Commentary, News

School-vouchers1. State’s highest court upholds school voucher program despite lack of accountability and standards

In a 4-3 decision that defies principles of accountability to taxpayers and students alike, the elected Republican justices of the state Supreme Court today upheld a school voucher program that allows taxpayer dollars to fund tuition for private schools having virtually no obligation to provide North Carolina students with even a basic education.

Chief Justice Mark Martin, writing for the majority and joined by Justices Robert Edmunds, Paul Newby and Barbara Jackson, couched the opinion in terms of judicial restraint and deference to the legislature, saying that the court’s role was “limited to a determination of whether the legislation is plainly and clearly prohibited by the constitution.” [Continue reading…]

Tillman_edu2. Senate bill proposes ending DPI control of charter school oversight

Administration and oversight for public charter schools has been handled by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction for years — but Senator Jerry Tillman, a longtime supporter of charter schools, wants to change that.

“DPI was never in love…with charter schools,” Sen. Tillman (R-Randolph) said in a Senate Education Committee hearing on Tuesday as he introduced to fellow lawmakers a gutted version of House Bill 334, which would transfer the Office of Charter Schools out of the Department of Public Instruction, placing it under the State Board of Education. [Continue reading…]

ff-723153. Still no urgency in Raleigh with budget almost a month late 

At first glance, it seemed like just another disturbing week at the General Assembly.

A Senate committee approved a plan to give homebuilders a tax break that will cost local governments millions of dollars a year, another Senate committee passed a bill to weaken the state’s already anemic gun laws, and another panel considered a proposal to block state environmental officials from developing plans to cut carbon emissions in response to forthcoming rules from the EPA.

That’s all sadly business as usual these days in the legislative halls. And it didn’t stop there. [Continue reading…]

budget-pie4. State government shutdown ahead? Budget office gets ready for possibility

A memorandum from the state budget office issued earlier this month asks state agencies to let them know what’s essential and what’s not, in the event a budget stalemate leads to a government shutdown.

The July 14 memorandum (scroll down to read) asks agencies to go through their operations, and report back about public safety and essential services need to continue on in the event of a funding stoppage –things like keeping on the staff who feed animals at the N.C. State Zoo, emergency responders in the highway patrol and prison guards.[Continue reading…]

wb-721B5. A $60 million rip-off
The state Treasurer combats a stunning money grab by the insurance industry

If there’s a single most maddening and nonsensical argument regularly advanced by the far right, so-called “free market” think tanks funded by the Art Popes and Koch Brothers of the world, it’s probably this: the ideology-over-common sense contention that the “genius of the market” makes most consumer protection laws unnecessary.

Whether it’s airplane pilot rest, meat inspections or 400% “payday” loans, it’s generally the position of the market fundamentalists that “the market” and “consumer choice” will pretty much take care of everything. Put bluntly, once a cut rate airliner or two goes down (or a few hundred folks contract salmonella or Mad Cow Disease) consumers will wise up and take their business elsewhere. [Continue reading…]


Add the Charlotte Observer to the long and growing list of voices opposed to the disingenuous plan cooked up by a group of insurance companies to get out from under the consumer protection regulation overseen by the state Insurance Commissioner. As this editorial notes this morning:

“Currently, auto insurance companies doing business in North Carolina have to agree to a rate increase or decrease each year with the N.C. Rate Bureau. The insurance commissioner, currently Wayne Goodwin, reviews those requests and decides if the rate change (usually a hike) is justified. The result of this unique system: North Carolina’s average auto insurance rates are the lowest in the South and sixth-lowest in the country.

Insurance companies would have you believe that N.C. drivers could do even better if the Rate Bureau just got out of the way and let insurers offer more discount programs. But the state already has approved about 2,000 such programs, and Goodwin supports legislation that would allow for even more – without dismantling the Rate Bureau structure. Insurers aren’t interested in that.

What they are interested in is charging more, which is what happened in South Carolina, where rates went up 23 percent after the state made a similar change in the 1990s. In North Carolina, reform might be especially bad news for some of the estimated 1 million drivers who are considered riskier by insurance companies. Most of those drivers are younger and have clean records, and the state allows the rest of us to be charged a small fee so that these ‘risks’ don’t have to pay exorbitant premiums. Change the system, and insurers could make more of a profit off them, as they do in other states.”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

Read more here:



Throughout his first campaign ad for the U.S. Senate race against Kay Hagan, Thom Tillis wears an Autism Speaks lapel pin. Autism Speaks is an important science and advocacy organization that is active nationally and in North Carolina.

One of the organization’s top legislative priorities is enacting a law that requires insurance companies to cover treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorders. In 2013 the autism community passed such a bill through the House with 105 votes in favor of the requirement and 7 against.

This will likely set up a showdown with the National Federation of Independent Business. Last month the NFIB asked the Joint Study Committee on the Affordable Care Act to pass legislation prohibiting the introduction of new insurance mandates in North Carolina for some period of time. The committee, acting with great haste, agreed to discuss this NFIB bill at a May 13 meeting. Coverage for Autism Spectrum Disorder is the only proposed insurance mandate eligible for consideration this year.

It would be jarring if Speaker Tillis touted his ties to the autism community in a campaign ad only to undermine the central policy push of Autism Speaks in his chamber. We will soon find out whether or not his commitment is bigger than a pin.


North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, in an interview aired yesterday on a Charlotte radio station, downplayed cuts to unemployment benefits caused by made this year to the state’ s unemployment insurance system.

“We didn’t take away unemployment benefits,” McCrory said on WFAE’s “Charlotte Talks” program in response to a question about cuts to the unemployment insurance system. “We didn’t extend them. We were following the existing policy.”

Audio clip from WFAE in Charlotte

The state, through legislation signed into law in February by McCrory, did cut both the length of time a person can collect unemployment (reduced from six months to a sliding scale of 12 to 20 weeks) and also cut the maximum weekly benefit from $535 to $350 a week.  The cuts were part of an extensive plan to repay more than $2.6 billion the state unemployment insurance system borrowed during the height of the recession.

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Jill Hudgins, a freelance writer living in Durham, published an important opinion piece in the News & Observer today about finding insurance through Inclusive Health.

Here’s how she begins:

DURHAM — While Republicans rant and rave about the evils of “Obamacare,” many individuals are already benefiting from the reforms. I’m one of them.

I’ve been branded with the scarlet letter “P” for pre-existing condition, denied coverage for years. Thanks to a new program called the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP), I’m now a card-carrying member of the insured.

You should read the entire article to see how Obamacare is providing benefits to people with pre-existing conditions.