News

N.C. House to roll out its education budget Thursday morning

Key budget writers in the N.C. House of Representatives are expected to roll out their proposals for public education funding early Thursday morning.

The news comes after a top House budget writer told Policy Watch last week that the chamber was likely to announce a spending plan that was considerably kinder to public schools than the budget proposed by Senate lawmakers this month.

Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican, is expected to preside over Thursday’s 8:30 a.m. meeting. Last week, Horn said the House budget is more likely to include across-the-board raises for teachers, less severe funding cuts for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the restoration of several early-morning cuts to education projects in Democratic-held districts. 

The Senate’s teacher pay plan included an average 3.7 percent raise, but critics said it slighted beginning and veteran teachers, focusing on mid-career educators instead.

“I think the House has a broader view with regard to teachers,” Horn told Policy Watch. “We recognize that our most experienced teachers have gotten the least reward.”

Criticism for the Senate’s $22.9 billion budget plan mounted shortly after its release two weeks ago. Some pointed to new national rankings from the nonpartisan National Education Association that placed North Carolina at 43rd in the U.S. in per-pupil spending in 2017-2018, a slight drop from the previous year, although the state’s teacher pay ranking had risen from 41st to 35th.

Of course, those rankings were not finalized with the Senate’s budget provisions included.

N.C. Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union

Last week, Horn also questioned a controversial Senate plan to slash DPI funding by 25 percent in the coming year. That’s about a $13.1 million cut for the state’s top K-12 agency in 2017-2018, coming on top of more than $19 million in cuts to DPI since 2009.

Democrats and public school advocates say the cuts will be most apparent in poor and low-performing school districts that need the support and intervention provided by DPI. Meanwhile, a recently-retired DPI finance head told Policy Watch the deep cuts would “totally destroy” the agency’s operations. 

Horn said he doesn’t expect House leadership to go along with such a plan.

“We ask DPI to do a lot,” said Horn. “… We want new curriculum. This year, we asked them to teach about suicide prevention. We want you to include all these things in the curriculum. Somebody has to develop that curriculum.”

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Commentary

Another new low: Trump nominates right-wing blogger to the U.S. Court of Appeals

There is more compelling evidence this week  of the critical importance of progressives paying close attention to (and fighting back against) Donald Trump’s frightening plans for remaking our federal judiciary. This is from court watchers at the nonpartisan Alliance for Justice:

“Paperwork submitted by John K. Bush, President Trump’s nominee for the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, reveals that Bush has spent a decade writing inflammatory and, often, offensive blog posts for the website Elephants in the Bluegrass.

Writing under a pseudonym, G. Morris, Bush authored more than 400 entries for the ultraconservative blog run by his wife Bridget Bush. While Bush pontificates on a broad swath of issues, one common theme runs throughout his writings: Bush displays a remarkable contempt for any issue he deems liberal or progressive, often launching into personal attacks on individuals he disagrees with. Bush’s writings should disqualify him for a lifetime seat on the federal bench for two reasons. First, Bush’s writings raise serious concerns about whether, as a judge, he will be able to approach the issues presented to him with an open mind, applying the law to the facts of the case without regard to his personal ideology. Second, Bush’s distasteful rhetoric demonstrates that he lacks the judicial temperament necessary to serve as a federal judge….

Reproduced below is a sampling of Bush’s troubling blog posts:

  • In a post entitled The Legacy From Dr. King’s Dream That Liberals Ignore, Bush conflates the goals of the civil rights movement with those of the pro-life movement, concluding with the following statement: ‘“The two greatest tragedies in our country—slavery and abortion—relied on similar reasoning and activist justices at the U.S. Supreme Court, first in the Dred Scott decision, and later in Roe.’
  • While live blogging from the 2016 Republican National Convention in July, Bush wrote Baring My Pre-Convention Thoughts, reflecting on the 2008 presidential election: ‘The Democrats were making history with the first serious African American candidate. McCain wasn’t the first anything. Only the most diehard of protestors thought it worth their time to protest him. This year is different. The Democrats are trying to win with the same game plan as in 2008, only substitute woman for Black.’

As Supreme Court expert Ian Millhiser of the Center for American Progress explains in an excellent post, “this is not normal.” What’s more, Bush’s legal views are extreme on an array of issues:

“In any event, Bush’s public statements and writings do not simply reveal political views that place him very far to the right. They also reveal legal opinions that are widely out of step with well-established law accepted by Democrats and Republicans alike. That’s not something that presidents typically look for in judicial nominees.”

Of course, this is just the beginning if progressives don’t push back. As was explained in this post a couple of weeks back, 15% of the federal judiciary now stands vacant and awaiting Trump nominations. Simply put, for those who care about resisting Trumpism, there is no more important battle in the coming months and years than the fight for our courts. With Thom Tillis sitting on the Senate Judiciary Committee, let’s hope North Carolina voters let him know about their concerns in this area in the weeks and months ahead.

2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Twelve more big policy changes buried in the N.C. Senate budget

There are a lot of issues with the N.C. Senate budget proposal as drafted. One issue is the sheer number of major substantive policy changes, including in the biennial spending proposal. Absent a full debate by policymakers and public input on each of these items, it is impossible to fully consider the multitude of ways in which the systems serving North Carolinians and communities will change as a result of the passage of this single bill. We noted a dozen such items in a post last week. Here are another dozen that should give further support to the notion that the House needs to start from scratch with a budget proposal that truly seeks to serve the broader good:

  1. Increases expenditures on ads for the North Carolina Education Lottery to 2 percent up from 1 percent (page 10, Section 5.3 (b))
  2. Converts state’s drivers education program provided to students to a reimbursement program that will likely price-out and reduce the number of low-income students served by program (page 31, Section 7.21 (b))
  3. Establishes individual county Departments of Social Services as financially responsible for erroneous issuance of Medicaid benefits and Medicaid claims payments (page 174, Section 11H.22(f))
  4. Eliminates the local school board statutory authority to file funding lawsuits against its county (page 53, Section 7.30)
  5. Eliminates longevity pay for principals and assistant principals (page 57, Section 8.3(a))
  6. Creates the Legislative School to replace the Governor’s School and gives the authority to approve the curriculum to the UNC Board of Governors (page 74, Section 10.16(a))
  7. Increases the age of juvenile jurisdiction except for certain felonies but without funding for the juvenile justice system (Section 16D.4(a))
  8. Aligns Department of Transportation program for participation by disadvantaged minority-owned and women-owned businesses with federal law to limit requirements and application to specific projects or contracts (page 317, Section 34.15(a))
  9. Requires the return of Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Grant funds if projects in a municipality or county fail to be completed within six years despite long-time frames for securing all funding needed, review by all relevant agencies (page 32, Section 34.22(a))
  10. Eliminates Pesticides Advisory Committee (Page 195, Section 12.1)
  11. Creates new Site and Building Development Fund, a loan fund designed to help communities put up shell buildings, water/sewer, access roads with no clarity on how it will interact with the existing Industrial Development Fund, which provides grants for the same purpose (except buildings) (Page 229, Section 15.7)
  12. Earmarks Rural Division grants for specific projects in lawmakers’ districts (Page 232, Section 15.8)
Courts & the Law, News

House committee debates, approves bill that would create delay for asbestos victims seeking recovery

Sen. Michael V. Lee (R-New Hanover) discusses a bill he sponsors that would affect asbestos-related cases. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

North Carolina lawmakers are dipping into federal issues of civil law to help national stakeholders gain momentum in delaying asbestos cancer victims from getting recovery funds.

Members of the House II Judiciary Committee voted 6-4 along party lines to advance Senate Bill 470, which would require plaintiffs in asbestos claims to disclose information about bankruptcy trust claims in personal injury actions, including the amount of monies awarded “or reasonably expected to be awarded.”

There was about an hour of debate, which mostly consisted of lawmakers asking questions of Greensboro attorney Janet Ward Black, an opponent of the bill, and Raleigh attorney Kirk Warner and D.C. attorney Mark Behrens from the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, both proponents of the bill.

Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) carried the bill and also tried to answer some questions. He told committee members that the bill received broad bipartisan support in the Senate and that it promotes transparency on behalf of asbestos victims to the court.

Black said the law is a paper tiger — there aren’t any asbestos cases filed in North Carolina state court. By the state passing such a law, it helps the asbestos industry, which is behind the law, gain momentum to get it passed in states where there is pending litigation.

Greensboro attorney Janet Ward Black speaks Tuesday at a House committee meeting against a bill that would affect asbestos cases. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

“They would like to color in North Carolina on that map,” she said, referencing a map that Lee showed committee members of other states that passed similar laws.

The real end result of the bill, Black said, is to delay dying people from getting the money they are owed for recovery.

“This hurts people who are dying of asbestos disease because it is an effort by companies to complicate the process and delay, delay, delay,” she said.

Cases involving North Carolinians who have asbestos disease are filed in federal court and are very isolated, according to Black. There are about 50 cases currently pending in federal court — an estimate on the high side.

North Carolina is a “contributory negligence” state that does not require companies to pay recovery funds to victims who made a decision not to protect themselves from asbestos and requires a bigger burden of plaintiffs to prove wrongdoing.

Warner and Behrens said SB470 would prevent current asbestos victims from robbing future victims of recovery funds, insinuating the current system makes it easier for double-dipping.

Debate, at times, got very deep into complicated tort law and civil procedure.

The bill was successfully amended by Rep. Joe John (D-Wake), to make it so it wouldn’t affect pending claims, and Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford), to eliminate Section 2, which requires plaintiffs to provide the amount of consideration paid for a release or covenant not to sue, including any monies awarded or reasonably expected to be rewarded from a bankruptcy trust.

NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

Four ways Trump’s budget will harm North Carolina

Smart public investments at the federal level can create jobs, raise wages, increase education, and help unlock economic prosperity for more people and places in our country. Here are four ways the President’s plan would take North Carolina in the opposite direction:

1. Trump’s budget on food assistance: Slashes food assistance by $193 billion over 10 years and shifts the cost of more than $100 billion in SNAP benefits, a longtime federal responsibility, to the states.

Effect on North Carolina: North Carolina is the 8th hungriest place in the US, with 15.9 percent of our people not always knowing where their next meal is coming from. In 2015, SNAP reached 1.6 million North Carolinians, targeting the most vulnerable folks to help ensure that older adults, veterans, and children get enough to eat each day. SNAP benefits help to stimulate the state’s economy too, pumping upward of $2 billion into the economy. On average, from 2011 to 2014, SNAP benefits lifted 175,000 North Carolinians, including 81,000 children, out of poverty.

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