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McCollum BrownIf you’re like most people, you probably missed Governor McCrory’s announcement yesterday touting a new state plan to help a peanut operation create 78 jobs over three years in Chowan County. Though all well and good as far as these announcements go, what really stands out about this one was its inclusion of the Governor’s statement that he was especially happy to have pardoned one of the company’s leaders in 2013 for crimes he committed several decades ago.

To which all a caring and thinking person can say in response is: a) Bravo! Thousands of good North Carolinians undoubtedly deserve such second chances, and b) Speaking of which, Governor, what in the heck is going on with the pardon applications of Henry McCollum and Leon Brown?!

McCollum and Brown, you’ll recall, are the half brothers who were found innocent last year of crimes for which they were imprisoned more than 30 years. In other words, they didn’t commit a terrible crime and then later get their lives together; they were wrongfully and horrifically railroaded into prison and served decades for crimes they didn’t commit. McCollum was sentenced to death!

Meanwhile, tomorrow marks the six-month anniversary of the pardon requests the men submitted — a period during which the men have received no compensation for the terrible injustice inflicted upon them by the state of North Carolina. As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported last month:

“The men, who are half-brothers and who are intellectually disabled, were each given $45 in cash when they left prison in September – the sum total of help they have received from the state. They live in Fayetteville with their sister, who struggles to pay the rent and keep the light and water bills paid. They have depended on the kindness of supporters for all their money.

A Superior Court judge declared them innocent in September. North Carolina law authorizes payment of $50,000 a year, up to a maximum of $750,000, to incarcerated individuals later proven innocent. But the brothers first need to obtain a pardon of innocence from the governor.”

Earth to Governor McCrory: The time for action is long past due. Do the right thing and help these men and their families — now. And if you want to learn more about the subject, all you have to do is walk a couple blocks down the street from the mansion and attend a panel discussion that Campbell Law School will be holding Thursday evening. Here are the details: Read More

Commentary

McCrory_budget4Governor McCrory amended his state ethics report today even as advocates at Progress NC blasted his previous failure to submit accurate reports as required by state law. In submitting the new and improved disclosures about the Guv’s trips to corporate-sponsored confabs of various governors’ associations, McCrory’s lawyer Bob Stephens — who sure seems to be having a hard time keeping up with laws that have been on the books for quite a while — stated that: “It is entirely appropriate for the RGA, NGA and SGA to pay travel expenditures for the Governor and staff to attend these meetings.”

To which, all a person who cares about our state and the integrity of its elected leaders can say is:

Why? Why is it appropriate for corporate-funded private organizations to pay to wing our public officials to swanky resorts and put them up in style?

If it is legal as Mr. Stephens contends, it’s an absurd and truck-sized gap in the state gift ban passed in the aftermath of the Jim Black scandal.

Here’s a radical concept and two-part solution that North Carolina ought to pursue to prevent such conflicts in the future:

1) Enact a law that makes it clear that when public officials are representing our state in or out of North Carolina in anything other than a partisan/election-related event, they must travel at public expense.

2) Pass an appropriation that gives officials like McCrory a travel budget to which they need to stick.

This way, a) officials can budget their time and expenses like just about everyone else and b) we won’t have to worry about our them feeling beholden to anyone other than the taxpayers.

News

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 3.53.57 PMNo cuts, but no $30 million either.

That sums up the news for the state’s judicial system per Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed 2015-2017 budget released yesterday.

The additional $16 million the governor would give the courts “for essential services” is a far cry from the $30 million Chief Justice Mark Martin asked for just a day earlier as he prepared for his State of the Judiciary speech.

“I’m asking for $30 million, because we need $30 million,” Martin told WRAL, saying that was the bare minimum the state judicial system needed to get back to ground zero.

The governor’s funding would begin the restoring of the system’s depleted operating budget, with monies to be used for “costs associated with jurors, witnesses, interpreters, expert witnesses for prosecutors, equipment maintenance, and hardware and software.”

As part of his plan, the governor would also appropriate $1.2 million to expand the Business Court to two additional locations, “as recommended by the North Carolina Economic Development Board.”

Other proposals affecting Justice & Public Safety include:

  • Fund the full five percent step increase for eligible State Troopers in each year of the biennium.
  • Implement a new salary schedule for nearly ten thousand corrections officers, reflecting the level of the prisons in which they work and updating a pay scale last increased in the mid-1980s.
  • Provide funding for the Highway Patrol, State Bureau of Investigation, and Alcohol Law Enforcement to replace aging law enforcement vehicles to improve safety and reduce maintenance costs.
  • Increase funding to pay private assigned counsel contracted to represent indigent clients throughout the state to $5.8 million.
  • Establish behavior health treatment units at eight high security prisons across the state and increases resources for treatment of inmates with behavioral health needs.
  • Open another 72 inpatient residential mental health beds at the Central Prison Health Care Facility.
  • Provide funds to the Governor’s Crime Commission, which will award grants to law enforcement agencies to hire staff to use data analysis to locate and rescue children in danger.
  • Support law enforcement and local prosecutors with additional funding to improve crime lab operations and reduce criminal case backlogs.
  • Support a recommendation from the North Carolina Government Efficiency and Reform (NC GEAR) initiative to transfer the Animal Welfare section from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to the Department of Public Safety and increase resources to allow animal welfare to be more effectively addressed by the law enforcement community.
Commentary

In case you missed it this morning, be sure to check out Adam Linker’s op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer. As Linker writes:

“Health insurance for more than a million North Carolinians is at stake, and Gov. Pat McCrory has two options: He can take the initiative to protect the people he has sworn to represent or he can sit back and let external forces decide our destiny.

Nearly 560,000 people have signed up for Affordable Care Act plans in North Carolina, and many of them receive tax credits to help pay their premiums. Thanks to outreach efforts by nonprofits, insurers, insurance agents and hospitals, our state ranked fourth in Affordable Care Act signups nationally.

Despite these impressive results, there are still more than 500,000 people, many of them the working poor, who do not qualify for North Carolina’s Medicaid program and who do not earn enough to purchase private insurance. Health reform set aside money for our state to provide this population with coverage through Medicaid, but first state leaders must consent to using these funds for that purpose. So far the governor and state legislature have left the money in Washington.”

Unfortunately, of course, Governor McCrory has failed to act. As Linker explains, however, it’s not too late:

“Now comes the governor’s moment.

He, along with legislative leaders, could change course and circumvent the Supreme Court by re-establishing state control over our insurance marketplace. In fact, most of the pieces are already in place. Our Department of Insurance is proactive about reviewing insurance policies. Our health care and insurance communities meet regularly and could easily form an oversight board. Our outreach and enrollment efforts are national models. All we need is for the governor to work with legislators to vest these organizations with the power to form a state marketplace.

McCrory then could release a state-specific plan to tap federal Medicaid funds to expand coverage to 500,000 additional people. This would boost local economies still staggering from the Great Recession. It would allow tens of thousands of women access to preventive screenings like mammograms and pap smears. It would allow thousands of people suffering from the disease of addiction to obtain the long-term treatment they need. Read More

Commentary

McCrory contradictionsGovernor Pat McCrory announced a disastrous and destructive decision yesterday in an interview with an AP reporter. When asked whether he would recommend closing the insurance gap that currently leaves a half-million North Carolinians too poor to qualify for Obamcare subsidies and too well-off to qualify for Medicaid, the Guv said: “I will not make any recommendation as to whether or not we extend insurance for the uninsured until the court case because there are so many ramifications of the court case.”

As the story also noted: “The court’s oral arguments are next month and a ruling is expected in the summer, about when the legislature traditionally seeks to adjourn. That could push any legislative action on a recommendation to 2016.”

This means that a half-million struggling North Carolinians will have to wait at least another year for the health insurance they were promised and deserve. In all likelihood, thousands will die unnecessarily. Meanwhile, tax dollars paid by North Carolinians will flow to other states in which Governors (many of the Republican) have had the vision and courage to put human life ahead of politics.

The decision comes after months of dithering by the Governor and in spite of the clear signals sent by his Department of Health and Human Services officials that Medicaid expansion is both the right thing to do and essential to save lives.

The bottom line: If this is truly is his final word on this matter, Pat McCrory has now, officially, made the worst and most destructive decision of his governorship — a decision that puts supposed concerns about bureaucratic hassles ahead of saving human lives. Meanwhile, millions of people in Ohio and Arizona and other conservative states  enjoy access to decent and affordable health insurance on our nickel. Let’s hope and pray the U.S. Supreme Court does the right thing this summer, but whatever happens then and thereafter, Gov. McCrory has now seized the mantle from former chief naysayer Senator Phil Berger and cemented his legacy as the person who denied decent and affordable health care to a half-million of his fellow Tar Heels unnecessarily.