News

Six things to have on your radar this week

Equal Rights Amendment – Legislators and members of organizations supporting women’s rights will gather at the Legislative Building in Raleigh this afternoon to call upon the leadership of the House and Senate to prioritize action on bills (HB 102 and SB 85) that would ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution. The action comes on the heels of recent action by the Nevada legislature to ratify the Amendment. Activities will commence with a 3:00 pm press conference led by Rep. Carla Cunningham.

Vote to allow firearms in churches and schools – Current N.C. law generally prohibits gun owners from bringing guns onto school campuses, but it does not bar guns from places of worship — so long as the church, synagogue or mosque does not bar them. A proposed bill would make clear that gun owners can bring their firearms onto the property where schools and churches co-exist as long as it’s outside the operating hours of the school and the place of worship doesn’t say affirmatively bar them. Gun violence advocates have concerns about the proposal and would much prefer that the presumption be that guns are banned in places of worship unless they are affirmatively welcomed. The Bill (House Bill 174) is scheduled for a vote on the House floor on this evening.

Teaching Fellows 2.0 – On Tuesday, the House Education Committee for Universities will meet in Room 1228 of the Legislative Building to take up legislation by Rep. Craig Horn to revive the Teaching Fellows Program – a program abolished by Republicans after they took control of the General Assembly earlier in the decade.

Governor Roy Cooper is also proposing in his budget a plan to increase teacher recruitment:

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Role in the Transition to a Low-Carbon
Acting Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Chery LaFleur comes to Duke’s campus on Tuesday.  She’ll be discussing the electricity sector’s period of rapid change and FERC role in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

The talk will take place in Duke University’s Ahmadieh Family Grand Hall (Gross Hall room 330) from 3:30-4:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

Look for questions from the audience about the impact of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

LaFleur’s talk is sponsored by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, the Duke University Energy Initiative, and the Sanford School of Public Policy.

Rural Education Advocacy – Retired Congresswoman Eva Clayton, policymakers, education and business leaders and others will spearhead Rural Education Advocacy Day in Raleigh on Wednesday. The event is designed to highlight the fact that while North Carolina has the second largest rural population in America, the unique needs of rural school districts are often forgotten. More than two-thirds of North Carolina’s traditional public school districts are rural and nearly 40 percent of students in traditional public schools are educated in a rural district. The program will run from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm at the Department of Public Instruction’s Education Building Auditorium.

Community College Day at the General Assembly – The North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents will kick off “Community College Day at the General Assembly” on Wednesday. The event will begin at 10 a.m. and include interactive simulations and demonstrations of feature community college programs in the 1000 and 1300 court of the NC Legislative Building. A press conference in the Legislative Building press Room will take place at 10:00 am.

Environment

DEQ Secretary Michael Regan signals he will fight for environmental justice

DEQ Secretary Michael Regan prepares for his speech at an environmental justice conference in Mebane. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

While caterers released the aroma of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans from a fleet of steaming pans, Michael Regan sat a table designated “reserved,”  and reviewed his lunchtime speech. “The truth is, we’ve got work to do,” read part of the first page. “We have a special obligation to the underserved and underrepresented.”

Regan, who has been secretary of the NC Department of Environmental Quality for just two months, had brought along at least a dozen of his staff, who joined officials from the EPA, the West End Revitalization Association and other environmental justice advocates, to the Mebane Community Center. Here, they would spend two days hashing out issues of environmental justice at  the North Carolina Community Solutions Workshop.

For the past four years, environmental justice groups have been largely excluded from meeting with top DEQ officials. The NC Pork Council, the real estate lobby, the frackers-in-waiting: They all had a seat at the table. While polluting industries like Duke Energy were dining with former DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart at the governor’s mansion, environmental groups were essentially told to talk to the hand.

.@Michael_S_Regan: We have a special obligation to the underserved and underrepresented. Click To Tweet

So on this Friday, the air vibrated with pent-up frustration and high expectations. Regan, who spent years at the EPA and several more with the centrist advocacy group, the Environmental Defense Fund, is a charismatic speaker. Approachable and earnest, he generally says the right things in the right way.

“My job is to protect the human health and the environment,” Regan told the crowd. This remark alone signaled a break from the previous administration’s “customer-friendly”  (read: “industry-friendly)” approach. “The whole reason regulations are in place is so good guys can do what they need to do and to keep the bad guys from messing it up for everyone else.”

Yet veterans of the movement have had their hopes raised and dashed before. Yes, Regan has toured the state, meeting with communities that have suffered from the ravages of coal ash pollution and hog waste. “We are looking forward to what we can do with you,” Naeema Muhammad, co-director of the NC Environmental Justice Network, told Regan. Muhammad led a dozen activists to the US Capitol last fall to address congressional representatives about the rampant contamination from hog waste lagoons in eastern North Carolina. She has already met privately with Regan about DEQ’s history of dismissing the community’s concerns. “Life has been difficult, and we hope we can make a difference in North Carolina.”

But when Elizabeth Haddix, attorney with the UNC Center for Civil Rights, publicly asked Regan how he would rein in the industrial poultry industry — which essentially gets a regulatory pass  — he gave a non-answer. One can’t blame advocates for being head-shy.

Read more

Courts & the Law, News

Rep. Joe John talks judicial, legislative experience in midst of partisan battles over the courts

Rep. Joe John (D-Wake) holds a picture from his office that was taken during his time as a judge. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

When House lawmakers passed a bill to reduce the Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12, Rep. Joe John was crushed.

The Wake County Democrat spent a quarter of a century in the courts; he’s worked as a legal-aid attorney, a prosecutor and has served on the bench as a District Court judge, Superior Court judge and Court of Appeals judge.

“I took that one pretty hard,” he said of House Bill 239. “I was down; I was depressed.”

He spoke out on the House floor before a vote was taken along party lines. He pointed out that the appellate court’s workload didn’t justify the reduction of judges. He used his experience to try to give insight to legislators who might not understand the weight of their decisions.

“It is possible that folks who had never been judges — and I am the only former judge in the House of Representatives and the Senate, as far as I gather — it’s possible they don’t appreciate and understand the judicial branch is not and has never intended to be a political branch of government,” John said.

The General Assembly has been taking aim at the judiciary since former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory conceded the election in December. There have been a number of bills passed that change the structure of the courts.

The bills, altogether, deal a blow to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper — lawmakers appear to want to strip him of appointment power, and subsequently keep the opposition from becoming the majority.

Cooper has said politics have no place in the courts and John agrees.

The first-term lawmaker won’t go as far as saying he’s gotten used to his peers voting for judiciary bills, but by the time they took a vote last week to override Cooper’s veto of a bill that makes judicial elections partisan again, he wasn’t surprised.

Still, John spoke up before the vote.

“I say to you it is no exaggeration to characterize this issue as not just a vote, but a vote upon which the future of an independent judiciary in North Carolina depends,” he said.

His colleagues didn’t listen. Read more

Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend

There’s so much to criticize in state and federal government these days that picking top editorials is always a tough chore. This weekend’s best, however, comes from the Greensboro News & Record. The subject: a new proposal from North Carolina lawmakers to harass immigrants and local government that might want to help them. Here are some highlights from “Immigration bill would target cities”:

“If the ‘Citizens Protection Act of 2017’ passes, someone will have to explain it to N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein.

‘I have no idea how we would comply with it,’ Stein said during a recent interview at the News & Record.

Filed as House Bill 63 by several Republican representatives, the measure would direct the attorney general to investigate ‘noncompliance with a state law related to immigration’ by a local government. Cities or counties found to be in violation could be penalized by losing state funds.

This is meant to punish so-called sanctuary cities, which Republicans from President Donald Trump on down seem to think are shielding illegal immigrants from arrest and deportation.

The N.C. League of Municipalities says there are no such cities in this state, prompting one of the bill’s primary sponsors, Rep. Harry Warren (R-Rowan), to say it’s meant to be a deterrent.

In other words, it is a solution in search of a problem….

Immigration violations are federal issues, and Trump has ordered excessively vigorous enforcement. He’s also seeking to beef up the federal agencies that hunt, arrest and deport illegal immigrants, without much regard to the threat they pose to public order and safety….

Those who do commit crimes are subject to arrest by law-enforcement officers the same as anyone else who breaks the law. Police don’t have a secret agenda of letting illegal immigrants get away with crimes. But if police have to devote resources to arresting law-abiding, although illegal, immigrants, they won’t have enough time or manpower to deal with real crimes.

Stein would be put in a similar position under this bill. It would allow any person to lodge an anonymous complaint against a city or county with the Attorney General’s Office, alleging that the local government wasn’t ‘in compliance’ with an immigration law. This could be a mistake as minor as hiring a contractor who employed an undocumented worker….

It’s easy to see that all this could set off enough wild goose chases to keep both the attorney general and the SBI from more serious responsibilities. If nothing else, they would be consumed with the paperwork demanded by this bill. And for what? To do the federal government’s job of investigating immigration violations?

HB 63 stirs up too much trouble for no good purpose. Like an old tire, it should be scrapped.”

Commentary

Chris Brook of the ACLU of NC speaks about HB2 litigation

At this past Thursday’s Crucial Conversation (“One year later: What now for HB2?”)  multiple audience members asked ACLU of NC legal director Chris Brook for his take on the impact of the Trump administration on HB2, as well as the broader question of what the fight over HB2 means for LGBTQ rights more generally.

“There’s a general interest in what’s going to happen next in the litigation. What is the the impact of our new administration in Washington? And are there aspects of the litigation that deal with the general issue of discrimination against LGBT people, not just about bathrooms, but in terms of employment, and housing, and accommodations.” – Rob Schofield

“The thing that I’ve been saying since the passage a year ago, is that we need to quit calling this “the bathroom bill.” We need to start calling it HB2. And that’s not because we need to be afraid of talking about bathrooms. We need to talk about bathrooms; we are going to win those arguments. It’s just inaccurate though!” – Chris Brook