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As Congress grapples with how to reduce gun violence, a major gun retailer moves beyond “thoughts and prayers”

The Chairman and CEO of DICK’S Sporting Goods announced Wednesday the company has decided to no longer sell assault style rifles or firearms to anyone under 21 years of age. High capacity magazines will also no longer be sold by the national chain.

The company recently learned that it had legally sold a gun last November to 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, though it was not the gun or the type of weapon used in the Parkland, Florida school shooting.

In a series of tweets the company announced its decision to pull all AR-15s and other semiautomatic rifles from its store shelves and websites.

‘We deeply believe that this country’s most precious gift is our children. They are our future. We must keep them safe.’

The sporting goods chain is also imploring elected officials to:

• Ban assault-style firearms
• Raise the minimum age to purchase firearms to 21
• Ban high capacity magazines and bump stocks
• Require universal background checks that include relevant mental health information and previous interactions with the law
• Ensure a complete universal database of those banned from buying firearms
• Close the private sale and gun show loophole that waives the necessity of background checks

DICK’S Sporting Goods operates more than 715 stores nationwide. You can read their full statement here.

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How NC’s Congressional delegation voted on the GOP’s sweeping tax-cut bill

Members of the U.S. House on Tuesday pushed through (227-203) the Republican’s sweeping plan to rewrite the nation’s tax laws.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) says the final GOP-Trump tax bill would provide most of its benefits to high-income households and foreign investors while raising taxes on many low- and middle-income Americans.

Republicans claim the tax overhaul will spur economic growth.

Here’s how the full delegation voted:

Nay
Rep. G.K. Butterfield – 1st District
Rep. Walter Jones – 3rd District
Rep. David Price – 4th District
Rep. Alma Adams – 12th district

Yea
Rep. George Holding – 2nd District
Rep. Virginia Foxx – 5th District
Rep. Mark Walker – 6th District
Rep. David Rouzer – 7th District
Rep. Richard Hudson – 8th District
Rep. Robert Pittenger – 9th District
Rep. Patrick McHenry – 10th District
Rep. Mark Meadows – 11th District
Rep. Ted Budd – 13th District

What select members of the delegation are saying about the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act.

Congressman Walter Jones (NC-3):

Congressman David Price (NC-4):

Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (NC-5):

Congressman Richard Hudson (NC-8):

Congresswoman Alma S. Adams (NC-12):

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The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Worried about environmental damage, Pleasant Garden residents gear up to fight a proposed granite mine

Gerald Hall stood in his farm field, where the collards nearly reached his knees. On about three and a half acres between them, Hall and one of his brothers grow myriad greens, like Swiss chard and kale, and in the summer, warm-weather crops, such as tomatoes and peppers, all headed to restaurant and local groceries, including Deep Roots co-op in nearby Greensboro.

Hall, known around these parts as the Egg Man, also raises laying hens, whose eggs he packages by hand and then sells wholesale or by the dozen from a small shed a few steps from his house.

“I used to work in paving,” Hall said of his former job as asphalt manager for the City of Greensboro. “In the summer, we’d work all night. And the trucks would be hauling rock and asphalt all night long.”

Just when Hall thought he had left behind the stench of asphalt for the fresh country air, now he and his neighbors are battling a proposed granite quarry, that, if built, would abut his family’s 80-year-old farm in Pleasant Garden. Just 100 feet from Hall’s property, the trucks would fill their beds with rock that earlier had been blasted from an open pit in the earth, then haul it away — at times, all night long. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: An epic hearing over a proposed granite mine leads to a pivotal vote by Guilford County Commissioners

2. Legislators begin “heavy lift” of examining funding structure of North Carolina schools

Craig Horn knows many education advocates want the school finance task force he co-chairs to weigh whether North Carolina spends enough on its public schools.

But the Union County Republican, an influential K-12 budget writer, wasted little time in reaffirming Wednesday that he considers the state’s spending levels to be an altogether separate discussion.

“Some people have taken us to task for this,” Horn said. “But adequacy is a different issue. This is an issue of what funds we have, and how they’re distributed. Because, regardless of how much money we have, if we’re not distributing it properly and for the benefit of students, then we’re wasting money.”

Horn’s comments came with legislators convening the first meeting of a pivotal joint chamber panel that, over the next year or more, is expected to overhaul North Carolina’s labyrinthine school funding system. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: With Robeson elementary mulling closure, N.C.’s Innovative School District left with no schools to take over?

3. Deception and bad faith at UNC
The Board of Governors is not just pushing the Right’s agenda, it’s intentionally withholding information from the public

[Note: This story has been updated — see below.] That there is a war underway for the heart and soul of higher education in North Carolina comes as no surprise to anyone who follows the state policy debate. For years now, North Carolina’s conservative think tanks and politicians have, along with the people who fund them, been waging a relentless effort to seize control of what they, rather bizarrely when you think about it for a minute, view as a bastion of the radical left.

Whether they’re firing able and honorable public servants like Tom Ross, railing against non-traditional instructors and curricula, attacking rules designed to promote equality for women, racial minorities and LGBTQ people, touting a supposed commitment to “free speech” in order to silence protesters who would challenge voices of hate and exclusion, defunding shoestring efforts at law schools designed to enforce civil rights laws and combat poverty, or just simply slashing funding and jacking up tuition and fees, conservative ideologues have, as the saying goes, “an agenda.” [Read more…]

4. UNC speech policy takes final steps to passage

The UNC Board of Governors’ Committee on Governance passed a controversial university speech policy Thursday in a standing-room-only meeting.

A controversial university speech policy took a crucial step toward becoming a reality Thursday, passing the UNC Board of Governors’ committee on governance unanimously.

The committee on governance met in Chapel Hill Thursday, part of the the first of two full-day meetings for the full board. The policy will need to be reviewed and passed by the board at its next meeting.

“I feel like we have a consensus free speech policy that will be a benefit to the university,” said Governance Committee Chairman Steve Long.

The committee did spend weeks reaching out to students, faculty and staff at the university – and the latest draft policy does reflect some concessions to their concerns. But students, faculty and staff members said Thursday they do not think there is a need for the policy. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: UNC Board of Governors discuss hiring own employees

5. Why are legislative leaders so afraid of fairer elections?

The latest news from the federal courts about the unconstitutional racially gerrymandered General Assembly districts and the response to it from legislative leaders makes one thing clearer than ever.

The folks in charge of the House and Senate are terribly afraid of what will happen if our elections are fairer, if every district is not gerrymandered by race and partisan considerations to all but guarantee that their supermajorities will remain in place, and if the voters have a slightly better chance at electing who they want instead of having their representatives chosen for them.

That’s the only conclusion you can draw from the bitter reaction from legislative leaders to their latest setback in the courts—that they are scared—as a three judge panel brushed aside lawmakers’ objections and hired an outside expert to redraw several districts lawmakers drew after their original maps were struck down as unconstitutional because of the role race played in their development. [Read more…]

*** Bonus reads:

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Chief Justice labels GOP plan to shorten judicial terms a disruption of justice

Add Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin to the list of critics who oppose a proposed Constitutional amendment that would reduce all of North Carolina judges’ terms to two years and force them to run for reelection next year.

As the Associated Press reports:

Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin

The head of North Carolina’s court system is against a proposal by some GOP legislators to reduce elected judges’ terms to two years, saying it “would disrupt the administration of justice.”

The statement by Republican Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin on Wednesday to judicial workers marks another key state leader opposing the idea, along with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Appeals Court and Superior Court judges serve eight years and District Court judges four. Any proposal would need statewide voter approval.

Martin says two-year terms would force constant campaigning and fundraising upon judges whose primary job is to be accountable to the law.

Martin does support a referendum on “merit selection” which is being advanced by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

Policy Watch Courts and Law reporter Melissa Boughton has more on merit selection here and Sen. Bill Rabon’s constitutional amendment to shorten all judgeships to two years here.

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The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch


1. North Carolina’s greatest scandal continues
UNC center’s latest report on poverty provides powerful reminder of the communities and individuals being left behind

When you consider the matter for a moment, it’s really not all that surprising that conservative politicians in Raleigh have been so hell-bent for so long to silence Professor Gene Nichol and the colleagues and students with whom he works at UNC Law School. There are, of course, numerous critics of the reactionary policies that state leaders have been advancing for most of the past decade—many of them employed in state-funded universities—but when it comes to Nichol and his team, there are a couple of factors that have to drive the powers-that-be absolutely crazy.

Nichol’s voice itself is one. Few other North Carolinians this side of Rev. William Barber are as powerful, passionate and pointed in, as the old saying goes, “speaking truth to power.” If you have any doubts about this, you must have somehow missed Nichol’s regular essays that dramatically enliven the opinion pages of Raleigh’s News & Observer. Click here and here to check out a couple of recent examples. [Read more…]

2. Lawmakers want increased competition in elections, except their own

Hypocrisy in politics is hardly a new phenomenon but rarely is it as boldly on display as it was last week from Republican legislative leaders during the latest of the now monthly special sessions of the General Assembly.

The House and Senate passed legislation called the “Electoral Freedom Act,” first introduced by Senator Andrew Brock in this year’s regular legislative session that sought to make it easier for unaffiliated candidates and new political parties to appear on the general election ballot.

North Carolina has some of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the country and many good government groups for years have pushed lawmakers to change them. [Read more…]

3. Groups with ties to Innovative School District head seeking state contracts for charter takeovers

Two groups seeking state contracts to run struggling North Carolina schools have professional ties to the man who may ultimately steer the decision to hire them, N.C. Policy Watch has learned.

According to documents obtained by Policy Watch, AMIKids Inc. and Communities in Schools (CIS) of Robeson County are two of eight organizations that have filed notices of intent to apply for contracts in the Innovative School District (ISD), a controversial reform program that could allow for-profit school operators to assume control of operations and staffing in lagging public schools for at least five years.

Until he accepted the role of ISD superintendent this year, Hall was the president and CEO of Communities in Schools of N.C., the state affiliate for CIS of Robeson County, an organization that specializes in dropout prevention with struggling kids. Before that, Hall also worked for more than seven years as national director for AMIKids, a Florida-based nonprofit that works with at-risk youth and non-traditional schools in a number of southern states. [Read more…]

***Bonus reads:

The N.C. Supreme Court building in downtown Raleigh. (Photo by Ricky Leung)4. Experts express concerns about consequences of eliminating judicial primary elections

North Carolinians will lose their “precious right to vote,” as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg calls it, in at least one election next year if lawmakers override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 656.

“The Electoral Freedom Act” eliminates next year’s primary election for judicial races among other things. It was passed in both chambers last week and Cooper vetoed it earlier this week. His veto will be up for an override vote by January at the latest—though some lawmakers have been told that an override vote could now be scheduled for as early as next Tuesday, October 17.

The only public explanation for the language about eliminating judicial primary elections next year (which was slipped into the bill via a last minute maneuver of the kind that have become commonplace at the General Assembly in recent years) has been to give lawmakers more time to tweak the redrawing of judicial and prosecutorial districts. [Read more…]

***Bonus video: Legislators will attempt to override Cooper’s veto of “The Electoral Freedom Act” on Tuesday

***Bonus read:  The latest on NC’s racial gerrymandering case: Will a special master get involved in a map redraw?

5. Duke Energy’s flood maps reveal only part of the risk of a coal ash spill

Saturday nights at the 311 Motor Speedway in rural Pine Hall smell of fast food and fuel. Wooden bleachers overlook the track, essentially a clay bowl, where under the bright lights, mini stock cars careen through the turns, monster trucks tear up mud bogs, and “Ucars” — souped up Hondas and Chevys and Fords — speed down the straightaways.

For an extra five bucks, you can sit in the VIP section, close enough to the track to feel the engines roar in your chest. From these premium seats, you could likely also see the infield begin to fill with coal ash and dirty water, should a basin at Duke Energy’s Belew’s Creek plant fail.

Facing litigation from the Southern Environmental Law Center, Duke Energy has made public previously secret information, including maps showing areas near 10 of its coal-fired power plants that would flood in the event of a basin breach. [Read more...]