Courts & the Law, News

Lawmakers announce agreement to ‘Raise the Age’ in final budget beginning December 2019

Starting in December 2019, 16- and 17-year-olds who commit misdemeanors and some felonies will no longer be charged as adults in the criminal justice system.

The language in the final budget bill has not yet been released, but legislators announced their agreement at a press conference Monday evening. If the final budget is approved, North Carolina will officially become the last state in the nation to raise the juvenile age of prosecution.

Details were scant at the press conference, but Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) said there is planning and funding in the budget for raise the age legislation.

He also said that the language agreed upon would mean raising the age for teens charged with misdemeanors and two classes of felonies. There are 10 classes of felonies.

Sen. Shirley Randleman (R-Stokes, Surry, Wilkes) said raise the age would be implemented in December 2019, per the budget.

Legislators are hopeful the budget will be posted online tonight. If so, the Senate expects to vote on it Tuesday and Wednesday. If not, they will vote Wednesday and Thursday, according to Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

Advocates have been working for years to raise the age in North Carolina. In May, the House overwhelmingly approved House Bill 280, a raise the age measure that was crafted based on a series of recommendations made by a commission chaired by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin, who endorsed the proposal.

“We applaud legislators on both sides of the aisle for uniting behind this commonsense effort to do what’s right for the safety and future of North Carolina’s young people,” said ACLU-NC Policy Counsel Susanna Birdsong. “North Carolina’s century-old policy of sending 16- and 17-year-olds to adult jails and branding them with lifelong criminal records has been a blight on our state and done nothing to make our communities safer. It is long past time for young offenders in North Carolina to have the same opportunities as those in the rest of the country to turn their lives around through the juvenile justice system.”

News

Court of Appeals denies Cooper’s latest bid to stop already merged ethics, elections board

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper

Gov. Roy Cooper’s latest effort to stop the merging of the State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission failed, as the state Court of Appeals denied his request for a temporary stay pending his appeal of the new law.

The order, like many court orders in this case, does not state why the court denied Cooper’s request.

“The petition and motion filed in this cause by petitioner Roy A. Cooper, III, on 15 June 2017 and
designated ‘Plaintiff-Petitioner Roy A. Cooper, III’s Petition for Writ of Supersedeas and Motion for
Temporary Stay’ are decided as follows: The motion for temporary stay is denied. A ruling on the petition for writ of supersedeas will be made upon the filing of a response to the petition or the expiration of the time for a response if no response is filed.”

The order was issued Friday, the day after Cooper filed his request with the court. You can read more about the request here.

The two agencies have merged into the Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, which is currently operating without a board. Cooper is supposed to appoint all eight members, four Democrats and four Republicans, of the new board from a list of names compiled by the majority parties.

Josh Lawson, General Counsel for the State Board of Elections, notified Cooper’s attorney of the vacancies in a June 5 email.

“I have advised the State Board Office to continue in the performance of its statutory duties and exercise of regulatory oversight of ethics, elections, and campaign finance as to all matters in which the statutes do not expressly require a vote of the State Board,” he states in the email.

Lawson adds that Senate Bill 68 does not provide for an interim board and general hold-over provisions are of little value because the law abolishes the Board of Elections and Ethics Commission.

Patrick Gannon, a spokesman for the new Board, said Monday that state ethics and elections staff are working to merge functions of the two former agencies to promote efficiency and transparency.

“Examples of these areas include the receipt and processing of required disclosure filings, required training, complaint evaluation, investigations and information technology resources, among others,” he said.

Cooper’s overall appeal is still pending.

News

Concealed carry, crime, Texas and N.C.

With the North Carolina legislature considering a bill to do away with permits for carrying concealed handguns under most circumstances, it’s worth looking at one of the central claims of its proponents.

Namely, that concealed carry may deter crime by making criminals unsure who may have a gun and be ready to defend themselves and others.

Here’s what a Texas A&M researcher found in a study two years ago, when the Texas legislature opened state university campuses to concealed carry: No demonstrable correlation.

The study published in the Journal of Criminology looked at the connection between crime rates and concealed handgun permits for each county in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas.

Researchers used two sources of data from 1998 to 2010: concealed handgun license information and arrest data from Uniform Crime Reports, which the FBI compiles nationwide to gauge arrests for serious crimes including homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft and arson.

Overall, they found no connection between allowing concealed weapons and crime rates, which are trending downward nationwide.

“The idea that concealed handguns lead to less crime is at the center of much firearms legislation, but the science behind that conclusion has been murky,” said study lead Charles D. Phillips, an emeritus regents professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, in a statement. “The results have been so inconclusive that the National Academy of Sciences in 2004 called for a new approaches to studying the issue, which is what we’ve done with this research.”

Read the whole study here.

Environment, Trump Administration

“This request is a disaster”: House committee grills EPA’s Scott Pruitt over Trump budget

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt defended President Trump’s deep cuts to the agency’s budget at a House Appropriations Committee hearing (Screenshot: www.house.gov)

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt faced a largely hostile House Appropriations Committee last week, which over two hours, grilled him over an anemic agency budget, proposed by President Trump.

“This budget request is a disaster,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-New York).

Trump’s budget reduces overall funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by a third — $2.4 billion — from last year’s levels. When accounting for inflation, this is the lowest EPA proposal in 40 years. The budget proposal eliminates 3,800 jobs and 47 programs, including radon protection, endocrine disruptor research, and Energy Star, which has saved customers $430 billion on their utility bills since 1992.

The president’s budget and policy decisions, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), said, “indicate Trump’s contempt for science.” The proposal slashes the budget for core projects such as Superfund (31 percent) and diesel emissions reduction grants (83 percent), climate change programs (91 percent) and scientific research (46 percent).

Rep. Betty McCollum: Through the EPA budget “the Trump administration has shown its contempt for science.” (Screenshot: www.house.gov)

These cuts could reduce the work done in North Carolina: The state has nearly 40 Superfund sites; more than $1.5 million in diesel grants have been awarded since 2013. The EPA office in Research Triangle Park employees more than 2,000 federal workers and contract employees.

I can't allow harm to be done to the American people that this budget would inflict Click To Tweet

“President Trump can propose this destructive budget and Mr. Pruitt can defend or promote it, “McCollum added. “But Congress and this committee determine funding. I won’t support a budget below 2017 levels. I cannot allow the harm to be done to the American people that this budget would inflict.”

Many Republicans were likewise concerned about how their respective districts would suffer from such a hollowing out of the agency. “In many instances, the budget proposes to significantly reduce or terminate programs that are vitally important to each member on this committee,” said Ken Calvert (R-California).

Pruitt, who as attorney general of Oklahoma, sued the EPA dozens of times and has close ties to the fossil fuel industry, defended the budget. He asserted that the EPA can “fulfill our mission with a trim budget with proper leadership and management.”

The EPA would reduce its workforce by 3,800 people. Pruitt said this would be achieved through “attrition, a hiring freeze and voluntary buyouts.” Twenty percent of EPA workers are eligible for retirement, although forcing out experienced employees could leave large gaps in the agency’s institutional memory and scientific expertise.

Pruitt insinuated that the cuts would come primarily from EPA headquarters, where about half the workforce is located. “Your want EPA offices throughout the country, working with the states,” he said.

The budget, he said, is sufficient to support the EPA’s core principles of “the rule of law, process and respect for the role of the states.” Pruitt was referring to the controversial Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States, which were not passed by Congress but a product of EPA rulemaking. His remarks about the states pointed to the agency’s plan to delegate more authority to them — albeit without sufficient federal funding — with the EPA intervening only if absolutely necessary.

“I’m baffled about how you’re going to have the tools to do that,” McCollum said. “I can wish for a lot of things. But how do I make those things happen with real dollars and real employees.”

The budget hearing occurred shortly after Trump announced that the US would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. Rep. Lowey  noted that climate change programs within the EPA would be essentially eliminated under the proposal. “Your budget shows a willful ignorance to the threat that climate change poses,” Lowey said. “We have a moral responsibility to safeguard our planet. This budget would fall short on that obligation.”

 

News, Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools

With budget compromise pending, Governor’s School waits for news

In case you missed, The News & Observer provided a look this weekend into Governor’s School as it reopened for summer session in the midst of great uncertainty over its future. 

House and Senate lawmakers are expected to announce their state budget compromise Monday, and it remains to be seen whether a Senate proposal to chop $800,000 in state funding for the program will be included in the final spending package.

The House budget retains funding for Governor’s School, while Gov. Roy Cooper has asked the legislature to boost the allocation to $1.2 million.

The program, begun in 1963, offers five-week summer programs in Raleigh and Winston-Salem for top high school students, with a focus on critical thinking, academics and the arts.

As the paper notes, Governor’s School has become a target of GOP lawmakers in recent years.

From The N&O:

Karen and David Shore of Holly Springs dropped off their son, Carter, at Meredith on Sunday. Carter plays the French horn and said he wanted to attend the school after learning about a friend’s experiences last summer. He said he was excited to play with the “best from around North Carolina.”

Carter and his parents said he would learn more than just music while on campus. One class he’s taking deals with personal finance. His mother said she hopes the legislature takes a closer look at the program before making a final decision.

“I hope they realize how great it is for North Carolina students and what an investment it is,” Karen Shore said. “You have to spend now but it pays off later.”

Yet over the past eight years, the budget for the Governor’s School has either decreased or remained unchanged. In 2009, the school’s budget was cut from $1.3 million to $850,000. In 2011, the program nearly lost all funding before the General Assembly agreed to provide $800,000.

Laura Sam, Governor’s School East site director at Meredith, said because funding has remained static for years while North Carolina’s population has grown, the program cannot match demand. The Governor’s School enrolled 670 students for the summer, but Sam said it received 1,796 applicants this year and more than 1,700 the year before.

The program charges $500 in tuition to help make up for lower state funding. While it offers scholarships to those who might not be able to afford tuition, Sam said she knows some students might ignore the school once they see the cost.

“We have not failed, we have succeeded … but we are not fully funded,” she said.

The Senate plan to end state funding for the program would direct money to revive a different summer program, the Legislative School for Leadership and Public Service, and to a four-week science, math and engineering residential program run by the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics.

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