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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...]

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AARP President: Latest GOP effort to repeal Obamacare would cause ‘many, many millions’ to lose coverage (video)

Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham are working overtime to shore up the votes needed to pass their bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

But AARP’s national president Eric Schneidewind says the proposed legislation would increase health care costs for older Americans with an age tax, decrease coverage, and undermine pre-existing condition protections.

Schneidewind, who was in Raleigh this week, warns that the Graham-Cassidy plan would cut nursing home care and block grants to the states would not accurately reflect the cost of care for individuals.

Schneidewind joins us this weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon. Listen to a preview of that radio interview below.

New analysis by Avalere Health released Wednesday found that the Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal and replace the ACA would lead to a reduction in federal funding to states by $215 billion through 2026.

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Architectural Digest on Confederate monuments, history of toppled statues

Leave it to Architectural Digest to produce a really great piece about the Confederate monuments controversy.

The piece, published this week, looks at when and why we memorialize people and movements with statues — and what happens when the culture rethinks those people or movements and peacefully removes or forcefully topples those monuments.

From the story:

Statues tend to rise and fall in tandem with political sentiment. In the U.S., Confederate statues were erected in far greater numbers during two eras in our history: the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights era, as the Southern Poverty Law Center points out. The removal of statues, meanwhile, accelerated after the Charlottesville mayhem last month and following Dylann Roof’s massacre of African-American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

Eli Pousson, director of preservation at the non-profit Baltimore Heritage, says it took Heather Heyer’s tragic death to get monuments taken down in Baltimore. “In 2015, [we] sent a list of recommendations for what to do with the Confederate monuments to the prior mayor and she ignored it,” he says. “The current mayor held a review of the issue in March and April but did not act until after the Charlottesville violence.”

In post-war Germany, statues were taken down quickly, Slate noted, as Germany’s collective tail-between-its-legs attitude was pervasive. A 1946 federal law mandated the destruction of “any monument, memorial, poster, statue, edifice, street or highway name marker, emblem, tablet, or insignia,” that glorified the German military. While a federal law on the matter in the U.S. would eliminate the years of litigation that are sure to follow statue removals here, our states’ rights are far stronger here—and politically unassailable—and such a law could easily violate the first amendment.

“Since the end of the war, Germans have worked hard to reckon with the evils of Nazism and the Holocaust in a way that I don’t think the United States has ever truly done with the horrors of slavery or the systematic persecution of indigenous peoples,” says Sarah Beetham, a professor of Art History at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts who writes about sculpture and the Civil War. “But if we are going to move. . .away from our current polarization, we would do well to follow Germany’s lead and confront our entire past.”

 

The whole piece is worth your time as we head toward the Sept. 22 meeting of the North Carolina Historical Commission, at which North Carolina’s Confederate monument issue will be discussed.

 

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The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch:

School buses1. State releases list of 48 schools eligible for controversial charter takeover

Forty-eight schools spread across 21 districts make up those elementary schools eligible for inclusion in the first year of North Carolina’s controversial charter takeover model, according to a list released Thursday by state officials.

The program, dubbed the Innovative School District (formerly the Achievement School District), would launch with two schools in the 2018-2019 school year.

It would potentially allow for-profit, charter management organizations to assume control of low-performing schools, part of a series of controversial reforms backed by Republicans leadership in the N.C. General Assembly and school choice advocates.

The list released Thursday does not guarantee any school will be selected for the district, district Superintendent Eric Hall said, only that it may be considered further going forward. Districts were spread across the state, although districts such as Durham, Forsyth and Robeson included a number of eligible schools.[Read more…]

2. Giant pork producer asks federal court to reinterpret new and controversial NC law, nullify existing nuisance lawsuits

For Murphy-Brown, a major victory in House Bill 467 was not enough.

The world’s largest pork producer has petitioned a federal court to interpret a key part of the controversial law that could nullify 26 lawsuits brought by 541 plaintiffs against the company. While courts are often called upon to interpret laws, in this case, Murphy-Brown is asking a judge to essentially read lawmakers’ minds and divine their intent when they wrote and passed the law.

An amendment to the state’s Right to Farm Act, the controversial legislation capped the amount of money plaintiffs could recover when winning a nuisance lawsuit against industrialized hog farms. Plaintiffs could receive money equivalent to the decrease in the fair-market value of their property — already diminished because of its proximity to stench and flies — but not for odor, mental duress or the general decline in their quality of life.

Gov. Roy Cooper had vetoed the bill, but on May 11, state lawmakers overrode it. [Read more…]

3. Testing debate is front and center again as state officials wrestle with new federal education law

A draft plan for meeting the nation’s new federal education law has some on North Carolina’s top school board expressing frustration this week, particularly when it comes to measuring schools’ performance.

“To grow the elephant, you don’t weigh it, you feed it,” Lisa Godwin, teacher advisor to the State Board of Education, complained Wednesday. “I do feel like we’re weighing the elephant.”

Godwin was one of several who blasted the state’s continued emphasis on standardized testing Wednesday, one day before members of the State Board of Education were expected to take an up or down vote on a substantive plan for K-12 schooling required under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the nation’s overarching public education law.

North Carolina leaders hope to turn over their ESSA proposal to federal education officials in the U.S. Department of Education by September 18, after which the administration will have up to 120 days to approve or deny. [Read more…]

4. The middle class is not an accident (or inevitable)
Labor Day report offers a powerful reminder for NC workers – especially Millenials

A few years back, there was a witty and briefly popular bumper sticker that conveyed several important and frequently neglected and forgotten truths about the lot of working Americans. It read: “The Labor Movement: The Folks Who Brought You the Weekend.”

Though it seems hard to imagine for many of us today, the pithy and plucky message on those stickers was, in a very literal sense, true. At the turn of the 20th Century, life in America – especially for working people – was wildly different than it is for most of us today. Millions of Americans worked six or seven days a week and 12 or 14 hours per day or more for what amounted to little better than starvation wages. Many of the workers were pre-adolescent children. Many – adults and children – worked in horrifically dangerous conditions and utterly without any kind of insurance or safety net. Meanwhile, a small but hugely powerful class of super rich robber barons enjoyed unprecedented wealth and comfort. [Read more…]

5. Groundwater contaminated near Chemours plant; DEQ issues Notice of Violation

Thirteen of 14 monitoring wells near Chemours’s Fayetteville plant exceeded state groundwater standards for GenX and other perfluorinated compounds, prompting state environmental officials to issue a Notice of Violation to the company.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality announced the results today. The groundwater monitoring wells are not a source of drinking water.

DEQ and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services also alerted health officials in Bladen and Cumberland counties to the preliminary test results. The state said it will perform initial testing for people who live near Chemours while requiring the company to produce a comprehensive testing and compliance plan.

The immediate area around the plant, which lies south of Fayetteville, is woods and a solar farm, but there are homes within a mile and Camp Dixie, a summer retreat for kids is within two miles. [Read more…]

***Bonus reads from the week’s news: