Courts & the Law, News

Federal judges deny request for stay in partisan gerrymandering case as Supreme Court considers it

A federal court has denied GOP lawmakers’ request to halt its decision to strike down the 2016 congressional map because of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.

The same request is currently being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the federal three-judge panel’s unanimous decision to deny the request for stay, they wrote that lawmakers “failed to meet their ‘heavy burden’ in seeking the ‘extraordinary relief’ of staying this court’s order.”

According to the court document, the court considers four factors when determining whether to issue a stay pending appeal: 1: whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits; 2: whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; 3: whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and 4: where the public interest lies.

The document states that lawmakers in their request for stay did not specifically address those four factors but if they had, they still wouldn’t have met the burden for a stay.

The judges wrote that the plaintiffs in the partisan gerrymandering case, not legislative defendants, stood to be substantially injured if a stay was granted.

“If Plaintiffs — and North Carolina voters in general — are denied relief before the 2018 election, Legislative Defendants would reap the benefits of their invidious partisan districting efforts ‘for another election cycle,'” they wrote. “As a result, North Carolinians would cast votes in congressional elections conducted under unconstitutional maps in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018 — virtually the entire decade.”

The judges also address lawmakers’ argument that the case should be stayed because the Supreme Court had not yet made a decision in a similar partisan gerrymandering case out of Wisconsin, Gill v. Whitford. You can read the full decision here:

District Court Stay Denial by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

Education, News

Report: Racial gaps in school suspensions persist

One of North Carolina’s most troubling K-12 disparities endures, according to a new report cited Monday by The News & Observer.

The report, issued by a project of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, details persistent gaps between suspension rates for black and white students across the state’s 115 school districts.

Policy Watch has reported on the scope of this issue in the past, and, despite evidence that the state’s K-12 system is reducing the number of suspensions, the gaps in student suspensions remain.

From The N&O report:

Black students are more likely to be suspended than their white classmates, according to the report cards.

During the 2015-16 school year, black students in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system were 10 times more likely to be suspended than white students, 8.7 times more likely in Durham and 7.8 times more likely in Wake County.

“The Racial Equity Report Cards are intended to be a launching point for community education and discussion,” Peggy Nicholson, co-director of the Youth Justice Project, said in a written statement released Friday. “They are not meant as an attack on the critically important public institutions that serve our youth, but rather, as a call-to-action for students, parents, advocates, policymakers, and institutional stakeholders to collectively examine the causes of racial inequity in their community and develop solutions that will help young people, especially youth of color, avoid and escape the school-to-prison pipeline.”

The coalition says disparities such as those seen in suspension rates mean more children of color are funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline, a system of policies and practices that pushes students out of school and into the juvenile and adult criminal systems.

News

Visitation and profit at the Mecklenburg County Jail

If you haven’t yet, you need to go read this column by Toussaint Romaine in the Charlotte Observer. The Mecklenburg assistant public defender takes on the big business of visitation at the county jail.

From the piece:

Global Tel Link (GTL), a billion-dollar company, is working with the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office to exploit poor people for profit. Here’s how it works: GTL contracted its service with the Sheriff’s Office to provide online jail video visitation services. Once GTL installed the new equipment, the Sheriff’s Office terminated other forms of visitation. GTL was then left with a monopoly on how inmates communicate with loved ones.

To no one’s surprise, GTL also sets outrageous prices. After a free first “virtual visit,” one video visitation costs $12.50. That’s a lot of money. Especially when GTL uses platforms like Facetime and Skype, which are almost free. Consequently, those in jail (and their families) end up paying for services that they cannot afford.

But what’s the alternative? Not speaking to your loved ones in a moment of crisis?

Advocates for this technology say it increases jail efficiency, eliminates contraband and enhances visitor convenience. I don’t buy it. I have been visiting clients in the Mecklenburg County Jail for the past 10 years. What those advocates say and what I see are two different things.

I see the money. It’s only about the money. If it isn’t, then take away the profit incentive and see if those corporations stick around.

Still, I know who it hurts. During a jail tour last year, I learned that women are less likely to receive financial support from their family or friends. Sadly, the high price tag associated with this new video visitation exacerbates the anxiety felt in the jail as these women desperately try to call home so that they can hear their child’s voice. This happened a lot during the recent holiday season.

It is worth your time to read the whole thing.

Commentary

Must read editorial: Duke should pass along federal tax break to consumers

This morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com hits the nail on the head with its conclusion that Duke energy should be required to pass along its recent federal tax windfall to consumers. As the editorial (“Utility companies’ tax cut must yield rate break for N.C. consumers”) points out:

“State regulators, in North Carolina it’s the state Utilities Commission, allow these companies to charge rates that cover their costs and provide a return for investors. Those costs include production and distribution of the power, maintenance of equipment and transmission facilities, and the cost of paying taxes.

When the federal tax rate is slashed from 35 percent to 21 percent, the impact is huge.

How big? Well one utility company, Baltimore Gas and Electric, has already figured it is worth $82 million a year back to its 1.25 million electric and 650,000 natural gas customers in central Maryland. While there’s no estimate on how much might go to North Carolina consumers, Duke Energy has 3.3 million retail electric and 717,000 natural gas customers.

Because companies like Duke can pass the cost of federal taxes onto consumers it is only right that when those taxes consumers have been paying get cut, consumers should get the full benefit.”

The editorial goes on to explain that Attorney general Josh Stein is rightfully pushing for the pass-through along with some of his peers from other states. Here’s the conclusion:

“Corporations have been taking advantage of a raging stock market, record profits and unheard of amounts of cash in their coffers. It is past time to extend this economic expansion to the other 99 percent of the nation.

‘The benefit of those tax cuts should go to the consumers,’ Stein said. ‘Otherwise it’s a windfall for the corporations that they don’t need or deserve. You can’t get reimbursed for a cost you don’t incur.’

Gov. Roy Cooper and the leadership in the General Assembly, if they truly believe in relief for ALL North Carolina taxpayers, should join Attorney General Stein’s efforts to be sure it is the CONSUMERS who should get, and deserve, this tax cut benefit. The Utilities Commission should deliver it, in full.”

Exactly.

Commentary

Rest assured, Senator, we know where our teachers are

General Assembly members are inventing increasingly desperate stories to avoid facing the basic facts of the state’s ongoing class-size chaos. Rather than acknowledging the fact that next year’s class-size requirements remain a $300-million-plus-untold-capital-costs unfunded mandate, and that districts continue to spend all of their classroom teacher money on teachers, General Assembly members are pretending the mandate is fully funded, and sending out inaccuracy-filled emails to constituents.

The newest class size fable comes courtesy of Senator Joyce Krawiec (pictured at left), who is claiming in an email passed to me by one of her constituents that North Carolina is “missing” 600 teachers – which would be big, if true.

This is from Krawiec’s email:

“So what’s the big deal with the Senate?  Why all this confusion?  The General Assembly believes reducing class size in K-3 will increase positive outcomes for our young people.  We have dedicated approximately $70 million of your tax dollars annually for this goal.  Any good steward of other people’s money should be expected to ask, ‘How it was spent?’

How many K-3 teachers should $70 million buy?   The average state cost of a classroom teacher, including benefits, is about $63,000, (salary x 1.26).  That works out to approximately 1,100 new K-3 teachers for our children.  Simple enough.

What does DPI report in their Highlights of the NC Public School Budget? (Summary attached)  Before additional funding began in 2013 there were 26,158 allotted K-3 teachers.  This year 2017-18 DPI reports funding 26,671.5 positions.  A net change of 513.5 new K-3 teachers and this includes any funded through growth in ADM (Average Dailey Membership).   Our children are missing about 600 K-3 teachers for which you payed.   That is a problem.”

Krawiec is confused along multiple fronts. But the main issue is that Krawiec is comparing the change in allotted teaching positions since FY 2012-13, while comparing the change in teacher dollars since FY 2013-14. This mistake apparently has her convinced that 600 teachers have gone missing. Read more