Commentary
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Image: www.savehofmannforest.org

This morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it right in critiquing N.C. State’s proposal to sell tens of thousands of acres of forest in eastern North Carolina to developers. While crediting the university with scaling back its original plan to sell of the whole thing for bulldozing purposes, the editorial rightfully notes that the new plan (to sell part to developers and another part to a company that would treat the rest as a kind of timber farm) is still a cause for concern, As the paper notes:

The best plan for Hofmann’s future was voiced on the opposite page earlier this month by former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, long a conservationist and a respected attorney. Meeker believes the State of North Carolina or an “environmental group” should buy the forest and set it up for permanent conservation. Either the state or such a group could pay for the forest in installments and reap the benefit of selling those training rights to the military.

Meeker notes the money involved, now at roughly $130 million, would in installments be fairly small inside a state budget of $21 billion. The university would get money for its environmental departments, and the forest would be preserved.

Of course, such a plan would probably require state leaders to step up to the plate and do two things the current group hates to do: spend money on higher education and protect the environment. The N&O and former Mayor Meeker advance a good idea, but we’re not holding our breath that Gov. McCrory or legislative leaders will heed the advice.
For more on the efforts of activists to save this important natural resource visit:  http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/save-hofmann-forest-from/ and https://www.facebook.com/SaveHofmannForest
Commentary

Voting rightsThe good people at Democracy North Carolina released a new and detailed report today that documents the negative impact that North Carolina’s new “monster voting law” has already had on voter participation. The report actually provides the names, hometowns and zip codes of 454 voters who were denied the right to vote in the May primary, but who would have been allowed to vote under the rules governing the 2012 election. This is from the report, which is entitled “Be Prepared: Hundreds of Voters Lost Their Votes in 2014 Primary Due to New Election Rules”:

We analyzed the provisional ballots cast in the 2014 primary by more than 400 voters whose votes would have counted in 2012, but who were rejected this year because of two changes in the rules: (1) these voters were unable to register during the Early Voting period because they couldn’t use the old “same-day registration” law; or (2) they were unable to cast a ballot on Election Day outside of their own polling place because they couldn’t use the old “out-of-precinct voting” law.

Voters denied a chance to have their voices heard include a veteran returning from Afghanistan whose registration was incorrectly terminated while he was away; a first-time voter who registered at the DMV, but that registration didn’t reach the local board of elections; a precinct judge assigned to a precinct other than her own who couldn’t leave to vote in her home precinct; a disabled senior who was driven to a friend’s polling place on Election Day; a nurse who temporarily registered her car in a nearby county while working at its hospital for nine months; a college student who registered during a voter drive but her application was not recorded; and a new couple in town who mailed in their registration but it did not reach the county board of elections before the registration deadline…. Read More

News

The Charlotte Observer had an article yesterday about the nonprofit public hospital system Carolinas Health Care cutting $110 million from its budget next year, largely in management positions that are currently vacant.

The large hospital system cited the need for cuts as stemming from decisions by both North Carolina and South Carolina politicians to turn down federal Medicaid expansion dollars, as well as other decisions made at the state and federal level related to Medicaid and Medicare. The $4 billion hospital system — which operates 40 hospitals in the Carolinas and Georgia — says it’s been left treating large numbers of poor patients unable to access health insurance or pay their health bills.

North Carolina is one of 21 states to opt out of the Medicaid expansion, which would provide health care for an estimated 400,000 low-income North Carolinians who are currently uninsured. (Click here for updated list of where different states stand on expansion).

From the Observer article:

[Carolinas HealthCare CEO Michael} Tarwater blamed much of the financial stress on cutbacks in state and federal programs. For example, he said North Carolina legislators have for a second year declined to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid. That contributed to the system’s unreimbursed charges, which rose to $668 million in the first half of this year, an increase of 9.4 percent over last year.

“We’re not treating this as a crisis … but it is a challenge,” Tarwater said. “I can assure you we have a solid plan, and we have the team in place to carry it out. I’m certain that we’ll emerge stronger and more competitive.”

 

You can read the entire article here.

Commentary

If there’s anything good coming out of the sickening situation involving former NFL running back Ray Rice in recent days, it’s the growing national chorus that much more must be done to end the scandal that is this nation’s record when it comes to violence against women.

Along these same lines and in case you missed it, check out this morning’s lead commentary on the main Policy Watch site by local attorney Chavi Khanna Koneru “Sexual assault on college campuses: The need for federal legislation.” 

As the article explains, UNC Chapel Hill is at the epicenter of what is clearly a national epidemic.

UNC is currently under investigation by the federal government for mishandling sexual assault complaints. However, the problem is not limited to UNC. More than 60 other colleges around the country are also being investigated and students are continuing to come forward with personal stories of unsatisfactory treatment of their complaints.

The mishandling of sexual assault complaints by colleges is a longstanding problem, but these recent stories dramatize the lax federal oversight that allows these matters to continue to be improperly addressed. Universities often underreport the number of sexual assault cases on their campuses and fail to properly investigate complaints yet there have been no effective sanctions against the schools for these blatant violations.

One partial solution to the problem lies in the passage of federal legislation that provide feds with some real tools to force colleges to replace the “good ol’ boy” systems that far too many still employ with respect to such matters — especially when high profile athletic departments are involved. As the author notes:

Read More

Commentary

McC709It was just a few years ago that opponents of then-Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama were howling at the notion that he had voted “present” on multiple occasions while a state legislator in Illinois (something that’s permitted for lawmakers in the Land of Lincoln but not  in most states — North Carolina included).

The gist of the not-unfounded criticism at the time was that a “present” vote was and is a pretty gutless way out of taking a stance on sticky issues. If one goes to all the trouble of running for office and serving as an elected representative of the people, went/goes the reasoning, the least a lawmaker can do is to have the courage to make a decision when presented with a choice of whether something will be made law or not.

Such logic would seem to apply with even more force to a governor when it comes to approving or not approving a bill sent to him or her by a legislature. After all, it’s not like he or she is just one of a couple of hundred legislators whose vote may or may not even really matter. The constitution specifies that the decision to sign or veto a bill is his or hers alone. (It should probably also be noted that when a U.S. president fails to sign a bill while Congress is out of session, the effect is to veto the bill — the process is known as a “pocket veto.”)

This brings us, of course, to yesterday’s decision by Governor Pat McCrory to let the controversial — many would say “thoroughly inadequate” — coal ash “clean up” bill become law by simply not acting on it. Read More