News

The U.S. Senate on Thursday rejected (54 – 42) a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. (The measure needed 60 votes to advance.)

S.J.RES.19 very simply would have granted Congress and the states the power to “regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents in federal and state elections.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) argued the proposal would “restrict the most important speech the First Amendment protects, core political speech.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) called Thursday’s vote a defeat for democracy, adding that Americans must continue pushing at the grassroots level to overturn a decision which “creates an open door… to pour unlimited sums of money into the political process.”

North Carolina’s two U.S. Senators split on the constitutional amendment. Senator Richard Burr voted against the resolution, while Senator Kay Hagan voted for it.

Click below to hear Sen. Sanders during his recent appearance on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon, in which he discusses the need to overturn Citizens United.

Click here for Thursday’s complete roll call vote.

For more on the influence of big money in our elections, be sure to check out this interactive graphic by the Center for Public Integrity.

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Commentary

construction workerCheck out the News and Observer’s extensively documented series, Contract to Cheat, on the obstacles faced by workers who are misclassified, and how they are being failed by the government agencies that are supposed to protect them.  The Justice Center released a report on wage theft, which includes misclassification, in 2013.

State leaders are, at last, vowing to do more.  They had an opportunity to do so in 2011 and 2013, with legislation introduced by Rep. Rick Glazier to increase penalties for employers and inform workers of their legal rights.  Rep. Larry Hall also introduced a bill in 2013 that would have created a fund to help workers whose employers fail to carry workers’ compensation insurance as required.

There is a whole host of things the General Assembly and state agencies could do that would go a long way toward fixing this problem, including:

  • Increase penalties for employers who misclassify their employees
  • Provide workers with information at the time of hire about how they are being classified, what that means, and their right to be correctly classified
  • Workers should be presumed to be employees. If a worker is to be treated as an independent contractor, the company who hires that worker should have to prove that the classification is correct.
  • The NC Department of Labor should go after employers who misclassify and should be allowed to issue stop work orders against those who don’t carry workers’ compensation coverage
  • North Carolina should have a fund to help workers whose employers fail to carry required workers’ compensation coverage
  • The Division of Employment Services, Department of Revenue, Industrial Commission, and Department of Labor should systematically share information about employers who misclassify workers.

For more information about the legal rights of misclassified workers, look at the Justice Center’s fact sheet.

Commentary

We’ll take good news where we can find it these days and this one from yesterday’s Raleigh News & Observer certainly seems worth celebrating.

Conservative anti-death penalty group active in NC

A North Carolina chapter of a national network of conservatives that wants to put the brakes on — if not outright abolish — the death penalty has become active this year.

A number of prominent Republicans have joined N.C. Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty: Les Merritt, the former state auditor; Ernie Pearson, a former assistant commerce secretary; David Robinson, once the Wake County GOP chairman; Marshall Hurley, former state Republican Party general counsel; Steve Monks, former Durham County GOP chairman; Mark Edwards, the Nash County GOP chairman; and Gerald Galloway, retired police chief in Southern Pines….

The conservative group takes its position based on their belief that the death penalty doesn’t jibe with the small-government philosophy. They also say mistaken convictions, the emotional impact on victims’ families and their pro-life stance are among the reasons people have become members.

Hyden worked for the National Rifle Association and ran a congressional campaign in western North Carolina. The other national coordinator is Heather Beaudoin, who worked for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Meanwhile, in case you had any doubts about how North Carolina was saved from executing an innocent man by dumb luck, read Fannie Flono’s column in this morning’s Charlotte Observer, “The death penalty, luck and innocence.” As Flono notes:

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Commentary

As North Carolina endures the absurd, never-ending ad blitz of a U.S. Senate campaign, here are two quick, must reads that explain: 1) just how far out of hand the wholesale sell-off of our democracy to the top 1% has gotten and 2) what we ought to be doing about it.

Number One is a great, interactive post from the the Center for Public Integrity entitled “Who’s buying the Senate?”  If you follow the link, you can check out a partial list if who is paying (sort of anyway) for the remarkable flood of thousands of junk TV ads (there have already been nearly 50,000 of them on TV  in North Carolina (not including local cable and many other media).

Meanwhile, Number Two is this editorial from yesterday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch that tells you what we ought to be doing to rein in this situation and reclaim control of our democracy – namely, pass the “Democracy for All” amendment that would reestablish the constitutionality of limits on campaign finance.  The editorial is entitled “While America sleeps, plutocrats are stealing its government.” To quote:

Thanks to a series of wretched decisions by the Supreme Court, effective political speech now belongs only to those who can afford it. What’s more, donors can easily keep their names secret.

The court has ruled that money is a form of speech that cannot be abridged. But as Justice John Paul Stevens wrote so succinctly in 2000, upholding Missouri’s campaign finance limits, “Money is property; it is not speech….”

Given the sordid record of the Rehnquist and Roberts courts on campaign finance issues, Democratic Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Michael Bennet of Colorado saw the obvious solution as amending the Constitution to make it clear that democracy is not plutocracy. But that requires the cooperation of the party that benefits from the status quo. When Mr. Udall needed a Republican co-author for an op-ed commentary about his amendment, he had to go Alan Simpson of Wyoming, who retired from the Senate in 1997.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other agents of the plutocrats are couching the vote on SJR 19 as a free-speech issue. Mr. McConnell appears to think that the public will be fooled, or that it doesn’t care. He went along with Majority Leader Harry Reid’s, D-Nev., plans to spend this week debating the amendment.

Don’t be fooled. This is not about free speech rights. It is about property rights, specifically whether those with the most property should have the biggest say in the way government is run. Without enough money to hire consultants and staff and to barrage voters with television ads, candidates for federal and statewide offices — and increasingly, local offices — have virtually no chance of being elected.

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

News

School-vouchersThe spigot of taxpayer-funds flowing to private schools under the state’s recently-enacted school voucher program remains closed as the Court of Appeals yesterday denied a second request by parents and other voucher proponents for emergency relief.

Those parents and proponents — including Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger — have been trying to have voucher funds released while they appeal a ruling by Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood, finding the program unconstitutional.

They had unsuccessfully sought that relief from the Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court even before Hobgood had reduced his ruling to a final written order.

With the final order — issued on August 28 — in hand, the voucher proponents again asked the Court of Appeals to block Hobgood’s order and let money flow while the court reviewed the merits of his decision.

And yesterday, for the second time, the Court of Appeals denied that request for an immediate stay.

The parties will now await a ruling by the Court of Appeals on the voucher proponents’ petition for a review on the merits of the Hobgood order.

Response briefs by the  parties challenging the voucher program are due in court next week.