agriculture, Environment, Legislature

House Speaker Tim Moore names committee leaders, some with dubious environmental histories

House Speaker Tim Moore announced his appointments for committee chairs today, the people in charge of herding the membership and their bills. All of the top posts for the environmental and agriculture committees went to Republicans.

In addition to the chairs specific to the environment and agriculture, the Regulatory Reform committee leadership also bears watching. Many environmental laws are chopped, crushed  and pureed in the R &R.

The appropriations committee leaders are also key. Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Henderson County Republican, often is the main budget writer for environmental bills. Reps. Jimmy Dixon and Pat McElraft, who hold dual chairmanships, have a history of sponsoring anti-regulatory legislation.

Rep. Mark Brody

Rep. Mark Brody

  • AGRICULTURE

Mark Brody (Anson, Union) co-sponsored the Industrial Hemp bill last session, which is intended to support the burgeoning textile. Note this industrial hemp, and limited to cultivation by state universities. The SBI and local law enforcement can inspect the plots.

  • Rep. Jimmy Dixon (Duplin, Wayne) consistently criticizes the media, which increases the entertainment value of committee meetings. He’s a staunch defender of industrialized farming and co-sponsored a bill prohibiting counties from regulating the care of farm animals. By care, the bill means housing, feed, medicine, and exercise and socialization requirements. In other words, local animal welfare laws that apply to dogs and cats don’t extend to cattle, oxen, bison, sheep, swine, goats, horses, ponies, mules, donkeys, hinnies, llamas, alpacas, lagomorphs (a type of hare), ratites (flightless birds) and poultry.
    Dixon was the lead sponsor on more than a half dozen environmental bills that would have weakened regulations, had they passed.
  • Bob Steinburg, who represents six counties in northeastern North Carolina, sponsored five environmental or agricultural bills last session. Of those, one would have extended tax credits to those buying, leasing or building renewable energy facilities. Another would have relaxed regulations on billboards. (See below under Rep. Jeff Collins.)
    A successful bill to boost the state’s industrial hemp program became law. His colleague Mark Brody co-sponsored that bill, as well.

APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE AND NATURAL AND ECONOMIC RESOURCES

  • Jimmy Dixon (see above)
  • Pat McElraft (see below)
  • A real estate broker, Kyle Hall (Rockingham Stokes) is in his first full term as a House member. Thus, he sponsored few bills last session. In November 2015, the then-25-year-old was appointed to serve out the unexpired term of Rep. Bryan Holloway. Holloway resigned to become a lobbyist with the NC School Boards Association.
  • Stephen Ross (Alamance) co-sponsored the renewable tax credit bill and with Chris Malone (see below), a bill to help protect the public from the environmental and public health hazards of fracking.

ENERGY AND PUBLIC UTILITIES

  • Four-term representative Jeff Collins (Franklin, Nash), co-sponsored the anti-renewables bill Energy Policy Amendments. It would have plateaued the required benchmarks in the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.
    He also was a primary sponsor of House Bill 304, which would relaxed regulations regarding the placement of billboards, including the digital variety. Some jurisdictions, like the City of Durham, don’t allow digital billboards; others, such as Research Triangle Park, prohibit them altogether. This bill could have usurped that authority.
  • On the up side, John Szoka (Cumberland) co-sponsored a bill that would have provided people who built, bought or leased renewable energy a 35 percent tax credit on the cost of property. It didn’t pass, but a study bill of the Cape Fear water resources did.
Rep. Pat McElraft

Rep. Pat McElraft

ENVIRONMENT

  • Pat McElraft (Carteret, Jones) has been responsible for several bills that weakened, or would have weakened, environmental regulations. Last session, she wa also a primary sponsor of “Energy Policy Amendments.
    McElraft also was the primary sponsor of House Bill 576, which would have studied the feasibility of discontinuing TV recycling. Instead, televisions and their attendant heavy metals could do directly to a municipal landfill. The bill did not pass.
    Another of her bills would have weakened stormwater and stream buffer requirements. The clock ran out on the session before the bill could be reconciled in conference committee.
    House Speaker Moore also named McElraft to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources.
  • Larry Yarborough (Granville, Person) led the House in sponsoring a bill that amended the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014. The 2016 legislation was criticized by environmental advocates because it allowed Duke Energy to reclassify its coal ash dams as low-risk if the utility provided permanent water to eligible residents and repaired the dams. That in turn, permitted Duke to keep the coal ash onsite at those facilities in a lined, capped landfill.
Rep. Jay Adams

Rep. Jay Adams

WILDLIFE RESOURCES

Commentary

What’s at stake as legislative leaders double down on Medicaid blockade

Last week, conservative leaders at North Carolina General Assembly launched a legal attack against Gov. Cooper’s efforts to expand Medicaid. In so doing, these lawmakers went against the desires of 72 percent of North Carolinians who want to fix the health insurance gap by expanding Medicaid. Suing both the federal and state Department of Health and Human Services to prevent expansion hurts all of North Carolina. Instead of recognizing and accepting the health, social, and economic benefits of Medicaid expansion, state lawmakers are trying to extend the life of the Medicaid Blockade.

It is difficult to understand why policymakers continue to block efforts to close the coverage gap considering that up to 500,000 people could gain health coverage. A study released in 2014 examined both the preventive outcomes of expansion and the adverse health outcomes if North Carolina did not extend coverage to adults in the coverage gap. The study reported that Medicaid expansion could help prevent approximately 1,000 deaths per year. Further, Medicaid expansion could allow for nearly 27,000 people to receive medications to manage diabetes and allow approximately 12,000 women to receive mammograms.

Considering that most state lawmakers want to promote job growth and increase business activity throughout North Carolina, it is hard to believe that they continue the Medicaid blockade despite the projected economic benefits. One report shows that up to 43,000 jobs could be created by 2020, 13,228 of which are jobs in rural counties of the state. North Carolina’s vulnerable and rural hospitals would also experience an economic boost if Medicaid is expanded. In just one year, one hospital group reported a drop of $35 million in uncompensated careArkansas and Michigan are two states that reported decreases greater than 50 percent in uncompensated care. A more recent qualitative study reported that reductions in uncompensated care and the boost to health provider budgets allows for promotes increase in ways to improve on quality of care.

North Carolina has had the opportunity to improve the health and financial standing for children and families, low-wage workers, veterans, and rural residents since 2014. Tragically, state lawmakers continue to block the positive short and long-term impacts Medicaid expansion will have on our state. At some point in the near future, it seems certain that they will regret this decision.

News

Senator Jeff Jackson: Medicaid expansion efforts should proceed (audio)

If you missed it over the holiday weekend, state Senator Jeff Jackson joined NC Policy Watch’s Chris Fitzsimon to discuss the need for Medicaid expansion in North Carolina, despite the efforts by legislative leaders to block Gov. Cooper every step of the way.  Jackson also shared his thoughts on what repeal of the Affordable Care Act could mean for his constituents in Mecklenburg County.

Click below for an excerpt from our radio interview. The full 10-minute podcast is available here.

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News

News & Observer column: No need for cops in schools

School busesIn case you missed it this weekend, The News & Observer’s Barry Saunders has offered up his characteristically spirited take on the stewing debate over police officers in schools following the disturbing Jan. 3 altercation captured on tape at Rolesville High.

It’s a fascinating read, and it comes, as Policy Watch reported last week, with protesters planing to call for the removal of all school resource officers (SROs) from Wake County schools.

From the N&O:

Former Wake County Schools Superintendent Bill McNeal talked to me about back in his day recently, but it was not with any rose-colored nostalgia in which all kids were Wally and the Beav or those mischievous little tykes from a “Family Circus” comic strip.

McNeal, an educator since the 1970s who served six years as Wake superintendent, acknowledged when we spoke last week that “there were disruptive students when I started, but the world was a little different, not everyone was carrying a gun and there was greater support for schools among parents. That meant that students knew what was expected of them.”

Today? Not so much, he said. That’s why, he said, he has no problem with School Resource Officers being in schools “if they are well-trained and integrated into the fabric of the school.”

Ah, but there, as the noble bard wrote, is the rub.

Not all SROs are well-trained or integrated into the school’s fabric. Some apparently approach their assignment as being on the front lines of an undeclared war.

After watching Rolesville police officer Ruben De Los Santos make like he was Superfly Jimmy Snuka – R.I.P., Superfly – and try to suplex that little 16-year-old girl to the floor, many people are questioning whether we need SROs in schools. Others of us know the answer: NO!

McNeal feels differently, though.

“I’m not going to throw all SROs under the bus” because of the actions of a few, he said.

Neither, fortunately, do all SROs throw little girls around as brutally as De Los Santos and others have done in recorded encounters.

It’s important, McNeal said, “that there are clearly defined roles, and that administrators are handling certain things and are not putting SROs in difficult situations. At the end of the day, you have to remember that they are, in fact, law enforcement, and their responsibility is different from administrators.”

Right on. When teachers call a cop – and regardless of how one puts it, SROs are cops – on a kid for not putting away a cellphone or for back-talking, they are possibly endangering that child’s health and future. You mean to tell me teachers couldn’t have broken up that Rolesville High School fight – one in which witneses say the cop-assaulted girl wasn’t even a participant – without concussing a young girl and, in the bargain, possibly giving her a criminal record? You mean educators couldn’t have found a way to turn that into a “teachable” moment in which discipline was administered by the school and parents, not the law?

Read more

Commentary

Why Berger and Moore’s suit against Gov. Cooper over Medicaid expansion is bogus

There are obviously a lot of substantive reasons why expanding Medicaid under the terms of the Affordable Care Act would be great for North Carolina. One can actually come up with thousands by doing nothing other than considering the number of human lives that would be saved from premature death.

That said, it’s also worth noting that there is a false narrative percolating in some circles that Republican legislators have somehow seized the legal high ground with respect to Gov. Cooper’s effort to the get the expansion ball rolling in recent days. As Vice President Biden, might observe, this is a bunch of baloney. Here’s why:

As Cooper and federal officials point out in briefs filed in federal court yesterday, there are several reasons why Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s and House Speaker Tim Moore’s lawsuit attacking Cooper’s efforts are off-base. Here are a few of the most notable:

First and foremost, any dispute between Cooper and the legislature is not a matter of federal law; it’s a matter for the state courts to sort out. Second, the Berger-Moore request for a temporary restraining order was so shoddy and poorly constructed that it didn’t even give proper notice to the defendants.

And then there’s this from the Cooper administration’s brief:

“More basic than that, however, the arguments Plaintiffs presented to this Court when seeking the TRO suffer from numerous flaws, any one of which is fatal to their request. Among other things, Plaintiffs’ papers did not disclose to the Court that the state plan amendment at issue in this case will not—indeed cannot—go into effect until January 1, 2018—nearly one year from now. That fact, alone, negates the irreparable harm that Plaintiffs were required to show to obtain the TRO. Nor did Plaintiffs disclose that, if the expansion were to be funded from taxpayer sources, it could proceed only following affirmative action by the North Carolina General Assembly. Thus, Plaintiffs’ assertion that submission and approval of the amendment would irrevocably commit the state to expending taxpayer funds has no foundation.”
You got that? Berger and Moore took the extraordinary step of seeking a temporary restraining order — a tool that’s reserved for emergency situations — to try and stop something that could not possibly go into full effect for a year and over which they still retain enormous authority. Lawyers for the feds put it this way in their brief:
“…plaintiffs lack standing to press their claims, have not alleged any violation of federal law, and are not facing any irreparable harm.”
In other words, the whole Berger- Moore lawsuit is a bogus bit of grandstanding that has no legal basis and is ultimately designed to change the subject from what it should be be — how to best help hundreds of thousands North Carolinians — into yet another debate over how and whether to to limit the powers of the state’s new Governor.
The bottom line: Let’s hope the federal judge wises up to this scam ASAP and let’s Cooper’s expansion effort proceed. Everyone knows that he will still face an uphill battle, but North Carolina ought to have the debate and Berger and Moore ought to have the courage of their convictions to participate rather than try to torpedo it with a bogus end run in the courts.