Commentary

GunsIt shows you how far off course North Carolina government has strayed in recent years that so many good people are in a celebratory mood this morning after the Senate’s passage last night of legislation to further loosen state gun regulations. The source of the happiness (or at least, the relief), of course, is the fact that the bill has been transformed from the terrifying monster it was a few weeks ago into a junkyard dog. Provisions that would have scrapped the state’s handgun permitting system and limited doctors’ ability to ask patients about guns in the home, for instance, were removed.

That said, the bill remains dangerous and unnecessary. As the good people at North Carolinians Against Gun Violence explained last night:

“The bill loosens gun restrictions by allowing guns in locked cars at the state fairgrounds during the State Fair. It will also allow someone to take a gun out of a locked car on educational property to defend themselves or others against a threatening situation, a role advocates say is better left to law enforcement. Limiting local jurisdiction, the bill weakens municipalities’ ability to determine when and where guns are allowed. It also downgrades carrying a concealed weapon on private property to an infraction.”

In other words, when Gov. McCrory signs the bill into law — as he presumably will — North Carolina will have more killing machines in more places than before.

Whoopee!

So, congratulations to the advocates who helped beat back the original version of the legislation. It was one of the first successes gun safety advocates have had in North Carolina in a long time and a lot of people deserve great credit for their hard and courageous work and important success. Let’s hope, however, that this is just the first baby step for a growing movement that will not just staunch the state’s bleeding, but ultimate;y help heal the wounds brought on by several years of senseless gun deregulation.

Commentary

Glowing computer screens, florescent lights, spreadsheets, graphs and charts. That’s how many of us spend our day. In the age of instant information, we rely on numbers and statistics and reports to paint pictures of the world that lies beyond the view of our office window. And we’ve gotten good at it. We understand wage and employment trends and we can measure equality and growth.

Despite the growing capacity to track and measure and capture data, we’re still failing to understand the whole picture. This is especially true when it comes to understanding North Carolina’s small and rural communities. The voices from these communities are often absent from the problem solving table. As a result, decisions are typically made on behalf of these communities based off of our imperfect understanding of what their needs and wants truly are.

Last week I enjoyed some time outside of the office and beyond the Triangle. I walked on a wooden suspension bridge that spans the Tar River, traced the Greenway on a map that connected the River to downtown, and heard about the efforts to revitalize the downtown and local economy through attracting private capital and investing public dollars.

I was in Rocky Mount. I was excited to see the kinds of ways that grassroots leaders, city officials and planners and business owners are reimagining their city and with it the region.

Over the past few years, Edgecombe and Nash counties have received national notoriety for their crime rates and poverty levels. And while these counties face very real difficulties, the negative stories do not represent the reality of the entire region or the recent efforts that are beginning to bear fruit. Residents and local leaders are beginning to take back the narrative of their community.

Residents of Nash and Edgecombe have launched an effort to take their name back and tell their own stories of their communities, one that moves beyond statistics and fear toward collaboration and hope. In 2013, a citizen group, called The Positive Image Action Group, was formed to combat those negative images and to tell the story of their hometown from their perspective. Earlier this month, the group launched the first phase of a campaign to take back the name of the twin counties.

“Twin Counties – Here’s to Success” is a marketing campaign designed to highlight the positive and promising stories of citizens and business in Edgecombe and Nash County. Read More

Commentary

The North Carolina Senate is scheduled to take up legislation this evening that would, among other worrisome things, strike a large and troubling blow for the cause of government secrecy. The subject is the death penalty and the legislation in question would specifically amend the state public records law to make clear that citizens will be prohibited from finding out information about the drugs that will be used kill people in their name — including who makes them. This is from an Associated Press story from last Thursday:

“The state Senate could vote as soon as next week on legislation clarifying executions are exempt from state requirements for the public rule-making process. That would allow officials to find new drugs for lethal injection more quickly and with less public review. The bill also eases restrictions on the types of drugs used and prohibits disclosing where they are manufactured.”

As bad is all of this is, however, listen to the explanation for this provision advanced by the bill’s main sponsor:

“When asked by a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee whether his bill decreased transparency, Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, said he agreed it did. But he argued that a certain level of secrecy was required to protect drug manufacturers.

‘If you tell them where the drug comes from, there will be 300 people outside the building,’ Daughtry said.”

In other words, lawmakers want to keep the drugs secret so that, well, so that no one will find out what they are or where they come from and then, perish the thought, use the information to communicate with the pharmaceutical companies that make them.

What an outrageous concept! Citizens using public information to find out the identities of the companies to whom their government is giving public funds to buy drugs to kill people in the public’s name and then, perhaps, exercising their First Amendment rights to target protests against those companies.

This from lawmakers who came to power championing “transparency” and an “open” and “small” government.

Perhaps the stunning hypocrisy of all this (not to mention the very troubling precedent that would be established) explains why the North Carolina Press Association (of which — full disclosure — NC Policy Watch is a member) opposes the legislation.

Let’s hope that, regardless of their views on the death penalty, lawmakers wake up to the real world dangers of this new provision and the symbolic, Big Brother-like message it sends.

News

In case you missed it, WRAL’s Tyler Dukes had a good story this weekend sorting through whether or not teacher assistants have any positive effect at all in the classroom and whether the Senate’s proposal to cut 80 percent of TA jobs over the upcoming biennium is the state’s largest layoff in history.

The conclusion? Like most things, it’s complicated.

Decades-old research suggests TAs don’t help students in grades K-3 improve academically — but Michael Maher, a professor at NC State University, said it’s really hard to make that determination.

“Because students enter early grades at different levels of preparation, assistants typically allow teachers to provide instruction on a more individual level depending on a students’ needs.

“You can really, within the context of your classroom, have students working at different levels,” Maher said. “If I’m a single teacher, it’s much harder to do that.”

NC Policy Watch’s Chris Fitzsimon spoke with Alamance-Burlington Schools’ chief Dr. Bill Harrison (who is also a former chair of the State Board of Education) this past weekend, who said in his experience TAs play a critical role in making sure students succeed—particularly for those students who have special needs or are English language learners.

“Probably in 90 percent of our elementary classrooms I visit I have to ask the principal which one is the teacher and which one is the teacher assistant,” said Harrison, who was away from the classroom for more than five years as he served on the State Board of Ed and has observed a big change in the role of the TA during that time.

“That additional help has become critical,” added Harrison.

(Click above to listen to Fitzsimon interview Dr. Harrison on News & Views)

Senate lawmakers want to take some of the money for TAs to reduce class sizes — an idea that in theory lots of folks seem to support—but making the jump from TAs to smaller classes at the end of the school year, or even after the school year begins, may prove to be a logistical nightmare.

“We don’t have the classroom space to reduce class size, plus at that time of the year I don’t think we’ll be able to find the teachers that we need,” said Harrison.

As for whether or not stripping classrooms of TAs to the tune of 8,500+ jobs over two years amounts to the state’s largest layoff in history — well, that’s a little unclear, but it seems to rank up there according to the WRAL report.

DPI’s chief financial officer Philip Price told WRAL that kind of comparison isn’t useful, however, when you consider the ballooning student enrollment the state is dealing with.

Since the 2008-09 academic year, the state has seen 43,749 more students enroll in public schools that have seen several years of cuts. In that period, North Carolina Association of Teacher Assistants Secretary Melinda Zarate said, the state lost 7,000 teacher assistants.

“What’s happened is a dramatic reduction in the adults in the school building,” Price said. “This is just adding to a pretty heinous situation.”

Click here to read WRAL’s full report on teacher assistants.

Commentary

McCrory_budget3Rep. Chuck McGrady is the latest legislative leader to question how Governor Pat McCrory, a fellow Republican, is doing his job.

McGrady—one of the House budget chairs—weighed in as part of a weekend Charlotte Observer story about the increasing friction between McCrory and the folks running the General Assembly.

McGrady, a former president of the national Sierra Club, said he would expect to find himself on the same page as a governor who came to office as a moderate conservative. But he laments what he calls “a lot of missed opportunities.”

“There’s a lack of engagement; there’s a lack of relationships,” McGrady said. “It’s like he doesn’t understand what our job is. And some of my colleagues don’t think he understands what his job is.”

As the Observer points out, the comments come on the heels of Senator Tom Apodaca saying McCrory “doesn’t play much of a role in anything,” and Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown saying he couldn’t figure out  “if Pat thinks he is the governor of Charlotte or the mayor of North Carolina,”

Now McGrady is piling on. Just another sunny Monday for the governor.