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A big shake-up at a troubled state agency, affordable housing vs. NC’s fragile environment, and democracy on the defense: The week’s top stories at Policy Watch

In this issue:

1. North Carolina House Republicans advance a new kind of bathroom bill (Commentary)

It’s been almost seven years since North Carolina Republican lawmakers and then-Gov. Pat McCrory hastily concocted and enacted House Bill 2 – the infamous “bathroom bill.” It targeted transgender people for ignorant, mean-spirited and altogether absurd discrimination, while simultaneously making the state the target of numerous boycotts and countless late-night TV one-liners.

The bill was later repealed but its legacy – as an embarrassment to be forgotten as quickly as possible for most people, and as a proud rallying point for the state’s religious right fringe (and reactionary culture warriors everywhere), lingers on. Across the country, efforts to make life harder for transgender people, and even to criminalize efforts to provide them medically necessary healthcare, continue apace. North Carolina state Treasurer Dale Folwell has been an especially avid and energetic devotee of this brand of discrimination.

Now, however, one of the chief architects of the HB 2 disaster, state House Speaker Tim Moore, is back with a new and very different – but equally absurd – kind of bathroom bill, or to be more precise, bathroom rule. [Read more…]

2. In newly created job, Richard Trumper will try to get ailing ReBuild NC disaster recovery program back on track

Richard Trumper, director of disaster recovery at the Office of State Budget and Management, will move to the NC Department of Public Safety as the senior advisor for disaster recovery, DPS announced today.

He was appointed to the newly created position by DPS Secretary Eddie Buffaloe, Jr.

His first day will be Feb. 1.

“In this new role, Trumper will support initiatives to build long-term and stable recovery for North Carolinians following natural disasters. As part of an expanded, comprehensive approach to recovery, Trumper will work with department leaders, the N.C. Office of Recovery and Resiliency” — also known as ReBuild NC — “N.C. Emergency Management and other partners to get disaster survivors back in their homes faster,” DPS wrote in a prepared statement.[Read more…]Bonus read: Shake up at ReBuild NC: Richard Trumper, who successfully managed state disaster relief, headed to beleaguered agency

3. Durham City Council rejects huge housing development proposal in Falls Lake watershed

Competing concerns over Triangle’s housing shortage and fragile environment fuel 4-2 vote.

The contentious Kemp Road project – 655 single-family houses and townhomes on 280 acres in the environmentally fragile Falls Lake watershed – is dead, at least temporarily.

But before sticking a fork in the proposal, Durham City Council members dug into several underlying issues vexing residents of one of the fastest-growing areas in the country: housing, gentrification and race.

Ultimately, the council voted down the rezoning that opponents said would have contributed to pollution in Lick Creek. The creek, seven miles of which is on the federally impaired list, flows into Falls Lake. In turn, the lake feeds the Neuse River, which travels to the Pamlico Sound and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. [Read more…]

4. UNC Board of Governors courts more controversy with new proposed rule on hiring and enrollment

Proponents say their objective is to protect freedom of speech and thought, but critics see other motives and many potential landmines

Discussions about political debates, beliefs, affiliations, ideals or principles could be banned in employment and enrollment processes at UNC System schools, if the UNC Board of Governors approves a proposed rule change.

System leaders say the change, introduced in a meeting of the board’s university governance committee Wednesday, will provide politically neutral protections for intellectual freedom and freedom of speech for students, faculty and university employees. But critics, including faculty leaders, say the move is part of a national conservative attack on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work.[Read more…]

5. NC Supreme Court justice discusses work of Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice at Greensboro event

Anita Earls touts progress in combating criminal justice inequities, calls for work at state and local levels to continue

When Anita Earls moved to Charlotte in 1988, one of the first people who welcomed her to the Queen City was the chair of the Charlotte League of Women Voters. Earls credits the chapter with helping her grow as an attorney and inspiring her through its work in support of maintaining racial integration in the city’s schools.

On Tuesday, Earls, now an associate justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court, repaid the favor, talking to the League of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad about the work of the state’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice — and how its power originated at the local level through the work of groups like the League.[Read more…]

6. A closer look at the mounting toll of fentanyl on the nation’s youth

Last year, Policy Watch delved into the epidemic within the opioid epidemic: the terrifying rise of synthetic opioid fentanyl and staggering number of deaths it has caused in North Carolina and across the country.

This month a new analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data by the nonprofit Families Against Fentanyl sheds new light on the ongoing crisis, particularly deaths among children 14 and under.

The group’s analysis found fentanyl deaths among that group are rising faster than any other, tripling nationwide in just two years from 2019 to 2021 (the last year for which full CDC data is available). Over the same period, fentanyl deaths among infants increased twice as fast as overall deaths. [Read more]

7. Veto showdowns and voter ID: Democracy will be on the defensive again at the legislature in 2023

The N.C. General Assembly gathered on Jan. 11 amid trappings of ceremony and good cheer to kick off its 2023 session. Then reality reared its head: At least in the state House, the majority party apparently intends to play rough.

Democrats in the minority are left to wonder if their Republican counterparts see them not as duly elected colleagues with whom they may disagree over this bill or that, but as enemies to be muzzled and marginalized.

By extension, those enemies must include voters who sent the Dems to Raleigh – perhaps to defend voting rights, expand Medicaid and adequately fund the public schools, among other public interest priorities.

This isn’t a case of “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’,” as the stock car racers used to say. No rules are set to be broken. That’s because they’ve changed the rules.[Read more…]

8. Josh Stein announces 2024 gubernatorial bid

Attorney General Josh Stein has officially entered the 2024 race to become North Carolina’s next governor. Stein announced his run with a three minute video on social media, pledging to fight for North Carolina’s future.

About 30 seconds of the ad is devoted to the incendiary rhetoric of Republican Lt. Governor Mark Robinson, who is widely expected to make his own run. Robinson has called homosexuality ‘filth’, pushed for banning abortions, and said that men not women are called by God to leadership positions.[Read more…]

9. Child vaccination rates, already down because of COVID, fall again

This report was first published by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Child vaccination rates dipped into dangerous territory during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools were shuttered, and most doctors were only seeing emergency patients.

But instead of recovering after schools reopened in 2021, those historically low rates worsened, according to new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts fear that the skepticism of science and distrust of government that flared up during the pandemic are contributing to the decrease.

According to today’s data, the percentage of U.S. children entering kindergarten with their required immunizations fell to 93% in the 2021-22 school year, 2 percentage points below recommended herd immunity levels of 95% and lower than vaccination rates in 2020-21, when many schools and doctor’s offices were closed. [Read more…]

10. Weekly Radio Interviews and daily and Radio Commentaries:

Click here for the latest radio interviews and commentaries with Policy Watch Director Rob Schofield.

11. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

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A big shake-up at a troubled state agency, affordable housing vs. NC’s fragile environment, and democracy on the defense: The week’s top stories at Policy Watch