Kids age 5 to 11 next in line for COVID-19 vaccines as White House rolls out plans

Raleigh joins Wake County in new non-discrimination protections

The Raleigh City Council unanimously voted to join in a new, LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance Tuesday, the day after the ordinance was passed by Wake County.

The move makes North Carolina’s capital city the 15th local government in the state to pass such an ordinance since a ban on local non-discrimination ordinances expired late last year.

The ban was one of the legacies of 2016’s brutal fight over HB2, the controversial law that excluded lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from statewide nondiscrimination protections. Though House Bill 142 partially repealed HB2, it locked in place a ban on new LGBTQ protections — including nondiscrimination ordinances for employment and housing.

In January the town of Hillsborough became the fist local government to pass new local protections.

The ordinance in Raleigh and Wake County offer protections against discrimination based on “sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression” as well as national origin and ancestry, color, ethnicity, religious belief, disability and things like veteran status or the wearing of natural hair or hairstyles. The protections apply in places of public accommodation like restaurants and hotels as well as in employment.

Jonathan Melton, Raleigh City Council member.

State law continues to govern access to multiple occupancy restrooms, showers or changing facilities. They are not covered by any of the new local ordinances and religious organizations continue to be exempt.

“I’m proud to see the Raleigh City Council come together to take action and ensure our city is a place where all people feel protected, respected, and safe,” said Raleigh City Council Member Jonathan Melton in a statement Tuesday. “As an LGBTQ person myself, it’s so meaningful to know that my city is striving for inclusivity and dignity for everyone, and as an out elected official I’m grateful to work with colleagues committed to doing the right thing.”

With the addition of Raleigh,  North Carolina’s five largest cities – including Greensboro,  Durham, Winston-Salem and Charlotte – all offer such protections.

“We’re so pleased to see Raleigh take this historic step to expand nondiscrimination,” said Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC. “Nearly 30 percent of the state’s population is now covered by LGBTQ inclusive ordinances, and this represents a great change for the city of Raleigh and the state of North Carolina. Raleigh has taken a big step forward to protect LGBTQ people, especially for folks with multiple layers of marginalization, and this only grows momentum for the non-discrimination on the local, state, and federal level.”

Equality NC and the Campaign for Southern Equality have led the charge for new non-discrimination ordinances though the NC is Ready for LGBTQ Protections campaign. The groups point to polling that shows 67 percent of North Carolinians support protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination.

Polling shows that 67% of people in North Carolina support protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. Studies have shown that 1 in 3 LGBTQ people – including 3 in 5 transgender people – have experienced discrimination in the past year.

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American Rescue Plan funds are an opportunity to invest in NC businesses owned by people of color

When Congress passed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) in March 2021, state and local governments in North Carolina were to receive more than $8.8 billion in federal funding for pandemic relief and recovery. Since then, our elected leaders have understandably focused on how to spend the funds. From addressing the eviction crisis to the childcare shortage, ARP funds will allow state and local leaders to make a significant down payment on meeting the urgent needs of North Carolinians still reeling from the pandemic.

Less discussed is a different question: How can state and local governments make sure public contracts using ARP funds are distributed in an equitable and inclusive way?

With ARP dollars, state and local governments can expand jobs and build wealth with significant impacts for Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUBs) and the communities they empower.

New analysis of federal contracting data, however, should alarm anyone concerned with equity in public contracting. Recent work from the National Equity Atlas found that entrepreneurs of color received less than 12%  of federal contracting dollars in 2020 —  despite the fact that people of color represent 39% of the U.S. population and own 29% of all businesses.

The authors also found that the overall number of small businesses winning federal contracts had fallen dramatically over the past decade — declining 40% since 2010 — and that federal contract spending was largely concentrated in just 17 congressional districts. Where public procurement could be used to foster equitable economic development, it is instead concentrating public dollars in a select few communities.

Anyone hoping for more encouraging data from North Carolina will be sorely disappointed. The state’s own 2021 Disparity Study found that state agencies, community colleges and universities have made abysmal progress toward the modest goal of awarding 10 percent of public contracts to Historically Underutilized Businesses. Across all five industry categories in the report, aggregated from FY2014 to FY2018, Minority Businesses Enterprises never received more than 2.02 percent of contracts awarded by state agencies.

The same story holds true at the local level in North Carolina. Read more

Code red for American democracy

Hedrick Smith

[Editor’s note: The following essay was written by former New York Times Washington, DC bureau chief, frequent NC Policy Watch contributor and all-around legendary journalist, Hedrick Smith. It originally appeared on Smith’s own website, Reclaim the American Dream.]

Veteran journalist sums up the current mess and how we got here

For all the uproar among Democrats over restrictive voting laws passed by Republican legislatures in 17 states, Democrats have only recently awakened to the more dangerous threat to American democracy posed by Republican moves to take partisan control of counting votes and even overturn the popular vote in future elections.

For months, Democrats in Congress and nonpartisan election reformers have railed against the obstacles to voter turnout from new Republican restrictions on absentee ballots, mail voting, voter registration, and early voting, which fall especially hard on minority and younger voters.

But the greater danger to American democracy and election security lies in the stealth GOP scheme to gain partisan control of the traditionally non-partisan process of counting and certifying the vote, by empowering Republican legislatures to disqualify the popular vote and by putting Trump loyalists in charge of running elections in swing states.

Act two of “The Big Lie”

Call it Act Two of “The Big Lie,” the Republican action plan to manipulate the rules, change the process and prepare to alter the vote count in 2022, 2024 and beyond, if Republicans are losing. But for months, the big Democratic election reform bills in Congress, the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, ignored the GOP plot to subvert the popular vote. Only now are counter-moves surfacing in Congress.

What makes the GOP action plan so menacing is that it builds on the Trump plot to change the outcome of the 2020 election. In his final month as President, Donald Trump went to war against our constitutional democracy on multiple fronts. The mob attack on Congress was just the most visible ploy.

Behind the scenes, Trump was simultaneously putting intense pressure on his Acting Attorney General, Jeffrey Rosen, to declare vote fraud, and when Rosen refused, Trump prepared to fire Rosen and replace him with a loyalist primed to do Trump’s bidding. Only the threat of group resignations of Justice Department and White House lawyers stopped Trump.

In a second desperate gambit, Trump placed a secret phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on January 2 and demanded that Raffensperger “find 11,780 votes” so that Trump could win Georgia.

The day after that, Trump summoned Vice President Mike Pence to the Oval Office and had conservative lawyer John Eastman lay out a step-by-step game-plan for Pence, on January 6, simply to reject Electoral votes from swing states like Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania that had been won by Joe Biden, and then declare Trump had won re-election.

Election guardrails are now being targeted

Fortunately, constitutional Republicans like Pence, Rosen, Raffensperger, Republican supervisors in Arizona’s Maricopa County, (Phoenix area), and election board officials in Michigan refused to kowtow to Trump’s dictates. So the 2020 election withstood the Trump storm.

But this year, Trump loyalists are out to erode and override the election guardrails. They have targeted the procedures, institutions, and individuals who stood in Trump’s way after the last election. In multiple states, Republican legislatures have moved to take control of the machinery of elections and post-election vote counts.

“Election subversion ” is what election law attorneys politely call this. But in hardball politics, it amounts to “the real steal,” an aggressive stealth cabal that is underway in key states like Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Texas.

Massive 2020 turnout triggered GOP tactics

Ironically, what triggered the GOP plot for usurping the popular vote was the stunning success of the 2020 election. Contrary to Trump’s ”Big Lie,” the 2020 election was a blowout. Despite fears of COVID, the pandemic actually caused many states to open up voting and that generated the best voter turnout since 1908 – 68% of eligible voters cast ballots.

In all, 158 million Americans voted -101 million voted either by mail (65 million) or voted early in person (36 million), far more than the 57 million voting on Election Day. That big 2020 vote benefited from a decade of political reforms that expanded mail voting, early voting, and easier registration.

So today, the U.S. has a more accessible voting system than two or three decades ago. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia now permit early voting. Thirty-four states and DC permit absentee mail voting, no excuse required. Seven states vote entirely by mail. All this has helped boost voter turnout, especially among Blacks, Latinos, and younger voters.

Supreme Court judges embolden the GOP

In a fearful backlash, Republican strategists have responded with a two-pronged strategy to turn back the clock: (1) by making it harder for some democratic-leaning voters to cast their ballots; and (2) by engineering ways for Republican-controlled legislatures or election officials to disqualify and/or change the popular vote. Read more