News

ACLU, Lambda Legal challenge HB 142, call it “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”

The law that replaced HB 2 is just as discriminatory and perhaps even more harmful, according to a new suit brought Friday by Lambda Legal, The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of North Carolina.

HB 142, passed in May after enormous backlash to HB 2, bars municipalities from setting rules who can use bathrooms in schools and other public, government buildings – including whether transgender people can use the restroom that matches their gender identity.

“Make no mistake – HB 142 still seeks to discriminate against LGB and particularly transgender people,” said Chris Brook, legal director with the ACLU of North Carolina.

Brook called HB 142 “a wolf in sheep’s clothing crafted to keep discrimination intact – but sporting a new look.”

The lawsuit argues HB 142 violates constitutional due process and equal protection rights, as well as federal anti-discrimination laws as they pertain to schools and workplaces.

The amended suit names democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who signed HB 142 into law, rather than Pat McCrory, his Republican predecessor and the signer of HB 2.

Asked whether it is uncomfortable to be opposing Cooper, who championed the fight against HB 2, Brook said there are larger issues at stake.

“This has never been about politics for any of us,” Brook said. “It’s never been about basketball, it’s never been about Deutsche Bank.”

“Everyone was disappointed that the governor signed off on this piece of legislation,” Brook said. “It’s not something that merits the support of anyone.”

The amended suit also names two new plaintiffs – Madeline “Maddy” Goss, 41, of Raleigh and Quinton Harper, 32, of Carrboro.

Harper is a cisgender, bisexual man who works as a community organizer, is active in the fight against HIV and as an advocate for those living it.

Goss is a transgender woman who works as a Tae Kwon Do and is an active LGBT advocate.

On hand for a press conference on the amended suit Friday, Goss said she has been lucky to be able to have all of her legal paperwork and identification changed to read “female” – something not all transgender people can do or even seek to do. Even so, she said, she feels targeted by HB 142 and afraid to choose the restroom that conforms with her gender identity.

“This law invites people to single us out for discrimination, harassment or worse, violence,” Goss said.

Simone Bell, Southern regional director for Lambra Legal, called HB 142 “”a sham and a farce piece of legislation” that “kicks the can of equality down the road.”

Defendants in the lawsuit have asked until Sept. 15 to respond.

Courts & the Law, News

Republican legislative leaders dismiss lawsuit against Cooper over Medicaid expansion

Legislative leaders announced Thursday that they were dismissing their federal lawsuit against Gov. Roy Cooper because he didn’t follow through on “threats” to expand Medicaid.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said they were told by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that the Governor had not followed through on attempting to expand Medicaid.

“We are pleased Gov. Cooper abandoned his plan to defy state and federal law and unilaterally expand Obamacare in North Carolina, but remain prepared to take swift legal action if he tries to make this unlawful move again,” Berger said in a joint statement with House Speaker Tim Moore.

The 20-page lawsuit was filed in January.

Cooper’s spokesman, Ford Porter responded to the news:

“We’re glad that Republican legislative leaders have dropped their case against bringing health care to millions of North Carolinians. Expanding health care is the right thing to do for North Carolina’s people and our economy, and it would allow tax dollars already being paid by North Carolinians to help right here at home instead of going to other states. Legislators should never have filed this suit in the first place and it’s a shame it took them this long to figure that out.”

public health, Trump Administration

The silent killer of the Affordable Care Act

Screen grab from one of the HHS videos used as part of a multi-pronged social media campaign against the ACA.

A new report from the Daily Beast found that the Trump Administration is quietly using taxpayer money to undermine the Affordable Care Act, which remains law despite the Senate’s best efforts.  Tom Price, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, released a series of 23 testimonials videos featuring individuals describing how they have been burdened by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The videos appeared on YouTube last month and have only accumulated a few hundred views each.

While this may seem like a small spiteful action, the money to produce these videos came from the “consumer information and outreach budget” which is intended to be used for informing the public about the ACA and encouraging enrollment.

In addition to the videos, HHS has pushed a multi-pronged social media campaign against the ACA. Not to mention, one of Trump’s first actions as President was to effectively kill ACA commercials with just 5 days left in Open Enrollment. This resulted in 424,000 less people enrolling in health insurance when compared to enrollments during the same time in the previous year.

This all seems relatively inexpensive, but the Trump Administration requested  $574 million for this specific budget item, though HHS declined to detail how much it has devoted to specific line items.

The true silent killer of the ACA has been reconstruction of the HHS.gov website. The website refuses to refer to the Affordable Care Act by name, replacing it with “the current law.” All info-graphs outlining the benefits of the ACA and key information, such as links to HealthCare.gov and critical enrollment dates, have been removed altogether. The website encourages consumers to use “private sector alternatives” instead of the Health Insurance Marketplaces established under the law.

HHS has also altered the HealthCare.gov website, removing the “Cost and Savings” tab where consumers can find information about where to find prices, if they have to pay penalties, or if they qualify for savings.

Needless to say, the Trump Administration is disregarding its responsibility to administer the Affordable Care Act and is putting significant resources into sabotaging the law through all means necessary. By quietly publishing anti-Affordable Care Act propaganda and removing vital information about the law from government websites, the Trump Administration continues to strip citizens of their rights under the ACA.

Andy Slavitt, former director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, puts it this way: “you’re not hired into the administration to decide whether you agree with the law you’re asked to execute. That’s not your job… Congress appropriates funds for you to carry out laws that they passed, not to spend those funds on activities that counteract those laws.”

Sydney Idzikowski is an MSW inter at the NC Justice Center

 

Courts & the Law, News

State Supreme Court dismisses Cooper’s request to halt already merged Elections, Ethics Board

Gov. Roy Cooper speaks at a press conference.

The state Supreme Court agreed to take on Gov. Roy Cooper’s appeal over the State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission merger but it will not grant a temporary stay to halt the new agency from operating.

Newly elected Justice Michael Morgan wrote the order dismissing Cooper’s motion for temporary stay as moot. The court, he wrote, must preserve the status quo during the expedited consideration of the case.

“The status quo as of the date of this order is to be maintained,” Morgan wrote. “Therefore, until further order of this Court, the parties are prohibited from taking further action regarding the unimplemented portions of the act that establishes a new ‘Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.'”

The state’s highest court on Wednesday announced it would expedite Cooper v. Berger, bypassing a review from the State Court of Appeals. The case is set for oral argument at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 28.

The lawsuit is over Senate Bill 68, which merges the functions of the State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission, along with campaign finance and lobbying functions.

You can read the court’s order dismissing the motion for temporary stay here.

Cooper’s spokesman, Ford Porter, released the following statement after the dismissal:

“We’re pleased the Supreme Court agrees with Governor Cooper that this legal process needs to be allowed to play out and that members should not be appointed to the proposed new board while that happens. This ruling puts on hold any further actions to merge the elections and ethics boards until these critical issues get decided, and we look forward to making our case on August 28 to stop this backdoor effort to suppress voters.”

NC Budget and Tax Center, public health, Trump Administration

Warning: Last-ditch GOP effort offering $200 billion to buy votes won’t fix unfixable Senate health bill

Earlier this week we reported that the Senate GOP health “repeal without replacement” proposal would do great harm to NC, as it would double the number of uninsured in North Carolina.

Unfortunately, the latest is that in a last-ditch effort to save their bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Senate Republican leaders are reportedly offering $200 billion to win the votes of senators from states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA.

Here’s a brief explanation from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

“This new fund would presumably supplement private coverage for those who gained Medicaid coverage under the expansion but would lose it under the Senate bill.  No senator should fall for it. While $200 billion seems like a lot of money, it’s only 17 percent of the bill’s $1.2 trillion in cuts: $756 billion from Medicaid and $427 billion from subsidies to help low- and moderate-income people buy coverage in the individual market.”

Overall, it is clear that this additional money would do nothing to fix the major and fundamental problems that the bill would create:

  • It would do nothing to offset the Medicaid cuts resulting from the per capita cap, which would affect children, seniors, and people with disabilities in all states.  These cuts would shift ever-increasing costs to states, forcing the states to respond by making ever-deepening cuts in eligibility, benefits, and provider payments.
  • It would do nothing to address the bill’s harm to people with private coverage, including the loss of coverage for millions of people (due largely to sharp cuts in marketplace subsidies), increased costs for those who stay covered, and the loss of access to health care for millions with pre-existing conditions.
  • It would do nothing to address the fact that millions of lower-income marketplace consumers in non-expansion states (like North Carolina) would see their deductibles jump many thousands of dollars under the Senate bill.

No one should be fooled:  The reported $200 billion cannot fix this bill, and does not come close to undoing coverage cuts.

Here’s what would really help, as we stated earlier this week:

“Based on the facts, it is clear that NC’s two U.S. senators should support the idea of starting from scratch with a different, bipartisan approach that leaves Medicaid aside and focus on making real improvements to marketplace stability and affordability.”

Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.