News

vote2In an order issued today, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to expedite an appeal of a lower court’s refusal to block voting law changes from taking effect this November, and has scheduled argument on that appeal for September 25 in Charlotte.

That lower court refusal came in the form of  a 125-page decision released at 5 p.m. on August 8 by U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder, who ruled that the upcoming November elections would go forward under provisions of the new voting law enacted by the General Assembly in 2013.

For North Carolina voters, that meant that for this election cycle, there would be no same-day registration, early voting days would be reduced from 17 to 10, and votes cast out-of-precinct would not be counted.

Here is the order.

For more background on the case and the lower court order, read here.

News

The head of North Carolina’s troubled health and human services department told lawmakers Tuesday that moving the Medicaid program out from under her purview to a stand-alone agency would “be against common sense.”

“Absolutely not,” said N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos in a response to a question about whether moving the $13 billion Medicaid outside of her domain would make things easier on the agency.

“To separate parts of [DHHS functions] out to the department will actually go backwards,” she said.

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

Wos made her comments Tuesday at a legislative oversight committee hearing. It also comes as lawmakers consider whether to embark next year on an ambitious plan by Senate Republicans to move the state’s Medicaid program to a standalone agency reporting jointly to the governor and state lawmakers.

A special program evaluation committee recently formed to consider different scenarios for Medicaid, an entitlement program that provides health care for the poor seniors, children and disabled residents, is funded through a mix of federal and state dollars.

Lawmakers have for years voiced frustration with faulty budget forecasts and unexpected cost overruns within the Medicaid program. Several Republican politicians — including legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory — have held up the forecasting roblems as reason why North Carolina should not expand its Medicaid program, a move that would tap federal money to provide healthcare for an estimated 400,000 North Carolinians unable to afford their own insurance.

Wos, a Greensboro physician and wealthy Republican fundraiser appointed by McCrory to lead the state’s largest agency in January 2013, had plenty of other tough topics to cover with Tuesday’s legislative oversight committee. The tense reception has become a routine scenario for Wos as she’s grappled with negative coverage over high-dollar personal contracts and raises for close associates, as well as major disruptions in the state’s Medicaid billing and food stamp dispersal systems.

On Tuesday, Wos and her staff faced questions about a $6.8 million no-bid contract given to a consulting firm Alvarez & Marshal to advise and manage the Medicaid program.

Wos told lawmakers that she needed to hire the firm because she didn’t have any staff able to manage the program properly as she and other agency staff were developing a comprehensive Medicaid reform plan.

“We had an emergency,” Wos said. “We had to figure out how to get our daily work done.”

State law requires most contracts to go through a bidding process, in order to keep costs down and to allow for competition in lucrative contracts. Wos credited the consulting firm’s work with allowing the Medicaid program to meet its budget this year, and return $63 million to the state’s general fund.

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Commentary

Climate change - droughtTo call the global discussion over climate change a “debate” is actually quite generous. It’s kind of  like describing the interactions that one has with one’s first grader over the value of an early bedtime or a cupcakes-only diet as a “debate.” Yeah, it’s true that there are two different “sides” with strongly held views, but the notion that “the debate” should continue (and that the first grader should be taken seriously) long after the facts have been thoroughly and repeatedly explained to him or her by someone who knows a hell of a lot more about the subject is obviously ridiculous.

With this as background, consider the following competing “sides” that have taken the stage this week in the global “debate” over C02 pollution and climate change:

On one side: 97 actual, peer-reviewed climate scientists from around the world who are each posting a paragraph over the course four days this week under the banner “97 hours of consensus.”

And on the other: this week’s featured speaker at the John Locke Foundation’s Shaftsbury Society luncheon who claimed yesterday (we’re not making this up) that the climate scientists are all a part of a “carbon cult” that is wrongfully maligning carbon dioxide — a substance that he claims is actually helping to beneficially “green the planet.”

Lord help us.

Commentary
Cover me

Image: NC AIDS Action Network – www.ncaan.org

A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts makes clearer than ever just how mean-spirited and morally bankrupt the decision of state lawmakers and Governor McCrory to turn down federally-funded Medicaid coverage for hundreds of thousands of  low-income North Carolinians is turning out to be. The report, “Southern States Are Now Epicenter of HIV/AIDS in the U.S.” tells the story of a woman from New York named Deadra Malloy who had successfully managed her HIV infection for decades while living in New York where public subsidies made medication affordable. When she moved to North Carolina and then South Carolina, however, all that changed. Soon she was skimping on necessary drugs and quickly wound up in the hospital with pneumonia.

As the story notes, the woman’s case is sadly typical:  Read More

Commentary

fuzzy-math-300x225In case you missed it, one of this morning’s “must reads” is a story posted late yesterday by WRAL reporter Mark Binker about the ongoing controversy over North Carolina’s muddled and troubled new teacher pay plan.  As Binker reports:

When Gov. Pat McCrory wrote to welcome teachers back to the classroom, he touted a “substantial” pay raise that amounted to “an average pay increase of 5.5 percent for teachers.”

That might have been exciting news, except that legislative leaders have been touting a 7 percent average pay raise for more than a month now. House Speaker Thom Tillis trumpets that 7 percent figures as “simple math” in a recent campaign ad for his U.S. Senate campaign.

For educators like Michelle Pettey, a first-grade teacher at Wake County’s Brier Creek Elementary School, that “simple math” doesn’t add up; 5.5 percent doesn’t equal 7 percent and neither number matches the smaller-than-expected pay bump that showed up in her first paycheck of the year.

“No teacher can figure out what happened,” said Pettey, a teacher with 16 years in the classroom who said her actual raise worked out to be something like 1.39 percent over last year’s salary. The single mom whose own kinds are in the school system says she has friends outside the profession who ask her why teachers are complaining about a 7 percent raise.

According to Binker’s story, the confusing new plan has even left one of the state’s most powerful politicians — Senate Rules Committee chairman Tom Apodaca — confused.

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