Commentary

Governor Pat McCrory again questioned the need for the misnamed Religious Freedom Restoration Act Monday, but as the Charlotte Observer’s Jim Morrill reports, he once again refused to promise to veto the bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation.

“I’m not even sure it will get to my desk, so why comment?” the governor said after an appearance at UNC Charlotte. “I need the process to work to see if it will even get to my desk.”

But McCrory has commented plenty of times before about pending legislation and specifically threatened a veto. Last session for example, he threatened to veto an early version of a bill restricting access to abortion services.

He threatened to veto a charter school bill that wouldn’t require school salaries to be disclosed and he threatened to veto the budget last summer if some of the cuts to education and human services were included in the final budget agreement.

Threatening to use his veto is not new to McCrory.

The question is why he won’t make that same pledge now to protect LGBT North Carolinians from discrimination?

Commentary, Justice Denied for McCollum and Brown
Henry McCollum listening to evidence of his innocence. Photo by Jenny Warburg / Courtesy of North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Henry McCollum listening to evidence of his innocence. Photo by Jenny Warburg / Courtesy of North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

It has now been 221 days since Governor Pat McCrory received a formal request for a pardon from Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, two Robeson County men who both spent 31 years in prison for a rape and murder they did not commit.

McCollum and Brown, both mentally disabled, were freed September 4 of last year after the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission found DNA evidence that proved another man had committed the crimes.

Governor Pat McCrory issued a press release the same day, saying he was “heartened to see the convictions of Henry McCollum and Leon Brown vacated by the court” and that he would begin reviewing their applications for pardons of innocence as soon as they were received.

McCrory’s office received the applications 221 days ago and nothing has happened. The News & Observer reported two months ago that McCollum and Brown were unable to pay their bills and were relying on donations from friends and supporters to survive. At one point their water was turned off because they couldn’t afford to pay for it.

They are entitled under state law to $50,000 for every year they were wrongly incarcerated up to a maximum of $750,000 but they can’t get it until they receive a formal pardon of innocence from McCrory, who has yet to grant it or say anything publicly about the case.

The state of North Carolina robbed McCollum and Brown of 31 years of their lives. Now the governor is denying them justice again, preventing them from receiving the restitution to which they are entitled.

It is simply a disgrace.

NC Policy Watch plans to remind Gov. McCrory of this gross miscarriage of justice every day until he does the right thing and grants the pardon the two men deserved 221 days ago.

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News

Individuals and groups challenging North Carolina’s 2011 redistricting plan wasted little time today getting their case back before the state Supreme Court, filing papers a short while ago asking for an expedited hearing and decision in time for elections in 2016.

That request followed on the heels of this morning’s U.S. Supreme Court order vacating the state court’s December 2014 decision upholding the plan and calling for a new hearing in light of the high court’s late March decision in a similar Alabama case.

In today’s filing, the plan’s challengers pointed out five ways in which the state Supreme Court decision erred, given the analysis called for by the justices in the Alabama case:

First, the United States Supreme Court’s Alabama decision establishes that the trial court here correctly concluded that race was the dominant factor used to draw the challenged Senate, House, and Congressional Districts. Indeed, under the Supreme Court’s decision, there is no reasonable basis to conclude that race was not the predominant factor used by the North Carolina General Assembly in drawing the challenged districts.

Second, the decision establishes that North Carolina’s Section 5 justification for its race-based actions is invalid, unfounded, and unsupported by the text of Section 5.

Third, the decision establishes that even if North Carolina had a compelling Section 5 justification for its race-based actions, it failed to narrowly tailor the challenged districts to conform to any such justification.

Fourth, the decision and the remand in these cases strongly suggest that North Carolina’s Section 2 justification for its race-based actions is also invalid and unfounded and unsupported by the text of Section 2.

Fifth, the decision and the remand strongly suggest that even if North Carolina had a compelling Section 2 justification for its race-based actions, it failed to narrowly tailor the challenged districts to conform to any such justification.

They are asking the court to set a schedule that envisions an initial determination whether the case has to go back to the three-judge trial panel for additional findings and then further briefing if necessary at the Supreme Court to be completed by the end of June, with argument to follow as soon as possible thereafter.

To that end, it’s worth noting that the state’s highest court has already scheduled an unusual late June argument day to hear an expedited appeal of the Governor’s lawsuit against the legislative leaders concerning commission appointments.

Click here to read the challenger’s motion in full.

NC Budget and Tax Center

The ongoing, raging debate at the federal level regarding tax changes highlights the contrast between the proposals being put forward by President Obama and Congress for developing a budget and supporting the economy. The President would like to provide tax cuts to middle-income taxpayers – by enhancing the Child Care Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, for example. Congress, by contrast, would like to repeal the federal estate tax, for example, which would benefit the wealthy.

The estate tax is essentially a tax on very large inheritances by a small group of wealthy heirs. An estate must have a value of $5.4 million (after related debt is accounted for) before the estate tax applies. Only the estates of the wealthiest 0.2 percent of Americans – roughly 2 out of every 1,000 people who die – owe any estate tax.

A repeal of the estate tax amounts to a massive windfall for those heirs. Proponents often claim that the estate tax hurts small farmers and businesses by forcing people to sell their family farm or business. In North Carolina we have heard this claim despite no evidence presented to support the claim. Still, proponents have continued to make the claim over the years, as Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research notes. In the early 2000s, the American Farm Bureau Federation, a leading advocate for repealing the estate tax, could not cite a single example of a farm lost because of estate taxes.

North Carolina state lawmakers latched onto this false claim back in 2013 to repeal the state’s estate tax. Read More

News

Members of the House Judiciary Committee, who will be discussing legislation today to increase the financial accountability of North Carolina’s charter schools, might want to revisit what happened to the students of a recently shuttered school in Columbus County.

As WECT-TV reported last week, SEGS Academy in Delco, NC gave parents just two days notice this month before closing its doors. That sent many students back to their public school district, without any funding:

segs“…the influx of students means some teachers have larger classes and little time to prepare the newcomers for end-of-grade tests, even though their scores will count toward Acme-Delco’s letter grade.

“We don’t have very much time to find out where they are, what they need and how we can make the very most of the last few days of this school year,” Hedrick said.

Because the former SEGS students are transferring so late, Columbus County Schools won’t get any state money for educating them through the end of the school year, according to Superintendent Alan Faulk.

“We’re going to teach them no matter what. It would have been nice had some funding come with them, but there is no funding and that’s not going to affect the way that we teach the children,” Faulk said. “We’re helping out in a situation that went bad, and we’ll do everything we can to help the students.”

Faulk said Tuesday his schools had enrolled approximately 25 former SEGS students, but he expected more to follow because 61 students who live in Columbus County’s district attended the charter school in March.”

House Bill 96, up for consideration this afternoon in Judiciary I, would addresses debt collection from personally liable individuals following the dissolution of a charter school.

The bill would also require the Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Charter Schools to maintain a database of individuals with the authority to expend funds on behalf of charter schools.

A favorable vote today and the bill will head to Regulatory Reform.

You can read more about SEGS’ recent decision to voluntarily close its doors here.