News

The News & Observer reports that when faced with questions about why the Senate included a provision in its budget proposal that would end retirement health care for future teachers and state employees, some Senate leaders wouldn’t talk.

Sen. Tom Apodaca, who chairs the Pensions, Retirement and Aging Committee, said he couldn’t comment on the proposal because it came from the Senate’s top budget writers – not his committee. And Sen. Harry Brown, one of the chamber’s lead budget writers, walked away from a reporter without speaking when asked about the change.

Calls from N.C. Policy Watch to Senators Brown and Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) also went unanswered as we worked on a story last week highlighting the budget provision, which would eliminate state-paid health retirement benefits for teachers and state employees who are hired after January 1, 2016.

Senator Phil Berger’s office did talk to the N&O, however.

“North Carolina has a massive $26 billion unfunded liability for retiree medical coverage, and the Senate budget is a prudent way to address the long-term viability of the State Health Plan,” said Shelly Carver, a spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger.

Chuck Stone, lobbyist for the State Employees Association of NC (SEANC), told the N&O (as well as Policy Watch) that the Senate’s plan isn’t the way to go.

“Once you take [the health retirement benefit] away, what incentive is there to work for the state?” said Stone. “We are in a rush to have the worst State Health Plan coverage in the United States of America.”

Check out Chris Fitzsimon’s column on the Senate’s plan to end health retirement benefits for future teachers and state employees published this morning.
Commentary

In case you missed it, the lead editorial in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer does a fine job of summarizing the new and disturbing report from the good people at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation: “On Trial for Their Lives: The Hidden Costs of Wrongful Capital prosecutions in North Carolina.”

As the editorial notes:

“District attorneys who choose to bring capital charges often do so as an expression of the public’s outrage over a heinous crime. But a new report suggests that putting a defendant on trial for his life also can involve another sort of outrage – the pursuit of flimsy cases at high cost to taxpayers and great damage to the accused.

The report from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in North Carolina looked at problems with death penalty cases from an unusual perspective. Instead of focusing on defendants who were wrongly convicted, the center studied 56 North Carolina capital cases brought between 1989 and 2015 that ended with an acquittal or dismissal of all charges

The finding of 56 cases is a remarkably high number over the past quarter-century given that the state’s death row population is 148. Presumably, prosecutors would not pursue costly, extended death penalty cases unless there was a high probability of a conviction. But the report found shoddy cases derailed by serious errors or misconduct, including witness coercion, evidence not properly disclosed and bungled investigations.”

The editorial concludes this way:

“In North Carolina, there have been no executions since 2006 because of concerns about the drugs used and the refusal of doctors to participate in a process that by law requires a doctor’s presence. Some in the North Carolina General Assembly are trying to streamline the path to execution by proposing a change that would allow medical personnel other than doctors to fulfill the required medical role.

This report adds another chapter to the evidence that the death penalty and the pursuit of it can border on being crimes in themselves. The record demands that the wrongs wrought by this pursuit of vengeance be ended by the pursuit of justice.”

NC Policy Watch will host a Crucial Conversation luncheon today at noon with the authors of the report. We’ll post the video of the event in the very near future.

News
Doyle Parrish

Doyle Parrish

A member of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors is facing an assault charge related to a May domestic violence incident, the News & Observer is reporting.

Doyle Parrish, who heads the Summit Hospitality Group and was appointed by the state legislature to the university governing board in 2013, was charged with a misdemeanor charge of assault on a female in relation to a May incident reported to Raleigh police.

From the N&O report:

He was arrested last month after a woman said he slapped her and pushed her to the ground in his Raleigh home. Parrish, 61, was charged with one misdemeanor count of assault on a female on May 13, according to court records. The alleged victim, Nancy Parrish, reported the incident to Raleigh police. His wife is named Nancy Parrish.

The woman reported bruising and abrasions on her shin and foot, according to a court document.

Parrish could not be reached.

A magistrate ordered Parrish remain in the Wake County Jail on a mandatory domestic violence hold for two days. A district court judge on May 18 ordered Parrish released on his promise to appear at his next court date and ordered him to stay away from his wife.

The N&O article also mentioned a 2013 email from then-N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis to Republican lawmakers pointing out Parrish was “directly responsible for more than $100,000 in financial support through personal contributions to my campaign committee and other candidates and through the Hospitality Alliance.”

Commentary

While many of us are anxiously waiting for the Supreme Court decision on King v. Burwell, a recent poll shows that 44-percent of people still don’t know much about the case.

The King v. Burwell ruling will determine the legality of health insurance subsidies for states using the federal marketplace. If the Supreme Court rules against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and decides that health insurance subsidies for the 34 states that do not have a state marketplace are “illegal,” more than six million people across the U.S. may lose their ability to access affordable health care. Since they live in one of the states that rely on the federal marketplace, 458,738 North Carolinians could lose their health coverage. Nationally, the average subsidy (or advance tax credit) amount is $272 per month and in North Carolina, people receive $316 per month.

Considering that subsidies could become unavailable as early as September 2015 and that North Carolina has failed to expand Medicaid, the number of uninsured could increase to nearly one-million people. Sylvia Burwell, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, has stated that if there is a negative outcome from the Supreme Court decision on King v. Burwell, the U.S. Congress and state policymakers will have to decide on how to keep access to health coverage affordable.

As data continue to show that the ACA is working to increase access to care – for example, the rate of uninsured women has decreased nearly eight percent since 2013 and 12.2 million adults have access to health care in the 30 states (including DC) that have expanded Medicaid – state lawmakers and Congress may be feeling even more pressure to keep subsidies. Even the Congressional Budget Office has reported that gutting the ACA would increase the deficit by $137 billion by 2025. Despite the potential economic impact, media reports continue to highlight the fact that conservative policymakers in Washington D.C. do not have a better alternative to the ACA. Further, one “fix” proposed by Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin would only extend subsidies for current ACA enrollees until 2017.

If the outcome of King v. Burwell isn’t positive, let’s hope that our state and national policymakers work to keep 6.4 million people insured. No matter how the Supreme Court rules, let’s hope that our state policymakers will take on the next challenge – extending access to affordable health care to 500,000 North Carolinians in the coverage gap as Medicaid expansion makes economic and moral sense.

Commentary
Say no to racism

Image: www.fifa.com

It’s great that conservative politicians, business leaders and sports moguls are speaking out in favor of ending government displays of the Confederate flag.

As Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson said the other day: “Divisive symbols and actions should not stand in conflict to progress, healing and the unification of all our citizens.”

Even the folks at NASCAR (who, to their credit,  have previously spoken out against laws designed to preserve marriage discrimination) chimed in by saying they would “continue our long-standing policy to disallow the use of the Confederate flag symbol in any official NASCAR capacity.”

Of course, as anyone who has attended a NASCAR race or big-time football game in many parts of the country can attest, just because the flag is not officially a part of the festivities doesn’t mean it’s not widely and prominently displayed. Try hanging out in the infield at a NASCAR race (or the campgrounds that surround the tracks) or tailgating before a Panthers game (or the games of any number of college teams) and you’ll see all you want of this hateful symbol.

Of course, attempting to ban such displays would be problematic in numerous ways and raise all kinds of First Amendment issues, so that’s likely not the way to go. But that doesn’t mean that the NASCAR and football folks can’t get a whole lot more proactive and energetic in countering the flag and its message.

Even the corrupt knuckleheads at FIFA who preside over world soccer long ago took to making the message “Say No to Racism” a regular and prominent feature in the events they sanction as a direct response to the racist acts that have been perpetrated by soccer hooligans (see the above photo).

If NASCAR and American football bosses are really serious about opposing the display of the Confederate flag and combating its racist message, the least they could do is to follow FIFA’s lead and develop genuine and visible anti-racism campaigns of their own. Heck, the NFL dresses its players and officials in pink the entire month of October each year to support breast cancer awareness. And NASCAR races are nothing but three-to-four hour TV commercials each week.

How about a new symbol on all cars and player uniforms that features a Confederate flag crossed out or some other symbol of racial harmony and progress?

Come on guys — if you’re really serious about this, do more than speak out on issues that are already decided and put a little skin of your own in the game.