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Health numbers1. Senate pushes to eliminate health retirement benefits for North Carolina’s teachers and state retirees

Buried deep in the Senate budget proposal that lawmakers passed last week is a provision that would eliminate state-paid health retirement benefits for teachers and state employees who are hired after January 1, 2016.

“This puts the state at a major disadvantage in the recruitment and retention of state employees, teachers, and university faculty compared to other states,” said Chuck Stone, director of operations for the State Employees Association of NC (SEANC), of the Senate’s push to jettison the health retirement benefit.

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Berger-Moore-McCrory2. The missing sense of urgency in Raleigh

It promises to be a long hot summer in the Legislative Building in Raleigh as House and Senate leaders try to come up with a final budget agreement for the next two years with hundreds of millions of dollars and dozens of policy issues in dispute between the two chambers’ spending plans.

A report prepared by staff members that lists the differences between the House and Senate budget runs 372 pages long and does not include many of the major policy sticking points like Medicaid reform and changing the way local sales tax revenues are distributed.

Nobody seems eager to start tackling the daunting process. Speaker Tim Moore says the House is prepared to stay in Raleigh and Senate leaders vow not to adjourn until Medicaid reform is finished.

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Fair-housing3. Senate budget also took aim at anti-discrimination law

North Carolina might scale back its efforts to fight unlawful discrimination, if a Senate budget provision to repeal the state’s fair housing act is adopted as law.
The provision, which would repeal the State Fair Housing Act and shut down the state office that investigates discrimination complaints, was buried deep in the 500-plus budget (pages 390-391) that was made public and quickly passed the chamber last week.

The elimination of the state anti-discrimination measures got no attention during debates when the budget passed the Republican-controlled Senate last Thursday.

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Voter ID4. Lesson learned on Voter ID

Last week’s abrupt turnabout in the General Assembly on Voter ID surprised lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as well as attorneys in the lawsuits set for trial this summer.

The changes, which include provisions allowing voters lacking photo ID to cast a provisional ballot once they’ve signed a sworn statement indicating that they had a “reasonable impediment” to getting such an ID, surfaced at the last minute as part of a joint House and Senate compromise to House Bill 836.

The House, while supporting the changes as improvements on an otherwise bad law, decried the lack of process and wondered aloud what happened to bring about such a quick reversal.

“Why now,” asked Rep. Mickey Michaux. “This could have been done two years ago.”

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Gun tragedy5. Hints of hope amongst the carnage: Average North Carolinians are pushing back against the gun fundamentalists…and winning

It’s hard to feel very optimistic about much of anything in the aftermath of last week’s horrific tragedy/terrorist act in South Carolina. The idea that a hate-filled sociopath could and would enter a sanctuary of peace and then execute nine innocent, welcoming people with whom he had been purporting to engage in Bible study minutes before is so shocking and disturbing that it almost renders rational responses impossible….

And yet, unspeakably horrific as the murders were, there are growing signs that maybe, just maybe, the cumulative impact of this nation’s ever-lengthening list of mass murders and racist hate crimes is finally starting to move public opinion and policy in a positive direction.

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Commentary

As Adam Linker noted yesterday in the post below, there are no more excuses now for Gov. McCrory:

“Now that the Supreme Court has ruled — again — that the structure of the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, it is time to move forward with making the law work better in our state.

The first, and most important, step is accepting federal funds to extend the benefits of affordable health insurance coverage to 500,000 more people in our state. Gov. McCrory said last year that his staff was assembling options to expand coverage and that he would make an announcement about his recommendation after the Supreme Court ruled in King v. Burwell. The ruling has arrived.”

This morning, major newspapers around the state are echoing this sentiment.

From the Durham Herald-Sun:

“With the question of the act’s validity answered by the court, it’s time for North Carolina
to reverse its unfortunate decision to not extend Medicaid coverage to an estimated
500,000 individuals and families too poor to qualify for the ACA subsidies.”

From the Greensboro News & Record:

“This was an enormous victory for President Obama. Most importantly, it avoids the human toll that would have resulted from an adverse ruling.

Next, North Carolina should expand Medicaid coverage for thousands of residents who still fall between the coverage cracks. State leaders should have expanded Medicaid in the first place, but seemed more intent on thumbing their noses at the president than doing what’s right. Not only is most of its cost paid for by the federal government, but also it would create as many as many as 43,000 jobs. Gov. Pat McCrory had said he wanted to wait for the Affordable Care decision first before considering that step. Now that the high court has ruled, it’s time for him to act.”

From Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“Meanwhile, Gov. Pat McCrory has shown a lack of political courage in declining to support an expansion of Medicaid, the state and federal insurance program for the poor and disabled. The federal government, under the Affordable Care Act, would pay 100 percent of the expense in the first three years and at least 90 percent thereafter. McCrory said he was awaiting the high court decision to make his own decision about pushing for Medicaid expansion. But he wasn’t. Once again, the 500,000 North Carolinians who could be helped are left to hope that a move to expand Medicaid comes before an illness or an accident does.”

In other words, come on Governor, get off your keister do the right thing!
News

North Carolina doesn’t have a Confederate battle flag flying over its state capitol, but it does have a specialty license plate featuring that  flag, issued by the state on behalf of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

It’s just one of many vanity plates offered by the Department of Motor Vehicles “allowing citizens with common interests to promote themselves and/or their causes.”

Virginia has a similar plate, and today — with a nod to the horrific shootings of nine black churchgoers at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. and the ensuing actions of South Carolina’s Gov. Nikki Haley in ordering the removal of the Confederate flag from the state’s Capitol grounds — the governor of Virginia ordered that flag removed from state license plates.

“Although the battle flag is not flown here on Capitol Square, it has been the subject of considerable controversy, and it divides many of our people,” Governor Terry McAuliffe said. “Even its display on state-issued license tags is, in my view, unnecessarily divisive and hurtful to too many of our people.”

McAuliffe now joins a growing group of state officials recognizing the divisiveness of the Confederate flag, even if offered as an historical symbol to state residents choosing to display it.

He can’t stop private citizens from waving that  flag, but he sure can stop the state from letting it appear on a state license plate.

That’s all the more important now, given the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision last week in Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans, holding that specialty license plates are government speech.

(Notably, in that case, Texas refused to allow the Confederate Veterans plate, finding it too offensive.)

“As a general matter,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote, “when the government speaks it is entitled to promote a program, to espouse a policy or to take a position.”

What that means here, of course, is that the Confederate flag on a North Carolina license plate is no longer the message of a private group.

It’s now the message of the state of North Carolina.

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Update:  Several media outlets are now reporting that the governor will act to stop the issuance of state license plates bearing the Confederate battle flag emblem.  “The time is right to change this policy due to the recent Supreme Court ruling and the tragedy in Charleston,”  Josh Ellis, spokesman for Gov. Pat McCrory, said in an email to WRAL.

SCV

 

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Commentary

McCrory_budget305-aIt has been a rough couple of weeks for Governor Pat McCrory. First, the House and Senate overrode his vetoes of the so-called ag-gag bill and the legislation that allows magistrates to refuse to marry gay couples if they have a religious objection to marriage equality.

Then Monday Senate leaders rolled out a budget that refuses to restore the state historic tax credit program that McCrory has spent months promoting across the state. The budget also includes a plan to change how local sales tax revenue is distributed that McCrory vigorously opposes, and a proposal to reform Medicaid that McCrory’s appointees at DHHS don’t support.

And to add insult to injury, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger told reporters that he does not see the need for a transportation bond issue—another top McCrory priority—preferring instead to stop budget transfers out of the highway fund to raise money for highway projects.

It is the latest reminder that the folks running the Senate believe they are in charge in North Carolina regardless of what the governor of their own party believes.

Commentary

6-8-15-NEW-NCPW-CARTOONThis morning’s edition of “Monday Numbers” has all the sobering stats you could want regarding Governor McCrory’s rather remarkable decision to go back on his 2012 campaign promise in which he pledged not to approve any new restrictions on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion.

Click here if you haven’t already tired of watching McCrory’s now infamous one word promise on the subject.

Not surprisingly, the Guv didn’t issue any kind of special statement to accompany his decision to approve the bill. Rather, he simply listed the bill number with eight others and slapped it onto the bottom of his announcement to finally grant the pardons to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown.h465-announcement

That was courageous.

Meanwhile, reaction from advocates for women’s’ health and reproductive freedom are responding to the Governor’s regrettable decision. This is from the ACLU of North Carolina:

Gov. McCrory Signs New Abortion Restrictions, Breaking Campaign Promise Again

RALEIGH – On Friday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed HB 465, a bill that will triple the mandatory waiting time for abortion care to 72 hours, making North Carolina only the fifth state in the nation with such a lengthy forced delay. During his 2012 campaign for governor, McCrory vowed to sign no further restrictions on abortion access.

“For the second time, Governor McCrory has broken his promise to sign no new restrictions on abortion access in our state, making it clear that he does not respect a woman’s ability to make her own personal health care decisions,” said Sarah Preston, acting Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “This shameful law will do nothing to help women in North Carolina. Instead, it will force a woman to endure an unnecessary and potentially harmful delay before receiving the care that she and her doctor have decided is right for her.”

In 2013, McCrory signed a bill that authorized severe and medically unnecessary restrictions on women’s health clinics that provide abortions

A forced waiting period is not necessary because a woman who has decided to have an abortion has already carefully considered her decision. New polling shows that most Americans identify as pro-choice and that seven in 10 Americans say that a woman who has decided to have an abortion should be able to do so without additional hurdles.

Medical experts say that these bills do not help women. Instead, they can push abortion later into pregnancy and subject women to stigma and shame. These bills have no medical basis, and medical groups like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose these types of laws.