Commentary, News

This Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Free speech policy, controversial conservative academic on the agenda for UNC Board of Governors meeting

The UNC Board of Governors is holding its last meeting of 2017 Friday, where the latest of its many recent controversies is expected to come to a crescendo, even as the next is cued up.

The full board is expected to vote on a controversial new speech policy that civil liberties advocates, students, staff and faculty groups worry could chill speech and discourage certain types of protest on UNC’s 17 campuses. [Continue reading…]

***BONUS READ: UNC Board of Governors: Some speech is “more free” than others

2. Stretched regulators to state lawmakers: We have no idea what’s in most closed NC landfills

Just south of Candler off the Pisgah Highway is a lovely piece of property on Little Piney Mountain Road. Wooded, with creeks nearby, it would be an idyllic retreat for those who love the bucolic hills and valleys of western North Carolina.

Yet part of this same land was the site of the old Buncombe County Landfill, where before 1983, trash from the area was dumped into an open pit.  [Continue reading…]

3. Delayed action by state Superintendent creates big hurdles for legislature’s mandated audit

When Joni Robbins, a section chief in the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, closes bidding next week for an upcoming audit of the state’s top K-12 agency, state leaders will have a little more than four months to find a vendor and begin work on a weighty review of the department’s operations.

But past and present leaders in the state’s public schools say they worry about the speed and depth of the deep-dive, organizational review led by Superintendent Mark Johnson’s office, which comes with a report due to the legislature by May 1..  [Continue reading…]

***BONUS READ: Task Force on Education Finance Reform meeting shows need for new approach

4. Maps, mayhem and merriment: Where things stand with North Carolina redistricting

If the General Assembly were an army, their troops would be spread too thin.

Lawmakers made a tactical decision this year to redraw judicial district boundaries. On another battle front, they’re trying to correct several previous mapmaking mistakes: Unconstitutional legislative and congressional redistricting, the latter of which they’re still disputing in court. [Continue reading…]

***BONUS READ: Democrats protest Senate committee meeting after GOP ‘silences’ Governor’s speaker

5. Plutocrats on the march: Trumpists prepare to raze another vital common good law

It’s hard to keep up these days with the flood of poisonous ideas spewing from Donald Trump’s junta by the Potomac. At times, it seems as if Trump is not just a pal and admirer of Vladimir Putin, but that he is, quite literally, attempting to institute his own American version of the corrupt kleptocracy that the Russian dictator has constructed from the rubble of the old Soviet Union. Pick a public policy topic (any topic), type in a quick web search, and one can almost invariably and instantly find several ways in which the Prevaricator/Predator-in-Chief and his cronies are trying to undermine and/or sell-off our American democracy.

Perhaps it’s because of this point – the fact that we can still, at least, search online and keep track of most of the skullduggery Trump is up to – that one of the president’s currently extant initiatives rates as among the most frightening. The subject is the somewhat difficult-to-grasp, but massively important issue of “net neutrality” – the idea that Internet service providers must treat all websites the same when it comes to the speed and quality with which they connect web users to them. [Continue reading…]

Commentary, News

Last week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Mark Johnson accused of misleading the public regarding literacy program spending

Atkinson criticized Superintendent Mark Johnson in recent interviews with Policy Watch, nearly a month after Johnson slammed the K-12 bureaucracy for “disturbing” spending practices, including its alleged failure to dole out state cash in 2015 and 2016 intended to boost elementary reading proficiency.

“Are there any North Carolina lawyers who aren’t here?” asked Ed Finley, chairman of the NC Utilities Commission, as he prepared to preside over what is predicted to be a two-week slog: the Duke Energy Progress rate case.

“Mark does not understand or has not in all candor or transparency pointed out that a substantial amount of that unspent money would be a direct result of (local) school districts not using the dollars,” says Atkinson. [Read more…]

Bonus read: Tensions brewing as State Board of Education, Superintendent Mark Johnson clash again over DPI budget cuts

2. Atlantic Coast Pipeline sues NC landowners, asks federal court to allow “quick take” of properties

The Gardner farm in Wade, population 567, in Cumberland County has been in the family for more than 70 years. On these 960 acres, two generations of Gardners have raised grains, oats, barley, soybeans, and more recently, beef cattle.

But the Gardner family is now among several defendants in a federal case involving the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. ACP, LLC, which includes majority owners Duke Energy and Dominion Energy, filed several motions over the past week asking US District Court Judge Terence Boyle to allow them to use eminent domain to seize portions of the defendants’ property. However, what distinguishes this case is that ACP, LLC wants to take the property without paying the land owners first. This is known as a “quick take.”

Similar documents have been filed against five defendants, including owners of a strawberry farm, in Nash County. [Read more…]

Bonus read: Property rights crusaders nowhere to be found in Atlantic Coast Pipeline controversy

3. Five questions with Professor Valerie Johnson

Historical commission member weighs in on monuments, free speech

Valerie Johnson is the Mott Distinguished Professor of Women’s Studies and Director of Africana Women’s Studies at Greensboro’s Bennett College and chair of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission. She is also one of only two Black members of the 17-member North Carolina Historical Commission, which must approve any proposed removal, relocation, or alteration of historical monuments on state property.

PW: Some were disappointed when the North Carolina Historical Commission delayed its decision on the Confederate statues in Raleigh until April. What can you tell us about what’s happened since then? I’m sure you’ve heard plenty from people on both sides since the delay.

Johnson: The committee still has to be convened, the subcommittee that was proposed. But [Gov. Roy Cooper] has appointed a new chair, Dr. David Ruffin. We’ll wait and see what happens under this new leadership.[Read more…]

4. Greed, conflicts of interest and using public services to get rich

Why North Carolina’s coal ash and mental health crises have a lot in common

Two of the biggest stories in the North Carolina policy world right now involve large, Charlotte-based institutions. Interestingly, though the two matters are seemingly unrelated, a closer look reveals a number of important commonalities in the controversies surrounding the state’s largest electric monopoly, Duke Energy, and its largest regional mental health provider, Cardinal Innovation Services.

Topping the list: greed and its tendency to undermine and provide major conflicts of interest in the provision of essential public services. [Read more…]

5. Pressure mounts on NC’s largest pork producer to clean up its act

Frenches Creek Finishing lies in the watery lowlands of Bladen County, near Lion Swamp, Conkill and Briary bays, and a chain of canals that drain toward the Cape Fear River and the sea

Owned by Murphy-Brown, the farm, which includes a nursery, can house more than 17,000 hogs, including the newly weaned and those ready for slaughter. It is also one of 11 industrialized swine farms named in a 2006 federal consent decree because their operations threaten the quality of the groundwater.

However, for nearly four years, Murphy-Brown has allegedly stonewalled an independent consultant’s court-approved visits to the farms. As established by the consent decree, the visits were intended to further assess each site’s conditions and waste lagoons to determine if an environmental clean up was necessary. Murphy-Brown argues that it “encouraged” the consultant to visit the site. However, the consultant could enter the property only with Murphy-Brown’s written permission. [Read more...]

Uncategorized

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:

Commentary, News

ICYMI: Last week’s Top Five on Policy Watch

1. Federal court appoints special master to decide if NC racial gerrymanders remain unconstitutional

A federal court has found it to be likely that lawmakers did not remedy unconstitutional racial gerrymanders in nine state House and Senate districts, and has appointed a special master to help it make a final determination.

Stanford Law School professor Nathaniel Persily will “assist the Court in further evaluating and, if necessary, redrawing the [districts in question] by developing an appropriate plan remedying the constitutional violations,” according to an order filed Thursday.

The Senate districts are 21, in Hoke County, and 28, in Guilford County. The House districts are 21, in Sampson and Wayne counties, 36, 37, 40, 41, in Wake County, 57, in Guilford County and 105 in Mecklenburg County.

The three-judge panel in North Carolina v. Covington wrote that, after careful review, it is concerned that the nine districts “either fail to remedy the identified constitutional violation or are otherwise legally unacceptable.” [Read more…]

 *** Bonus read: Berger appoints mostly GOP committee to look at judicial reform, redistricting

2. Missing elephant in the room? State lawmakers to examine education finance without considering overall funding sufficiency

When state lawmakers meet next week to begin the weighty task of reforming North Carolina’s knotty method of financing public schools, the sufficiency of the state’s K-12 funding will not be on the table.

Rep. Craig Horn, an influential Union County Republican who co-chairs a pivotal joint legislative task force on education finance reform, told Policy Watch Tuesday that he considers adequacy to be an altogether “separate issue.”

“In my view, you need a plan on how you distribute the money,” Horn said this week. “Then go fight over how much money there is.”

It’s a contentious point as Horn’s task force begins its work November 1, taking on reforms that most North Carolina political observers acknowledge to be one of the defining public education issues of our time. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: N.C. charter school leader hosts Dan Forest fundraiser attended by controversial evangelical minister

3. Hate rears its ugly head yet again
As Cooper moves to curb discrimination, the Right goes ballistic

In the age of Trump, there seem to be few limits on the depths to which purveyors of fear and hate will sink. Even conservatives who disliked or opposed Trump initially seem to have been emboldened in recent months by the President’s serial dishonesty and willingness to break long-established rules of decency in public behavior.

It is with this backdrop that the saga of North Carolina’s infamous discrimination law, HB2, and the seemingly never-ending conservative war on equality for transgender individuals entered their latest phase last week.

A small step forward

As has been reported by Policy Watch and others, Governor Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein took a modest and positive step last Wednesday to chip away at some of the discriminatory aspects of state law that have remained in effect in the aftermath of last spring’s partial repeal of HB2. This is from Melissa Boughton’s story: [Read more…]

4. Awash in pollution: Restoring North Carolina’s sick rivers to health will require a major policy about-face

Like most people who grow up on the water, Kemp Burdette is different from his landlocked friends. Undeterred by dampness, wary but not terrified of alligators, he is in tune with the calm and the fury of the Cape Fear River. He has paddled its entire 202-mile length. He knows every bend from its headwaters in Hayward, at the border of Lee and Chatham counties, to its mouth at the Atlantic Ocean.

He grew up in Wilmington and has spent nearly his entire life there, drinking the city’s water, which comes from the river, every day. The river literally is part of him. His family is raising their two young daughters in Wilmington. The river is also part of them.

His experience with the Cape Fear brought him to Raleigh yesterday, where he urged the House Select Committee on River Quality to more stringently regulate industry and the contaminants they routinely discharge in the state’s waterways. “The way we regulate contaminants is like Russian roulette,” Burdette said. “We should require industry to show their waste streams don’t endanger human health and the environment. The state may warrant stronger protections than at the federal level.” [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: A third of 110 private drinking water wells near Chemours tested high for GenX

5. Civil liberties advocates wary of campus free speech bill under consideration by UNC Board of Governors

As the UNC Board of Governors moves toward creation of a policy to “restore and preserve free speech” on public campuses, civil liberties advocates are worried it may have the exact opposite effect.

“We worry about things that are overly broad, vague and open to interpretation,” said Susanna Birdsong, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.

The concern stems from a working draft of the policy discussed earlier this month at a board subcommittee meeting. The work-in-progress policy is the result of a bill, which initially stalled in the House before changes allowed it to become law in July. [Read more…]

The bill calls for the creation of a uniform system for punishing any student, faculty or staff member who “substantially disrupts the functioning of the constituent institution or substantially interferes with the protected free expression rights of others, including protests and demonstrations that infringe upon the rights of others to engage in and listen to expressive activity when the expressive activity has been scheduled pursuant to this policy or is located in a nonpublic forum.” [Read more…]

News

UNC Board of Governors committee crafting “free expression” policy

A UNC Board of Governors committee has begun crafting a controversial “free expression policy” called for by a bill passed earlier this summer.

The bill, which initially stalled in the House before changes allowed it to become law in July, aims to “restore and preserve free speech” by having the UNC system create a uniform system for punishing any student, faculty or staff member who…

“..substantially disrupts the functioning of the constituent institution or substantially interferes with the protected free expression rights of others, including protests and demonstrations that infringe upon the rights of others to engage in and listen to expressive activity when the expressive activity has been scheduled pursuant to this policy or is located in a nonpublic forum.”

It is part of a wave of such bills in reaction to protests and violence on campuses like the University of California at Berkley and The University of Virginia. The movement has been largely driven by conservative lawmakers in reaction to protests against conservative speakers and organizations demonstrating on campuses.

The Committee on University Governance, Free Expression Policy Subcommittee met in Chapel Hill Wednesday to talk about how the policy should be crafted and implemented.

The consensus among sub-committee members: the current draft of the policy is too lenient.

Read more