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Greensboro News & Record columnist Susan Ladd does a great job of skewering state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s ridiculous “religious freedom” for magistrates legislation today in this essay.

“It’s appalling that the first order of business for our state legislature would be to reinstate Jim Crow. Or should we call it James Crow? Jane Crow? Jim Crow 2.0?

Discrimination by any name smells just as sour.

But discrimination is precisely what the bill introduced Wednesday by state Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) allows. Currently titled the Magistrates Recusal of Civil Ceremonies, the bill falls under the general heading of “religious freedom” laws sweeping the country after the legalization of same-sex marriage in many states.”

She goes on:

“Though this bill is narrower in scope than ‘religious freedom’ laws that have been attempted in other states, it still legislates discrimination and limits the rights of groups that could be targeted by a religious objection….

Because this bill doesn’t specify, however, magistrates presumably would be free to recuse themselves from performing other marriages that violated their religious beliefs. Religion is a very malleable thing, having been used to object to all kinds of practices. But let’s take an obvious case.

A magistrate opposed to interracial marriage simply could cite the passage used by the Virginia circuit court judge in 1959, when he convicted Richard and Mildred Loving of the crime of interracial marriage.”

Here’s the excellent conclusion:

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Commentary
House Speaker Tim Moore

House Speaker Tim Moore

It’s been déjà vu all over again this week in Raleigh. Two weeks ago, right before what seemed at the time to be the one and only “first” day of the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers crammed in some last minute fundraising just hours before the session began.

The details of all this are a smidge complex. State law bars lobbyists from making contributions to candidates and their committee at any time, but of course, some folks don’t register as lobbyists until after the session commences. The law also effectively bars lobbyists from making any kind of contributions (even to party committees) once the General Assembly is in session. The bottom line though is that the law provides a real incentive for lawmakers to stick up the lobbying community right before the gavel sounds to open the session.

This week, however, just a few days later, the whole absurd spectacle was repeated. This past Tuesday night for instance, House Speaker Tim Moore hosted a “2015 Opening Day Celebration” at the City Club in downtown Raleigh to shake down the lobbying corps yet again.

So, “how’d he pull that off?” you ask. “Aren’t such fundraisers effectively barred once the session gets underway?”

Well, it turns out that when legislators went home on January 14, they technically “adjourned” — even though Moore has been busy appointing committee chairs and all sorts of legislative activity has been taking place. This fiction of “adjournment” allowed lawmakers to claim that they were not in session so that they could go back to collecting cash from people and groups with business before the G.A.

The House GOP fundraiser announcement even contained the following not-so-subtle reminder in fine print at the bottom: “Lobbyists registered in North Carolina are not prohibited from contributing to the NC Republican House Caucus.”

Indeed, as it turned out, Tuesday was a fine day for lobbyists to pony up. Just hours before the City Club soirée, Read More

Commentary

Gay prideThe closed-door meeting to discuss the new “religious freedom” bill has been postponed, according to an email sent out by the North Carolina Values Coalition. The organization claims that they received an “overwhelmingly positive” response to the meeting and have had to reschedule out of concern that the facility could not accommodate the crowd.

Unfortunately, postponement of the meeting will be unlikely to slow down the momentum of the “religious freedom” crusade. This morning, Senate leader Phil Berger introduced a “religious freedom” bill allowing magistrates and registers of deeds to be exempt from performing their duties if it violates their religious beliefs.

The bill attempts to be impartial on its face. It allows magistrates and registers of deeds to recuse themselves from their duties if they are asked to perform an act that goes against their religious beliefs but then also prevents them from performing any of their duties for the following six month period. In other words, they won’t be allowed to pick and choose which marriages to perform. The bill adds that there must be a magistrate available to perform marriages for at least ten hours a week over three business days. While all this may seem fair in theory, the reality is that, in many places in North Carolina, finding a magistrate willing to perform same-sex marriages and a register of deeds willing to sign the marriage license under such circumstances could be difficult. Adding to the burden for couples, will be trying to get in during the small window of time three days a week that these officials will be available. The overall result will be that LGBT couples will have a much harder time getting married if this bill is passed—the exact effect that was intended.

The North Carolina Values Coalition has indicated that they plan to seek much broader anti-LGBT legislation, than this bill. On the other side, Equality NC has also indicated that they fear additional legislation that will provide a broader license to discriminate.

The absurdity of the bill itself was pointed out by State Senator Jeff Jackson, during Equality NC’s press conference held today in anticipation of the bill’s introduction and the legislative briefing originally scheduled for this afternoon. As Jackson rightly observed, “in this nation, we don’t have to pass any government employee’s personal religious test in order to receive government service.” Apparently, Senator Berger missed that lesson in civics.

Commentary

Berger_Jr.-and-Sr.There’s a degree of irony in the “surrender of charter” letter submitted recently by the charter school started by former Rockingham County D.A., failed congressional candidate, new Administrative Law Judge and son of State Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, Phil Berger, Jr.

In the letter, the school’s current chairman, David Whicker, complains that “the lack of availability and/or provisioning of fiscal resources and assistance from the NC Board of Education and/or Office of Charter Schools, other than training courses, seemed only to multiply the challenges we already faced.”

In other words, it’s the same story heard so often in the murky world of school privatization: A group of folks who railed against “government schools” and who demand “choice” and the right to be unshackled from all those burdensome rules (like having to serve anyone who comes in the door — whatever their level of preparedness — and  providing free transportation and free meals to a large proportion of their students) finds out that running a successful school without a lot of bureaucratic support ain’t as easy as it looks.

Like demanding children, these folks want complete freedom to do as they please and the right to have Mom and Dad bail them out when they discover that the grown up world isn’t as easy to negotiate as they thought.

The sad thing about all this, of course, is that it’s actual children — the ones whose parents get sold a bill of goods by charter operators who are actually in over their heads — who end up suffering. Them, plus the traditional schools, of course, who will, as always, have to take in the kids left out in the cold.

Happily, in this case, Berger Jr.’s charter never really got up and running and the damage will apparently be minimal. Unfortunately, this has frequently not been the case — both here in North Carolina and around the country — for the scores of charters that have crashed and burned in the middle of school years.

The takeaway: The “genius of the market” is great when things are going good, but not so hot when things turn sour. And therein lies one of the biggest problems with charters and school privatization.

Commentary

Art Pope 3Phil BergerThe talk about Medicaid expansion for North Carolina in 2015 from political leaders without much power to do anything about it continues. Gov. McCrory and his HHS Secretary keep talking about expansion as does, rather amusingly, lame duck Speaker/U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis. Obviously, expansion would be a terrific thing and is horrifically overdue as the current absurd obstructionism is literally costing thousands of lives per year — all in the name of nothing but conservative ideology.

Sadly, however, neither of these stances by McCrory or Tillis will amount to a hill of beans come next legislative session unless the real conservative bosses in North Carolina politics give their assent. Those two bosses, of course, would be Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and the most important conservative power broker in state politics, Art Pope. After all, the General Assembly has already passed a law to prevent McCrory from doing the deed without their approval and, for all we know, Tillis could well be reduced to trolling the halls of the General Assembly next year as a lobbyist or McCrory lackey.

Meanwhile, there are few if any positive signals from Berger and Pope to be found. Berger says he’s still opposed and Pope…well, his hirelings continue to spout mean-spirited nonsense and gibberish on the subject.

Of course, all of this could change. The powers-that-be in the health care industry want expansion and understand the tremendous good it would do — both for people and in need and, perhaps even more importantly from the corporate perspective, their profits. Add to this the fact that conservative majorities in the General Assembly could be slightly smaller next year and there’s certainly reason to hope that the politics on the issue will continue to improve.

That said, when you’re dealing with true right-wing believers who don’t even bat an eye as their policies literally result in thousands of unnecessary deaths per year, it’s hard to see what’s going to bring about the change of heart. Moreover, at this point in his governorship, Pat McCrory gives literally no indication that he has the ability lead or shape the debate.