Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Board of Elections investigating alleged misconduct at some voter drives

The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement is investigating alleged misconduct at voter registration drives in New Hanover, Pitt and Robeson counties.

The State Board received reports that individuals misinformed voters that they must re-register in order to cast a ballot in November, according to a Friday news release. Voters who are already registered do not have to re-register or update their registrations unless they have moved or wish to change their name or party affiliation.

The State Board also reported receiving information that individuals approached people at their homes or businesses, falsely identifying themselves as county or state elections workers. And in recent months, the agency investigated reports of falsified registration documents delivered to county boards of elections offices.

“Voters should check their registrations online,” said Board Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach. “There is no reason to submit a new form unless the information is outdated. The State Board will investigate all credible allegations of voter registration fraud by individuals or organizations. When workers involved in voter drives falsify or alter information on registration forms, it can cause problems for innocent voters at the polls.”

It is unlawful in North Carolina to pay voter drive participants on a per-form basis. It is a Class I felony to falsify a voter registration form and a Class 2 misdemeanor to retain a copy of a registrant’s confidential information, such as date of birth or driver license number, according to the news release.

The State Board encourages voters to consider the following tips:

  1. Check your voter registration status through the State Board’s “Voter Search” tool here.
  2. If you are not registered or need to update your registration, applications are available on the State Board website and at all county boards of elections offices.
  3. Always ask voter registration workers to verify their identities and their organizations before providing any information. If an individual refuses to comply, do not provide any information and call the State Board office immediately at 919-814-0700. Ask for the Investigations Division.
  4. If you fill out a registration form as part of a registration drive, you may personally return the form to your county board of elections, either in person or by mail. You do not have to give the form back to the voter drive worker.
  5. County and state elections officials do not go door-to-door. If a person claims to be a state or county elections worker, ask them for identification, take down their name and contact the State Board office immediately at 919-814-0700.
Education, News

State Board of Education’s Greg Alcorn to become fourth board resignation this year

From L-R: Bill Cobey, Becky Taylor, and Greg Alcorn will all step down from the State Board of Education next month.

Greg Alcorn, a Rowan County resident serving on the State Board of Education, will become the fourth member of North Carolina’s top school board to step down this year, Policy Watch has learned.

Policy Watch received a copy Friday of Alcorn’s resignation, dated Aug. 7, from the state board. In the letter, Alcorn says he intends to leave following next month’s board meeting. Alcorn added that he wants to focus on ApSeed, the early childhood nonprofit he started.

But it’s worth noting that Alcorn, like departing members Bill Cobey and Becky Taylor before him, was set to watch his term expire in March. A fourth board member, former Vice Chair A.L. “Buddy” Collins, also stepped down this spring in order to run for a county commission seat in Forsyth County.

Republican state lawmakers have voted on partisan lines to deny replacements for board members appointed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, but Cooper’s appointments will not require legislative confirmation to serve out the rest of Cobey, Taylor and Alcorn’s terms.

“With the legislature not approving the governor’s appointments, really the only way that a board member’s seat gets filled appears to be the way that Bill and Becky are going,” the board’s vice chairman, Eric Davis, said in a Policy Watch report this week. “That’s the only way a new member gets appointed.”

As this week’s report noted, board members Tricia Willoughby and Wayne McDevitt watched their terms expire in March 2017, but both have remained on as lawmakers first delayed and then voted down Cooper’s replacements.

From Alcorn’s resignation letter:

This letter is to inform you that I am resigning from the North Carolina State Board of Education at the conclusion of the Thursday, September 6 board meeting. I have shared my decision of resignation with my fellow board members and I would like to serve through the September board meeting.

The primary reason for resigning is to spend more time with my ApSeed early childhood education non-profit. ApSeed is designed to provide “Kindergarten-ready” children to our fine public schools in North Carolina. I firmly believe that ApSeed can have a generational, positive impact to help eliminate achievement gaps. My belief in ApSeed and its impact compels me to devote my community service time to this non-profit.

It has been my pleasure and honor to serve on the NC State Board of Education, during the past 5+ years. My service on the Board has informed me of the many challenges in education and has been invaluable. I firmly believe in the constitutional responsibilities of the State Board of Education and am sure your new appointee will continue to deliver on those responsibilities.

It has been an honor to serve with such an outstanding group of board members who have faithfully made their first priority the interest of our public school children. I will miss serving with them.

Education, News, Trump Administration

Trump administration, Betsy DeVos, slash for-profit college regulations

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration have made no secret of their support of for-profit colleges.

Today, they’re taking the next step to cut regulations for such controversial programs, Politico reports.

According to the report, DeVos will do away with an Obama administration rule.

From Politico:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos moved Thursday to eliminate Obama-era regulations that were meant to cut off federal funding to low-performing programs at for-profit schools and other career colleges.

The Education Department unveiled a proposal to rescind the “gainful employment” regulation, which was a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s crackdown on for-profit education companies.

The goal of the rule, which took effect in 2015, was to make sure that students who graduate from for-profit schools or other career-oriented programs make enough money to repay their student loans. But the schools, and congressional Republicans, have long criticized the regulation as unfair and overly burdensome.

DeVos’ proposal to kill the regulation goes further than other draft plans circulated by the Trump administration. Previous proposals would have gutted the penalties associated with the rule, but they would have kept mandatory consumer disclosures by colleges to prospective students.

The Trump administration said it plans to update the Education Department’s College Scorecard website with expanded data about the outcomes of students who attend all colleges and universities receiving federal aid. The department plans to calculate and publish the earnings and debt levels of graduates broken down by individual academic programs.

The Scorecard website is not required by any law or regulation, so the Trump administration’s promise to expand the data published on it isn’t binding on the department.

Consumer groups and Democrats have already sharply criticized the Trump administration’s plan to repeal the rule as a giveaway to the for-profit college industry. They say they’re worried DeVos’ plan will open up billions of taxpayer dollars to low-performing colleges.

Democratic attorneys general from 17 states and the District of Columbia are suingDeVos over her previous delays in enforcing the “gainful employment” rule.

The Education Department said it would accept public comments on the proposed elimination of the regulation for 30 days.

The department must publish a final regulation by Nov. 1 for it to take effect in July 2019.

News

Overhaul of North Carolina’s Medicaid program moves one step closer

If you’ve been reading about Medicaid reform for years, but not fully understanding how the state plans to reshape the program that currently serves 2.1 million North Carolinians, hop over to NC Health News this weekend and read the latest article by reporter Sarah Ovaska-Few.

This week the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) released a Request for Proposal (RFP) for private insurance companies that wish to takeover the $14 billion state-managed health care system for low-income children, seniors and those with disabilities.

As Ovaska-Few and reporter Rose Hoban explain:

DHHS Sec. Mandy Cohen

All told, private companies or commercial managed care companies will earn about $6 billion of that annual total, tallying up to $30 billion over five years.

“It’s 2.1 million folks in the program, right now, and we think it’s about 1.6 million who will move into the program once it’s fully phased into managed care,” said Mandy Cohen, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services secretary, in a call with reporters Thursday. Many of these are children and pregnant women, people for whom care is relatively cheap.

The remaining 500,000 – such as low-income seniors in nursing homes and people with mental health and intellectual or developmental disabilities – have more complex needs. Cohen said they will be phased into the managed care system in later years.

Medicaid recipients will have four statewide plans to choose from, as well as up to 12 smaller provider-led entities, which could be led by hospital systems or other localized health care groups.

Selected prepaid plans will come on for an initial three years, with the option to renew the contract, and renegotiate rates, for an additional two years, Cohen said.

Seeking budget stability

The major shift in Medicaid management comes at the behest of the N.C. General Assembly, which decided in 2015 to move Medicaid away from being managed by DHHS in favor of contracting the program out to commercial managed care companies or hospital-led health care systems to oversee patient care. Members of the Republican-led state legislature had voiced their displeasure for years about fluctuating Medicaid expenditures and said moving to a system where the state prepays an upfront price for each patient will lead to more budget stability and savings.

North Carolina is the largest state that does not currently have big swaths of its Medicaid program run by managed care companies.

Thursday’s RFPs make up the largest set of contracts the state’s health department has ever sought, with an estimated $6 billion a year in combined state and federal dollars expected to be contracted out, Cohen said.

But it’s not clear how much the move will save, if it even saves anything.

Read more

Commentary

Tillis continues to obfuscate on climate change…but it’s probably better than it could be

North Carolina’s junior senator Thom Tillis sat down with Spectrum News reporter Tim Boyum the other day for a discussion of climate change (plus some other issues) and, as is so often the case with Tillis, watching the video provides for a maddening experience.

On the one hand — hallelujah!! — Tillis actually concedes that climate change is real and acknowledges the scientific fact that humans are playing a role in bringing it about. This position, of course, contrasts sharply with the thoroughly absurd and conveniently extreme position he voiced during the Republican Senate primary in 2014. At that time, Boyum — who was moderating the debate — asked whether climate change was a fact and Tillis, like all three of his fellow right-wing competitors, said “no.”

During this week’s interview, Boyum cited the two contradictory instances and also noted actions in the Senate in which Tillis has signed on to a resolution that acknowledged climate change as real, but denied the human role, and another in which he urged President Trump to renege on the Paris Accords that seek to attack climate change. Boyum then, quite generously and gently, asked him about the “evolution” in his position and, amazingly, Tillis refused to acknowledge there had been any such evolution, i.e. a flip-flop.

Instead of acknowledging it directly, he simply appears to mumble “Yeah I don’t know” and then immediately pivots into talking about things that people in the military and business have told him about the obvious reality of climate change and the need for us to change human behavior. He even alludes to the scientific reality of ozone layer depletion, says it plays a role in climate change, and describes his recent conversation with some young people about that fact.

But, of course, ozone layer depletion dates back many decades. Why didn’t he mention that in 2014?

Happily, though, he then, he goes on to actually talk with some conviction about the need for moving toward alternative, sustainable energy and even defends North Carolina’s “renewable portfolio standard” that has been incessantly attacked by his fellow conservatives.

Unfortunately, just when one is ready to get excited that Tillis has mustered some guts to speak the truth, he lapses into an absurd attack on President Obama and the Paris Accords and then concocts an imaginary and powerful group that supposedly wants to do away with all carbon emissions.

To which all a caring and thinking person can do and say in response is to sigh, slap one’s forehead and at least be thankful that the man has come this far. Lord knows, given the extremist positions espoused by many of his fellow conservatives, it could be a lot worse. That said, given Tillis’ penchant for 180 degree political pirouettes, more dispiriting moments are likely right around the corner.

Click here to watch the video.