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Coming up: Redistricting to take center stage next week

Next week will be big for those keeping track of North Carolina’s racial gerrymandering issues.

To start, the House and Senate Committees on Redistricting will meet jointly at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in room 643 of the Legislative Office Building in downtown Raleigh.

An agenda has not yet been released, but the committees were selected to redraw the House and Senate maps that were ruled unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The meeting comes one day before a hearing set in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. A three-judge panel will hear from all parties in the racial gerrymandering case, North Carolina v. Covington.

The panel will discuss a timeline for new maps to be drawn and decide whether a special election will be held to remedy the constitutional violations, as well as take up other matters in the case. Each party will be given 90 minutes to argue the issues and may call witnesses.

Witness lists and any further points made via court documents must be filed with the court by the end of the day today.

Attorney General Josh Stein, who is representing both the state of North Carolina and the State Board of Elections, plans to call witness Kim Westbrook Strach, Executive Director of the Bipartisan State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement, according to a document filed today.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. in Greensboro.

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U.S. Supreme Court: NC’s law banning sex offenders from social media unprecedented, unconstitutional

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down a General Assembly statute that they said “impermissibly restricts lawful speech in violation of the First Amendment.”

In Packingham v. North Carolina, Lester Gerard Parkingham Jr., a registered sex offender in the state, was charged after Durham police found a Facebook page he created. He was convicted based on a post in which he celebrated the dismissal of a traffic ticket, declaring “God is Good!”

The question before the U.S. Supreme Court was about the constitutionality of the law that makes it a felony for all registered sex offenders to access such sites, including YouTube and nytimes.com. The answer was clear and unanimous.

“A fundamental principle of the First Amendment is that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the opinion. “The Court has sought to protect the right to speak in this spatial context.”

Kennedy acknowledges that in the past, there has been some difficulty determining the most important spaces in a spatial sense for the exchange of views, but notes that today that answer is clear: “It is cyberspace — the ‘vast democratic forums of the Internet’ in general … and social media in particular.”

Kennedy points out that seven in ten American adults use at least one Internet social networking service.

“Social media offers ‘relatively unlimited, low-cost capacity for communication of all kinds,'” Kennedy wrote. “On Facebook, for example, users can debate religion and politics with their friends and neighbors or share vacation photos. On LinkedIn, users can look for work, advertise for employees, or review tips on entrepreneurship. And on Twitter, users can petition their elected representatives and otherwise engage with them in a direct manner. Indeed, Governors in all 50 States and almost every Member of Congress have set up accounts for this purpose. … In short, social media users employ these websites to engage in a wide array of protected First Amendment activity on topics ‘as diverse as human thought.'”

Kennedy wrote that “the Cyber Age is a revolution of historic proportions, we cannot appreciate yet its full dimensions and vast potential to alter how we think, express ourselves, and define who we want to be.”

“This case is one of the first this Court has taken to address the relationship between the First Amendment and the modern Internet,” he added. “As a result, the Court must exercise extreme caution before suggesting that the First Amendment provides scant protection for access to vast networks in that medium.” Read more

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More than 80 percent of NC voters do not want gun laws weakened

The overwhelming majority of North Carolina voters do not support legislation making its way through the General Assembly that would abolish the requirement to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun.

The News & Observer reports that two separate polls find that over 80 percent of voters oppose the proposal that would also allow 18-year-olds to carry a loaded, hidden handgun.

Currently you have to be 21 to apply for a permit.

Many law enforcement officials are also opposed to the idea of making it easier to buy a handgun, including Guilford County Sheriff B.J. Barnes.

The House is likely to vote on the bill this week, when we will find out if they are listening to their constituents or the gun lobbyists–which seem to have a different view than most gun owners, including a former Marine quoted in the News & Observer story.

John “Curly” Brazelton of Havelock, a former Marine who belongs to a hunting club, said in an interview with The N&O last week that everyone in his hunting club opposes the idea of eliminating concealed-carry permits.

“We all have them,” Brazelton said. “We have the best law in the country right now.”

 

2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, Uncategorized

Will lawmakers continue to turn a blind eye to Hurricane Matthew recovery?

It has been 236 days since Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina, flooding the eastern part of the state. Almost eight months later, there are still residents living in hotels, children who have not returned to their home schools, and employees and business owners unable to get back to work. The storm caused $2.8 billion in damage and another $2 billion in lost economic and yet the state has only allocated $200.9 million in state funding for disaster relief assistance. The House budget released this week fails to make the critical investments needed to help eastern North Carolina recover from the immediate damage and misses the opportunity to pursue rebuilding a more resilient region. By allocating only $150 million, the House budget, if passed as is, would bring the total state investment to just $350 million, which is woefully short of what is needed.

In light of recent news that the federal government will give less than 1 percent of the $929.4 million dollars requested by Gov. Cooper and the NC Congressional Delegation, it is more important than ever that the General Assembly step up to the plate and lead the effort in rebuilding eastern NC. With $1.4 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund and an $800 million tax cut that will largely benefit wealthy residents and large corporations in the Senate budget, the question is not about the availability of resources. The question, instead, is where the values of lawmakers reflect the values of our state.

Brian Kennedy II is a Public Policy Fellow with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

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Jose Charles case in Greensboro latest NC police/community flash point

If you haven’t been following the case of Jose Charles in Greensboro, it’s time to start paying attention.

The story of the altercation between a 16-year-old Charles and police goes back to last year’s July 4th celebrations in downtown Greensboro.

From a story in Greensboro’s News & Record:

Charles was 15 when he was arrested and charged with malicious assault on an officer, disorderly conduct, simple affray and resisting arrest, according to Figueroa. The teen also is accused of spitting blood on an officer’s face.

Figueroa and several community organizations said Charles was attacked by a group of kids, then grabbed by an officer near Friendly Avenue. He spit blood because he was coughing and couldn’t breathe, witnesses said.

This week, after months of tensions over access to the police video of the incident, protesters disrupted a Greensboro City Council meeting and staged a protest in the street outside where 8 were arrested for impeding the flow of traffic.

From Triad City Beat’s coverage of the protest:

The tone was set early in the meeting when, in the midst of a discussion about a downtown parking deck, protesters scattered throughout the capacity crowd raised pink signs reading “Justice for Jose,” “City council take action” and “We believe the PCRB.”

The protest came on the heels of city council watching restricted police body camera video showing the July 4, 2016 incident involving the police and the then-15-year-old on Monday night, with discussion in closed session bleeding into the next day. Council members have made no comment about the video, citing a superior court judge’s order prohibiting them from discussing it.

Also precipitating the protest was the resignation of three members of the police complaint review board. Lindy Garnette, the first to resign, was pressured by the city attorney and chair of the human relations chair after she spoke publicly about the board’s disagreement with the police department’s decision to clear itself of wrongdoing in a complaint filed on his behalf by Jose Charles’ mother, Tamara Figueroa.

The Charles case is just the latest in a series of incidents that have heightened tension between police and the communities they serve. Last year’s fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte led to large scale protests and rioting.

The case is also the latest in which access to police video – and whether public officials can comment on it – has been central to the controversy.