agriculture, Environment

WATCH: Republican legislator chide colleagues on rushed process, legislation to protect “one giant corporation” (video)

If you missed it with this week’s marathon sessions at the General Assembly, be sure to take 14 minutes this weekend to listen to Rep. John Blust repeatedly challenge his colleagues on the House floor for their efforts to rush through the controversial Farm Act.

(As Policy Watch’s Lisa Sorg has reported SB 711 would all but erase the rights of neighbors of industrialized hog farms to sue for nuisance. The bill follows a $50 million dollar verdict in April in which Smithfield Foods lost a high profile nuisance suit to several Bladen County families.)

Rep. Blust, a Guilford County Republican, blasted legislative leaders for fast tracking the bill in response to an April court ruling, and then refusing to allow any amendments to be considered.

“We’re the people’s house and the people’s legislature, and we ought to do business in a deliberative fashion that befits the trust that’s been bestowed on us by the people.”

And for those who opted not to speak up, Blust offered this blunt assessment:

“What we do here is not a small matter. And people who really don’t want to look at these bills and have the debates, there’s still time till August to go ahead and take your name off the ballot and your party can  replace you. This is our duty.”

Click below to watch Rep. Blust’s full 14 minute speech:

In the end, the Republican-controlled House voted 65-42 to approve the farm Act, sending the measure to Governor Roy Cooper’s desk.

News

ACLU sues state over failure to help prisoners battling deadly disease

This is from the good people at the ACLU of NC:

ACLU & Incarcerated People Sue N.C. for Failure to Provide Life-Saving Treatment

Three people incarcerated in North Carolina prisons who suffer from Hepatitis C filed a federal class-action lawsuit against state officials today, arguing that North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) refuses to provide medically necessary, life-saving treatment for this highly communicable disease for no justifiable reason.

Hepatitis C is the most deadly infectious disease in the U.S., killing more Americans than the next 60 infectious diseases combined. North Carolina does not provide universal testing for Hepatitis C for all people incarcerated, even though the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease and the Infectious Diseases Society of America recommend doing so. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that as many as one third of all people incarcerated in the U.S. suffer from the contagious disease. If left untreated, Hepatitis C can lead to liver cancer, portal hypertension, painful symptoms, and death.

“North Carolina’s cruel and arbitrary refusal to treat or even test incarcerated people for this deadly but curable disease has created a public health crisis that puts everyone at risk,” said Emily Seawell, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of North Carolina. “The vast majority of people incarcerated will one day return to their communities. Not testing or treating everyone incarcerated for Hepatitis C guarantees that countless people will return to communities suffering from a highly communicable disease, leading to increased suffering and death that will ultimately cost more for taxpayers.”

The three men’s class-action lawsuit, filed on behalf of all people incarcerated in North Carolina with Hepatitis C, argues that the state’s denial of medical service violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Read more

Defending Democracy, News

Expert: Want to preserve our democracy? End gerrymandering (with video)

If this week’s roller coaster legislative sessions have left you reeling, take time today to learn about how redistricting reform could greatly improve the political discourse in our state.

Tom Ross, former President of the University of North Carolina system and co-chairman of the bi-partisan board of directors of North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform, will speak at Campbell University’s School of Law in downtown Raleigh at noon to address the benefits of reforming the way North Carolina draws its Congressional and legislative districts.

Mr. Ross’ presentation will include an update on the redistricting cases before the Supreme Court and other critical legal battles.  He will also outline a plan of action for North Carolina to fairly draw Congressional and state districts.

NC Policy Watch had the opportunity to talk with Ross this week about the benefits of an independent system of redistricting where politicians do not draw their own districts.

This afternoon’s event is open to the public and is co-sponsored by the North Carolina Business Council and North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform. It will take place in room 313 at Campbell University’s Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law, located at 225 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh.

Doors will open at 11:30am and the presentation will start at 12:00pm.

Commentary

Cooper rightfully blasts Trump’s “ransom” proposal on offshore oil and gas drilling

In case you missed it amongst all of the hubbub and chaos at the General Assembly this week, Gov. Roy Cooper issued strong statement of opposition yesterday in response to the Trump administration’s latest scheme to force Atlantic Coast states to allow oil and gas drilling. The Trump plan would actually force states to pay the federal government to be exempt from drilling. Here’s Cooper’s statement:

Cooper Joins Governors to Oppose Legislation Demanding Ransom In Order To Be Exempt From Offshore Drilling
Proposed Legislation Would Charge States Hundreds of Millions of Dollars to Prevent Drilling Off Their Coasts

Governor Cooper today joined a coalition of Atlantic Coast governors from Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Virginia to urge Congress to oppose the Enhancing State Management of Federal Lands and Waters Act. In a joint letter, the governors called on congressional leaders to reject the proposal to charge the taxpayers of states opposed to offshore drilling if they want to secure an exemption.

“North Carolina should not have to pay a ransom to protect our beaches from the dangers of offshore drilling. Our coastal communities generate more than 30,000 jobs and the risk posed by offshore drilling simply isn’t worth it,” said Governor Cooper.

Since the Trump Administration’s proposal to open the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to offshore drilling, bipartisan Governors of coastal states have spoken out in opposition, citing the critical threat posed by drilling to tourism, commercial fishing and coastal economies. The Enhancing State Management of Federal Lands and Waters Act would charge states based on a formula to receive an exemption. Initial calculations estimate North Carolina could have to pay more than $500 million to receive a waiver to protect its shores from offshore drilling.

Nags Head Mayor Ben Cahoon is set to testify today against the bill before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources in Washington, DC. For more on that hearing, please click HERE.

In the letter, the governors are clear in their opposition to the federal government using the health of coastal economies as leverage to extort money from Atlantic Coast states.

“Our constituents have been clear about the need to protect our shorelines: our environment, our jobs, and our economies depend on it. We ask that Congress recognize and respect the rights of states to protect our waters without being held hostage by the combined effects of the Interior Department’s dangerous proposal and this misguided legislation,” the letter states.

In North Carolina, dozens of coastal communities and elected officials from both sides of the aisle have expressed opposition to offshore drilling. Last year, Gov. Cooper submitted public comments opposing seismic testing and drilling off North Carolina’s coast and on January 20th, he requested an official exemption for North Carolina in a call with Interior Secretary Zinke. In February, Cooper hosted Zinke along with Attorney General Josh Stein and a bipartisan group of coastal elected officials to express their opposition to drilling off of North Carolina’s coast.

Read the full letter here.

Commentary

Charlotte Observer condemns legislative plan to end protection for people with preexisting conditions

In case you missed it this morning, there was an excellent editorial in the Charlotte Observer condemning the last-minute scheme by Republican leaders at the General Assembly to undermine one of the most important and popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Under the last minute bill, the state Farm Bureau would be empowered to establish new, cheapo insurance plans (featuring no protections for people with preexisting conditions) with which it could cherry pick young and healthy enrollees and leave a sicker risk pool in the individual market, thus destabilizing the insurance market and causing premiums to skyrocket for those in need of comprehensive coverage.

This is from “NC Republicans rush to eliminate a key Obamacare benefit”:

“True to form, N.C. Republicans are wasting little time making life more difficult for the vulnerable in our state.

This time, that means those among us who have preexisting health conditions — the kind that used to result in high insurance premiums or denial of coverage altogether before the Affordable Care Act made those practices illegal. Protecting Americans with preexisting conditions is one of the most popular elements of Obamacare, but Republicans from Washington to Raleigh are nevertheless doing their best to eliminate such benefits.

In Raleigh, the newest effort is a legislative provision that allows for non-profits to offer health benefit plans to its members. Those plans would offer varying degrees of benefits, including some less expensive tiers that don’t cover preexisting conditions….

Supporters of the plans say they’re about offering coverage to people who don’t want or can’t afford pricey Obamacare plans. But Republicans know that nothing happens in a vacuum with health insurance, and the cascade that would result from such plans is clear. Health benefit plans would allow non-profits to pluck young and healthy customers from the ACA, which in turn would force insurers to raise premiums even more to cover the costs of the less healthy folks and elderly who remain on Obamacare.

Eventually, people with preexisting conditions will pay much more for insurance, especially if non-profits are allowed to let non-members join for a small fee to get access to the cheap health plans. The result: Obamacare will be gutted. So will its preexisting conditions benefit.”