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The Week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch

1. Judicial nominee Farr joins GOP defense team in redistricting litigation

It appears that Thomas Farr is back in the game – the North Carolina redistricting game, that is.

The recent Trump nominee for a federal judgeship in North Carolina’s Eastern District filed paperwork last week to appear in court on behalf of the GOP legislative defendants in Common Cause v. Lewis, a challenge to the 2017 legislative map on grounds that it violates the state constitution as an extreme partisan gerrymander.

Farr is no stranger to litigating North Carolina laws and maps enacted by Republican legislators – he has defended several of the state’s maps that were struck down as racial gerrymanders. And in 2013, he defended the state’s sweeping “monster” voter ID law, which was also declared unconstitutional on the grounds that it was racially discriminatory. [Read more…]

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2. PW exclusive: Toxic chemical contamination detected in Charlotte; NC lawmakers decline to act

For decades Charlotte firefighters would periodically suit up and step into one of 12 gravel-lined pits at the city’s training center on Shopton Road. Industry would donate their flammable solvents, which would be poured into the pits or injected by underground piping. Materials, such as junk cars, would be set on fire, and the firefighters would then attack the blaze.

Sometimes, firefighters would use water. Other times, though, they would use foam — a special type of aqueous foam we now know contains toxic PFAS. Also referred to as perfluorinated compounds, this is a class of 4,000 to 5,000 chemicals, some of which are found in the body of nearly every person on Earth.

Even though PFAS have been linked to dozens of disorders, including cancer, none is regulated by the state or the EPA. This week, several members of a US House subcommittee balked at proposals in several bills to regulate PFAS as a class. And in the state legislature, bills introduced in both the House and Senate to ban PFAS in firefighting foam were exiled to committee, where they never received a hearing.[Read more…]

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3. Five quick takes as the legislative session passes its symbolic midpoint


North Carolina lawmakers sped past their self-imposed crossover deadline last week – the date by which many bills must pass at least one house to remain alive for the session. Here are five quick takes on where things stand:

#1 – GOP bulldozer downsized to a Bobcat – Traditionally, and especially during the last several years of conservative rule, the crossover deadline has served as an excuse/opportunity for legislative leaders to push through scores of controversial proposals during a series of marathon sessions that have often stretched into the wee hours of the night. This year, things were different.

Owing in part to the desire of some Republican leaders to attend a national conservative gathering in Asheville and, in part, to the demise of GOP supermajorities (a fact that has served to place a modest check on the Right’s ambitions), crossover passed in much quieter fashion this year. Instead of pulling “all-nighters” and bulldozing through a mountain of bills, lawmakers called it quits early, having advanced a somewhat less imposing pile. [Read more…]

Bonus read: Fifteen great ideas that were lost in the legislature’s crossover deadline shuffle

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4. Republicans, education advocates square off again over expanding private school voucher program

You can hear the anger rising in Yevonne Brannon’s voice as she talks about the state’s controversial school voucher program.

Brannon, a spokeswoman for Public Schools First N.C., a K-12 advocacy organization, thinks it’s outrageous that a family with an annual income of more than $71,000 could receive state tax dollars to help pay for private school tuition.

But that’s exactly what would happen under state Senate-proposed changes to North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program.

“It undermines and contributes to the demise of public education in North Carolina,” Brannon said. [Read more…]

Bonus read: Colleges will soon be able to factor SAT ‘adversity score’ into admissions decisions

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5. Delay in ‘Silent Sam’ decision reflects divided UNC leadership while spurring suspicion, concern in community


At its meeting next week, the UNC Board of Governors was scheduled to unveil a new plan for the future of the Confederate monument known as “Silent Sam.”

But late Tuesday afternoon, board Chairman Harry Smith released a statement saying the board has decided to again postpone it.

“In early March, we set the May meeting of the UNC Board of Governors as a tentative reporting date to consider possible solutions for the confederate monument at UNC-Chapel Hill, commonly known as Silent Sam,” Smith said in the statement. [Read more…]

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6. A gun in my classroom? No thanks.

I am a public school teacher in Forsyth County. As a special education teacher, I work with students at the middle school level and help them manage learning disabilities, ADHD, and other factors keeping them from performing on grade level. I love my job, but would leave it in a heartbeat if given the opportunity to carry a gun in my classroom.

Friends and family members tell me this could never happen in North Carolina, but why not? The Florida legislature just voted to allow this. At least one school district in Texas has been doing it for years. And our elected officials in Raleigh have introduced a bill this session (SB 192) to allow this very thing – the badly mislabeled “School Security Act of 2019.”

Let’s set aside the horrifying possibility of a student or intruder gaining control of my weapon. In addition, let’s not consider the morass of lawsuits that are likely to crop up surrounding real, or even potential, situations a gun in the classroom would introduce. The main reason I would object to carrying a gun is the way the relationship with my students would change. [Read more…]

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7. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

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