Commentary

Editorial: Failure of Trumpcare shows need for NC to expand Medicaid now

This morning’s best editorial from a major North Carolina news outlet comes from Raleigh’s WRAL.com — it’s entitled “No excuses! Expand Medicaid now.”

Here’s an excellent excerpt:

“State legislative leaders have run out of excuses, as lame as they are anyway, to continue to deny health insurance to at least 500,000 North Carolinians.

North Carolina has the money. Legislators brag about the $1.5 billion in cash reserves. The Senate leadership has proposed a tax-cut package valued at $1 billion and the House has a more modest $224 million program.

Gov. Roy Cooper has a plan to fund it without general fund tax dollars. Cooper has proposed a plan that would “expand Medicaid eligibility to cover 624,000 additional individuals and secure North Carolina’s share of federal funds that would cover 95 percent of the cost of the expansion. Cooper is proposing that healthcare providers pick up the remaining 5 percent so there won’t be any cost to the state’s general fund. State hospital and other health care interests have expressed their support.

Last week’s failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act gives North Carolina an opportunity. States – including Indiana under former Republican governor and now Vice President Mike Pence and 30 others – that expanded their Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act have their programs intact. Other states, like heavily Republican Kansas, have quickly voted to opt into the program that has the federal government picking up 95 percent of the cost.

This is not a matter of choice. The hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians who lack health coverage today aren’t in that position because they choose to be. Rather, it is a lack of economic opportunity, education and other life circumstances not of their choosing.

Extending health care coverage to those most in need is the right thing to do. We’ve yet to hear a good reason not to do it.

The editorial goes on to feature a powerful chart spelling out the number of people suffering and dying, the billions in federal dollars lost and the thousands of jobs not created as a result of the Medicaid blockade. Click here to see it and to read the entire post.

HB2, News

Senate President and House Speaker suggest agreement on HB2 repeal, but say Governor disavows deal

Senate President Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore promised a ‘major announcement’ on HB2 Tuesday afternoon, but their press conference left many more questions.

Berger told reporters that the General Assembly was now willing to “agree in principle” to a four-point proposal put forth by Governor Roy Cooper’s attorney last Thursday. But according to Berger, the governor now denies making that offer.

“We’re not sure where we are right now, quite frankly,” Berger said.

The Senate leader also told reporters no bill has been draft, nor a vote scheduled at this point that would lead to the repeal of HB2.

Their announcement comes on the same day that multiple media outlets reported that the state has until Thursday to strike HB2 from the books or lose NCAA postseason events through 2022.

A spokesman for Gov. Cooper later described the Berger/Moore press conference as a “political stunt.”

Click below to watch a portion of the press event carried live on WRAL.com.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Activists call on Tillis to speak up, demand investigation of Trump-Russia ties

For several weeks now, a sizable group of activists have been gathering on a weekly basis outside the Raleigh office of North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis to demand that Congress provide a check to the extremist policies of a president for whom more and more basic questions of legitimacy continue to arise. Today 50 or so demonstrators renewed their efforts with a special focus on Trump’s Russia ties and the need for a thorough and independent investigation before any major presidential initiatives can be  allowed to proceed.

Demonstrators were especially adamant today that the Senate should not take up the nomination of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch for a lifetime appointment so long as basic question remain unanswered about Trump’s possible illegal — even treasonous — relationship with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. Demonstrators repeatedly chanted “No confirmation without investigation!”

At the conclusion of today’s event, the group delivered an open letter to Tillis that read as follows:

Dear Senator Tillis,

We have been coming to your office every week for ten weeks. It is not always the same people, and while various organizations and churches are represented, there is no official group. Last week there were 75 people including physicians and clergy. We come because we feel our very democracy is in danger, and the extremist policies of this administration are already hurting our most vulnerable neighbors.

At the same time, it is becoming very clear that something sinister is being played out, and it seems very probable that a foreign power actually put the President in the white house and is now controlling him.

Today we come to specifically ask you to use whatever power you have to demand an immediate, nonpartisan investigation into the Russian role in the election and in the current administration. Read more

Courts & the Law, News

Judge helping with caseload of unfilled judicial vacancy in eastern NC set to retire at end of March

There was already a judicial emergency in the federal courts in eastern North Carolina, but things just got a little more dire.

Judge James C. Fox submitted his letter of resignation Monday to the Federal Bar. He was one of three senior judges helping to manage the heavy caseload of a judicial vacancy in the U.S. District Court.

I have enjoyed the humbling honor of serving for over thirty-five years as a federal district judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina. I cannot imagine a finer, more rewarding career. I have been supported by the brightest and most dedicated office staff, law clerks, Clerk’s Office personnel, United States Probation Officers, Deputy United States Marshals and Court Security Officers. It has been an honor to serve alongside my esteemed colleagues on the Federal bench, and to work with hundreds of the most brilliant and zealous lawyers in the country.

My first priority always has been my family, but closely on its heels follows my commitment to duty, excellence and fairness in the administration of justice in the Eastern District of North Carolina. I cannot stress strongly enough what pleasure and professional satisfaction I have enjoyed.

The 88-year judge will retire March 31. You can read his full letter here.

The open seat on the court that Fox was helping out with is the the longest unfilled federal vacancy in the nation. Former President Barack Obama nominated two different women to fill the vacancy and N.C. Sen. Richard Burr blocked both nominations.

It’s now up to President Donald Trump to nominate an individual to fill the vacancy.

HB2, News

House Republican compares economic losses of abbreviated school summer breaks to HB2

Rep. Frank Iler, R-Brunswick

House Bill 389, a bipartisan measure that would test school calendar flexibility for up to 20 counties in North Carolina, may not include Rep. Frank Iler‘s Brunswick County district.

But the coastal North Carolina Republican is still fired up over the state House Education Committee‘s approval Tuesday of a proposed pilot program that would assess the academic impacts of shorter summer breaks in a smattering of low-income and rural counties across the state.

Iler said he believes the economic impacts on the state’s tourism industry would “dwarf” the losses of the state’s mega-controversial, anti-LGBT legislation HB2, which the Associated Press pegged this week at an estimated $3.76 billion.

“I hope we’ll think long and hard before putting 20 counties in a program like this,” said Iler, moments before most House legislators on the committee signed off on the measure.

Iler’s comments echoed a long-running debate in North Carolina over summer breaks. Since 2004, the state has mandated start and end times for local districts, after tourism and parents groups complained of dwindling summer breaks.

Yet, with researchers suggesting shortened breaks could speed performance gains in students, particularly low-income students, some K-12 advocates from both parties have been urging state lawmakers to back local flexibility.

And while a February report from the legislature’s nonpartisan Performance Evaluation Division bypassed recommendations for all of the state’s counties, the agency did suggest lawmakers review the proposal for low-performing districts.

Rep. Linda Johnson, a Cabarrus County Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said the three-year pilot program could help shed some light on the lingering debate.

“What we don’t have is data to tell us who is right and who is wrong,” said Johnson. “This bill will help us tell who is right and who is wrong.”

The program would begin as soon as 2018-2019 and would require annual state reports on the academic impacts, although lawmakers acknowledged the draft bill, even if it’s approved by the full House, could run into roadblocks in the state Senate.

Read more