Commentary, public health, Trump Administration

Congress sneaking in last-minute change to make Trumpcare even worse

Ahead of a floor vote scheduled for later today, Republican leadership in the House has realized that they do not have enough votes right now to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the Trump-Ryan proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As a result, Trump and others are trying to sneak in disastrous last-minute changes to an already terrible bill to win over conservative votes at the expense of millions of lives.

One such change that they are proposing is repealing the requirement that health insurance plans cover a core set of essential health benefits. This guarantees that plans provide coverage for core services, such as hospitalizations, maternity care, prescription drugs, as well as mental health and substance use disorder treatment.

If this provision is repealed, insurers could offer bare-bones plans that don’t cover services that North Carolinians need, meaning only the most expensive, premium plans would cover services like treatment for opioid addition, for example.

What’s more, other key consumer protections would fall apart. While the AHCA does not repeal the ACA’s prohibition on lifetime limits and annual caps on services, that protection is useless without the essential health benefits requirement. Current law only applies these protections to services considered essential health benefits. If this provision is repealed, insurers may be free once again to arbitrarily cut off coverage for patients because their treatment is too expensive.

The haste with which Congress and Trump are moving to repeal our health care is telling; why rush to change one-sixth of the U.S. economy and millions of lives unless you don’t want the public to see what you’re doing? After all, we still haven’t seen the bill language that the House will vote on today. It seems like the Republicans may have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Trump budget would eliminate professional development funding for NC educators

President Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint offers bad news for public schools. His proposal – which, thankfully, has a way to go before becoming law – proposes eliminating all professional development funding for teachers and principals. The elimination of the $2.4 billion Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program (also known as Title II) would reduce North Carolina school districts’ budgets by approximately $45 million and leave North Carolina school districts without any dedicated funding for professional development.

The elimination of federal professional development funding follows a path already pursued by the North Carolina General Assembly. Prior to the Recession, the state provided school districts with approximately $12.5 million per year for staff development. That funding was eliminated, on what was supposed to be a temporary basis, until state revenues recovered. In 2011, the General Assembly permanently eliminated dedicated state funding for professional development.

The elimination of professional development funding flies in the face of research. High-quality professional development (training that is job-embedded, ongoing, and differentiated) has a direct impact on student achievement. A comprehensive meta-analysis of the impact of professional development found that “teachers who receive substantial professional development…can boost their students’ achievement by about 21 percentile points.” Another more recent report concludes that “investments in high-quality principal training yield substantial benefits in student achievement, as well as teacher quality and retention.” Read more

Courts & the Law, News

N.C. House overrides Cooper’s veto of bill making judicial elections partisan again

The Republican-led House voted Wednesday 74 to 44 along party lines to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that would make Superior and District Court judicial elections partisan again.

The Senate must also vote to override House Bill 100. If the body overrides the bill and it becomes law, North Carolina joins only seven other states that have partisan judicial elections.

House Republicans and Democrats debated for about 10 minutes whether to override the bill before there was a vote. The body debated helmets for autocycles afterward for about an hour.

Rep. Joe John (D-Wake), a former Court of Appeals judge, was particularly outspoken about not making judicial elections partisan again.

“I do not look upon this as a partisan issue but a bipartisan one affecting all … judges alike,” he said.

Rep. Joe John

Rep. Joe John (D-Wake)

John, who also served as a District and Superior Court judge, asked his peers not to throw judges into the “muck and mire of partisan political elections,” and said he wished he could fully express the dangers of politicizing the courts.

“It’s not often in time we’re given a second chance,” he said.

He wore a pin on his jacket that he earned after serving on the Court of Appeals and said now more than ever North Carolina needs an independent judiciary.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Justin Burr (R-Montgomery, Stanly) said voters deserve to know the political ideology of judges and that HB100 would restore voter’s rights.

News

Five questions with Chris Sgro of Equality N.C.

As Executive Director of Equality North Carolina, LGBTQ advocate Chris Sgro has been on the front-line of the battle against HB2 since before it was signed into law a year ago.

Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina.

But when former N.C. House member Ralph Johnson died in office last year, Sgro was chosen to finish out his term – making him, at that time, the only out LGBT member of the General Assembly. 

Sgro had the unique experience of living through the effort to repeal HB2 as a gay man, an activist and a lawmaker. This week, as we approach the anniversary of the law’s signing, we reached out to Sgro for his insider’s view on the political wrangling and partisan battles that have, so far, failed to repeal the law.

1) What insight into the ongoing battle over HB2 do you think you gained as a lawmaker?

I’ve now seen both as a member of the LGBT community and as a member of the General Assembly what HB2 looks like. And I frankly think there’s a disconnect there.

As I go to rallies, as I’m in different towns and cities, everybody is talking about HB2 – your cab driver, someone serving you a drink in a bar. And they’re almost universally opposed to it. People want it gone – because they think it’s wrong, because they think it’s doing economic damage to our state and harming our reputation. And that has not necessarily trickled down to every member of the legislature.

I think that the legislature is in a bit of a bubble in Raleigh.

There are some members who are great and who are standing firm for a full repeal. But too many members, especially in the majority, are too caught up in their own politics and the process.

2) What do you make of the most recent HB2 repeal bill, put forward by Sen. Joel Ford (D- Charlotte)? It has the “cooling off period” initially suggested by Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) back in December, that would put a 30-day moratorium on ordinances like the one Charlotte passed, extending LGBT protections.

I think it’s disappointing but not surprising to see Joel Ford ally himself with Senator Berger. Numerous times during the session people would see him check in with the Republican leadership but frankly he doesn’t check in with his progressive allies.

This isn’t the first time he’s made it clear he’s not a friend to the LGBT community. He voted for the magistrate bill, to allow them to opt out of marriages.

I think he thinks this is a play for him in his mayoral bid and it’s going to backfire on him. I’m deeply wary of any effort that has Joel Ford’s name on it, especially when it’s essentially Berger’s bill from before.

3) I’ve spoken to some LGBT people who are frustrated that the repeal of HB2 has been discussed mostly in terms of economic damage and others who say they understand that’s the best way to engage people who aren’t directly impacted by HB2. But even with the severe economic damage that has been done, we’re still at this stalemate over repeal. Did even the economic appeal fail?

Read more

Courts & the Law, News

U.S. Supreme Court: Schools must provide more than minimal education to disabled students

In a unanimous opinion released today, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with a disabled student and his family who did not believe a Colorado school district was doing enough to provide an adequate education.

School districts must provide students with disabilities more than a “merely more than de minimis” education, according to the opinion. That language was developed by lower courts over time as a legal standard and upheld in a separate case, Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley.

It was also used by a lower court that decided because the student in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District had received “some educational benefit,” the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) standard to provide free, appropriate education had been met.

The parents of Endrew F., a minor with autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sought private school reimbursement under IDEA after pulling their son from public school over a proposed IEP for his fifth grade year.

In the high court’s opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that a child’s individualized education plan (IEP) must be “reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress appropriate in light of his circumstances.”

“Rowley did not provide concrete guidance with respect to a child who is not fully integrated in the regular classroom and not able to achieve on grade level. A child’s IEP need not aim for grade-level advancement if that is not a reasonable prospect. But that child’s educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom. The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives,” the opinion syllabus states.

You can read the full opinion here.

On a side note, Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s pick for a vacancy on the Supreme Court, has relied on the minimal education standard in the past. You can read more about that here.