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Senator Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County

Senator Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County

As Clayton Henkel and Lindsay Wagner report in the posts below, negotiations over teacher pay have taken what appears to be a positive turn this week at the General Assembly with the announcement that the state Senate is willing to back down on its demand that teachers choose between a pay raise and their right to a measure of due process when it comes losing their jobs.

It’s welcome news, but news that is tempered by the fact that Senators apparently kept their fingers crossed behind their backs while they made the offer. Senate Education Committee chairman Jerry Tillman also told reporters Lynn Bonner and Jim Morrill that the matter of teacher due process (i.e. “tenure”) would be back:

“’We’ll get rid of tenure in 2018,’ he said. ‘That issue will be settled.’”

Perhaps even more frustrating than Tillman’s statement in the aftermath of yesterday’s negotiations, however, were the comments of his Senate colleague and fellow conservative fire-breather, Bob Rucho.

When asked about the Senate’s consistent refusal to budge on its plan to pay for teacher raises by firing thousands of teacher assistants (a plan that even Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger hinted might finally be on the way out) Rucho was his usual  aggressive self. As Morrill and Bonner reported: Read More

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In case you missed it, be sure to check out today’s edition of the Fitzsimon File in which Chris explains what’s really at issue in the stalemated state budget negotiations. Most notable on the list: the remarkably regressive positions of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

“Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger told WRAL-TV that any budget deal must not only include the Senate’s estimates of Medicaid costs but must also reduce the number of people who are covered by the program.

Berger said the Senate wanted ‘reductions in the welfare spending that is ongoing at the present time.’  Medicaid, the health care safety net for the most vulnerable people in North Carolina, is now welfare in Berger’s far-right view of the world.

The budget the Senate passed earlier this session would kick at least 5,200 aged, blind and disabled people off of Medicaid. More than 1,600 of them have Alzheimer’s or dementia and are in special care units, which to Berger must be a new fancy way of saying welfare.”

As Chris also notes, there is an easy way out of the mess: Read More

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State Senate leaders are unveiling their approach today to cleaning up the state’s hazardous coal-ash ponds, but a leading environmental group is already saying new legislation doesn’t go far enough.

The proposal will be discussed at a 3 p.m. committee hearing in Raleigh at the N.C. General Assembly.

The AP first reported last night that the Senate proposal (click here to read) would require Duke Energy to close its coal-ash dumps within 15 years, and WRAL had this wrap-up as well and a summary to the Senate proposal here.

Coal ash from February spill near the Dan River

Coal ash from February spill near the Dan River

But Frank Holleman, the attorney steering the Southern Environmental Law Center’s litigation over coal ash, said the Senate bill still defers many of the decisions to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. That, he said, could mean that Duke Energy could continue to get passes on cleaning up the toxic by-products found in 33 unlined pits at the electricity utility’s 14 coal-fired plants in the state.

All the pits have contaminated nearby groundwater, and environmental groups have criticized DENR’s reluctance before the February coal ash spill in the Dan River to demand cleanup.

“What North Carolina needs but is not done in this bill is a direct requirement that Duke clean up its coal ash,” Holleman said. “It leaves it to the failed state agency.”

Read More

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In case you missed it, Raleigh’s News & Observer has an excellent editorial today that takes Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger to task for his wrongheaded action to fire thousands of teacher assistants.

“Phil Berger knows better. A small-town lawyer by trade, the Republican president pro tem of the state Senate deals every day in his profession with figures and laws and details.

And he ought to know that his desperate grasp of weak straws to justify a draconian cut in teacher assistants as proposed in the Senate budget is not going to convince anyone that those cuts are harmless. Fortunately, the House budget is more moderate, perhaps reflecting the U.S. Senate ambitions of Speaker Thom Tillis, who knows he’ll have to broaden his appeal outside of the tea party sphere if he’s to have a chance to be elected statewide. Read More

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Last night’s Moral Monday demonstrations took an unexpected turn when Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) decided to sit down with teachers, who were staked out in front of his office late last night, to debate some of the education policies he has put forward.

WUNC Education Reporter Dave Dewitt has a great story about how the night went off script and the debate that took place:

But here’s where script took an unexpected turn. Just a few seconds later, Senator Berger came around the corner, pulled some couches into a circle, and offered to have a discussion.

And that’s exactly what they did. For more than an hour and a half, Berger and the protesters discussed education policy and the challenges facing teachers. There were some heated moments, and some passionate disagreements.

For the most part, all parties were respectful. The protestors whittled their list to three items they wanted addressed: they wanted tenure back; they wanted teacher assistants restored; and they wanted Berger to hold a series of public meetings on education. At the end, Berger committed to nothing more than another conversation the next day to consider further meetings.

And instead of being led out in handcuffs, the 15 protesters walked out the front of the building, nodding to Capitol Police officers, to meet their supporters.

Proffitt spoke first: “So we sat down and we had a good conversation, which to my understanding this is the first time this has happened in the last couple of years. So I think this represents a win for the movement because I think we put enough pressure on them that they realized they had to have a conversation.”

When he was done, Bryan Proffitt stepped behind the crowd and tried to gather himself. Someone handed him a bottle of water and the sweater he thought he had lost, and he finally took a deep breath.

He admitted the night had not gone like he thought it would.

“Talk is cheap,” he said.” There needs to be a real opening. But if there’s an opening, we’ll take it. But if it means the threat of arrest, if that means risking arrest again, and putting negative pressure on them again, then we’ll be back.”

Click here to read or listen to DeWitt’s full story.