed to projects like affordable housing.

Thirty-five states have enacted alternative rate-making mechanisms, but they differ in their approach and success. “Let’s not make mistake Virginia made,” Strickland said, “which resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in overcharges.”

Lewis opposed the amendment. “Why study something that merely gives the Utilities Commission the option. It’s redundant to study whether they would like to have the option. The amendment is damaging to the bill.”

A study is beyond the scope of the Utilities Commission, said Rep. Dean Arp, a Union County Republican. “This is a confusion of checks and balances. Their role is not to enact a study but to carry out policy.”

Bill proponents often touted that the measure had bipartisan support because it Democrat Dan Blue of Wake County is a co-sponsor. However, there also has been bipartisan pushback.

Rep. John Szoka, a Republican from Cumberland County, said he could not support the multi-year rate-making portion of the bill. “It’s better than when it was introduced but it still has flaws.”

Szoka said he agreed the changing energy industry needs new methods for rate-making. Because of energy efficiency, the demand for electricity has decreased. “Rewarding a utility for building more [plants] is no longer viable,” Szoka said. I understand where impetus for Section 2 is coming from. But it doesn’t solve the problem. It’s utility-centered, not ratepayer-centered. The best alternative is a study.”

Environmental groups were pleased with Strickland’s amendment. Josh McClenney, North Carolina field coordinator for Appalachian Voices, issued a statement:

“This is how public policy should be made, with a thorough and open vetting by the public and by experts to understand the full impact on North Carolina families and businesses, not through Duke Energy writing its own bills and making deals with legislators behind closed doors. Regardless of what happens when the bill gets to the Senate, multi-year rate hikes should not be passed outside of broader utility regulatory reform.”

Molly Diggins, director of the NC Chapter of the Sierra Club urged the Senate to agree with the changes. “There are many utility rate-making tools that could benefit the environment and customers that were not included in this bill because it was crafted by and for the utility, not the public.”

News

Students, community celebrate one year without “Silent Sam” Confederate monument

Hundreds gathered on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill to celebrate the first anniversary of the toppling of the Confederate monument known as “Silent Sam.”

Hundreds of students and community members gathered Tuesday night to celebrate the first anniversary of the toppling of the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill.

Anti-racist activists led the large assembled crowd from Peace and Justice Plaza to McCorkle Place, where they stopped at the former site of the Confederate monument, took a moment of silence at the Unsung Founders memorial honoring the Black labor — slave and free — that helped build the university and called for the removal of the names of slave holders and white supremacists from university buildings at the Old Well.

“We celebrate not only the toppling of a symbol but the toppling of white supremacy,” Raul Arce Jimenez told the crowd at the now barren site that was once the home of “Silent Sam.”

Jimenez is still facing charges in the toppling of the statue.

“What used to be here doesn’t need to be here,” Jimenez said to applause. “So today we celebrate, as we did last year when it came down, the absence of a symbol of white supremacy. This symbol stood for more than a hundred years, glaring down on black and brown students as they walked by. It stood here to welcome students and visitors. But I ask, ‘Who felt welcome as they walked by this statue? Who felt accepted as they walked by the grotesque reminder that people fought so people could not be free?’ It was a symbol of white supremacy and who tore it down?”

The crowd replied with shouts of “We did!”

Read more

immigration, News

Legislature sends immigration bill to Cooper; scores of nonprofits and businesses call for veto

The state House of Representatives gave final approval this afternoon to legislation that would force local sheriffs to hold individuals that they would otherwise release, based on “detainer” requests from federal immigration officials. The House vote was 62-53.

Proponents say the bill is necessary to aid law enforcement in protecting public safety, but opponents have argued forcefully that it will have the opposite effect. After the bill passed the ACLU of North Carolina released a statement calling on Gov. Cooper to veto the measure accompanied by endorsements from scores of national and state-level nonprofits and state-based businesses.

RALEIGH – More than 70 national organizations, 40 North Carolina groups, and 80 North Carolina businesses are urging Governor Roy Cooper to veto a bill that would force all North Carolina county sheriffs to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in detaining and deporting community members or face removal from office.

In separate letters, the organizations say the bill would harm North Carolinians by spreading fear within immigrant communities, further accelerating the federal government’s deportation machine, and subverting the will of the voters.

House Bill 370, which has been approved by both chambers of the General Assembly, would require county jails to comply with a request from federal immigration officers to hold someone in jail, even if they are eligible for release under North Carolina law. So-called “ICE detainer requests” often lack probable cause and can lead to the prolonged detention of people without a court order, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

“By vetoing this brazen attack on North Carolina’s sheriffs and voters who have made it clear they do not want ICE terrorizing their communities, Governor Cooper can send an important message that he supports both local law enforcement and the rights of all communities,” said Susanna Birdsong, Senior Policy Counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina, one of the groups urging Cooper to veto. “This dangerous bill strips local law enforcement of their ability to make decisions in the best interest of public safety, forcing every county in North Carolina to divert resources to do the bidding of President Trump’s deportation force whether they want to or not. Governor Cooper should put a stop to this extreme agenda, stand up for local law enforcement, and veto this bill without delay.”

In a separate letter to Cooper, the ACLU of North Carolina explained the constitutional concerns with requiring sheriffs to unconditionally comply with all detainer requests received from ICE, whose history presents a troubling pattern of illegal arrests.

Last year, voters in North Carolina’s two largest counties – Mecklenburg and Wake – elected sheriffs who campaigned on promises, now fulfilled, to end their involvement in the federal 287(g) program, a partnership with federal immigration officers that has led to the deportation of thousands from North Carolina. Newly elected sheriffs in Buncombe, Forsyth, Guilford, and Durham counties have also announced that they will no longer hold people in jail on ICE detainer requests.

“If Governor Cooper allows this anti-immigrant bill to become law, it will spread more fear across our communities, tear apart families, and force local governments to divert resources to fuel the Trump administration’s deportation pipeline,” said Martha Hernandez, community organizer with Comite de Accion Popular. “It’s important that our state’s highest elected official take a stand for the rights of North Carolina communities and against this extreme anti-immigrant political agenda.”

The full list of groups signing each letter is: Read more

News

A year without “Silent Sam” at UNC

Silent Sam in its former site at McCorkle Place at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Today marks one year since the toppling of the Confederate monument known as “Silent Sam” on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The monument, erected in 1913 as part of a what historians call a new wave of white supremacist sentiment, was torn down by protesters after decades of controversy and attempts to legally secure its removal. Its damaged remains are now kept by the school in an undisclosed location as its return to campus becomes increasingly unlikely.

Conflicts over the toppling of the statue and how to respond played into deep tensions with the UNC Board of Governors that led to the resignations of both former UNC System President Margaret Spellings and former UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt.

The men who replaced them — Dr. Bill Roper as interim UNC System President and Kevin Gusciewicz as interim chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill — have both gone on record saying the statue should not return to the campus.

With UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith reversing position to oppose the statue’s return, there is no longer even a timeline for any decision on the monument’s future.

A year on, the toppling of “Silent Sam” seems to have had a profound impact not only on the campus and its politics but on the continuing struggle over Confederate statues. Earlier this year the city of Winston-Salem removed a similar statue despite objections by the Daughters of the Confederacy. On Monday night the Chatham County Board of Commissioners voted to remove another Confederate monument in Pittsboro.

As students prepare to celebrate a year without the statue on campus tonight, it’s worth looking back at the important events leading up to and following in the wake of “Silent Sam’s” removal.

A “Silent Sam” Timeline

July 22, 2015: Former Gov. Pat McCrory signs a law making it more difficult to remove “objects of remembrance” as sentiment grows against Confederate monuments. Statues such as “Silent Sam” are voluntarily removed across the South. Others are vandalized and torn down by protesters.

August 22, 2017: Spellings emails the UNC Board of Governors a letter sent to Gov. Roy Cooper outlining concerns the “Silent Sam” Confederate statue could pose a threat to students and could, in the charged environment, be in danger of being damaged or destroyed. The letter urged Cooper to convene the N.C. Historical Commission to “take up this matter and to consider what steps should be taken, consistent with the law.” The letter was signed by Spellings, Folt, then Chairman Louis Bissette and UNC Board of Trustees Chairman Haywood Cochrane. It touched off a political firestorm and a letter signed by 15 board members criticizing Spellings for going to Cooper, a Democrat, as weakness and hand-wringing. Ultimately, the board rejects Cooper’s suggestion that danger to the campus and statue justifies its removal, despite a 2015 law passed to prevent the removal of such monuments.

May 24, 2018: Harry Smith is elected chairman of the UNC Board of Governors. Smith is one of the board members who signed the letter critical of Spellings and part of a more combative and conservative wing of the board that has had a number of public conflicts with her and Folt.

August 21, 2018: Protesters topple the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument. Board of Governors members criticize Folt and Spellings’ handling of the protests leading up to its toppling and the response to the event.

October 26, 2018: UNC System President Margaret Spellings resigns after a tenure marked with the tensions with the UNC Board of Governors. She does not deny there have been tensions but insists it is simply time for her to move on.

November 1, 2018: UNC Board of Governors announces Dr. William Roper, CEO of UNC Healthcare, as interim President of the UNC System.

December 3, 2018: UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees suggests housing the “Silent Sam” Confederate statue in a new, $5.3 million UNC history center that would also feature other items from UNC’s history and include classroom space. The center would be at the edge of the developed campus with far more security than its original site at McCorkle Place.

December 14, 2018: The Board of Governors rejects the history center plan and appoints a task force of board members to work with Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees on a new plan for the statue by mid-March.

January 14, 2019: UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt announces her resignation. In the announcement, which took the UNC Board of Governors by surprise, she also announced that she had ordered the base of the toppled Confederate statue removed from McCorkle Place. Members of the Board of Governors – including Chairman Harry Smith – condemn the order and criticize Folt not speaking with the board about stepping down.

January 15, 2019: The UNC Board of Governors accepts Folt’s resignation, but announces they will not allow her to serve until the end of the semester as she intended. Instead, they announce her last day will be January 31. The board authorizes interim UNC System President William Roper to appoint an interim chancellor as soon as he sees fit.

February 1, 2019: Roper and Interim UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Gusciewicz both go on record opposing the return of “Silent Sam” to campus.

May 22, 2019: Smith goes on record as saying that returning “Silent Sam” to campus is “not the right path.” Though the board had set multiple deadlines to announce a plan for the statue’s future, Smith said there it no longer makes sense to set arbitrary timelines on the issue.