Commentary, News

The week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. PW exclusive: Experts question business dealings of UNC Board of Governors member

Thom Goolsby, a former North Carolina state Senator now serving on the UNC Board of Governors, is running an “online financial education” company that might run afoul of a state order barring him from the financial services industry, a Policy Watch investigation has found.

Two securities law experts who have examined the business’ offerings at Policy Watch’s request say Goolsby could be violating the spirit – and potentially the letter – of the order, issued in April 2014 by the office of the North Carolina Secretary of State.

“It certainly has the aroma that he’s gone beyond the consent decree in terms of what he’s offering to people who donate to this,” said Tom Hazen, a UNC-Chapel Hill law professor with expertise in corporate, securities and commodities law.[Read more…]

2. NC’s Mark Meadows out as head of Freedom Caucus


Future of once-powerful congressional group in question as “Trump whisperer” takes his leave

Once called the “most powerful man in the House,” North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows is stepping down from his perch atop the conservative U.S. House Freedom Caucus after nearly three years as its chairman.

The move comes as the once-powerful Freedom Caucus has been forced to change its tactics on Capitol Hill. Republicans lost the House majority this year and no longer set the agenda in the lower chamber of Congress. The caucus that spent years pushing GOP leadership to the right is now fighting the Democratic majority and gearing up for 2020. [Read more…]

3. Doing the math on Duke Energy’s “climate strategy” — and its campaign contributions

Duke Energy calls its new net-zero carbon emissions plan a “directional beacon,” but for critics of the utility, the proposal is blind to the drivers of climate change.

Tuesday’s announcement from the energy titan offered no hard-and-fast numbers in which to hold the utility accountable, stating only that by 2050, Duke will have phased out coal. The company will still use natural gas. The utility also said it “hopes to have a new set of generation resources that are low- to no-carbon. These include new nuclear technologies, longer-lasting energy storage and other options we haven’t even considered yet.”

But the utility’s plan ignores an inevitable increase in methane — a potent greenhouse gas even more destructive than carbon dioxide — from an increased use of natural gas. Nor does the plan address how the utility will offset a projected 5.5 million tons in additional carbon emissions each year from just two of its natural gas plants. [Read more…]

4. Private religious school receives state voucher money despite teaching homosexuality is a sin

In the western part of the state, the “Citizen Times” reports that a conservative religious school that receives a third of Buncombe County’s opportunity scholarship money teaches students that homosexuality is a sin.

Temple Baptist School in West Asheville is also dismissive of the theory of evolution, the paper reports. It opts to evangelize about Young Earth creationism, which contends Earth is no more than 10,000 years old.

Here’s how Brian Washburn, the administrator at Temple Baptist, explained the school’s approach to those subjects.

“What we do is based on the Bible as our foundation,” Washburn told the “Citizen Times.” “So that’s going to influence our approach to teaching all of our subject areas. [Read more…]

5. NC’s late summer political turmoil undermines democracy

The confluence of three essentially unprecedented events combined to make last week an extraordinary one in the modern history of North Carolina policy and politics.

On Tuesday, the state conducted a special election to choose 15% of its delegation to the U.S House of Representatives. Under normal circumstances, such an event and its aftermath would have dominated the news cycle all week – especially given that one of the two districts had been the subject of intense national scrutiny ever since rampant ballot fraud tainted the 2018 vote. [Read more…]

Not last week. [Read more…]

6. ‘A perfect synergy:’ Attorneys behind UNC Center for Civil Rights merge with national group

Civil rights litigation isn’t always about securing a win in court – sometimes there is a deeper reclamation that comes from fighting for what’s right alongside others who care about the cause.

That was evident Sept. 12 as racial and social justice advocates from across the state gathered to celebrate the work of Mark Dorosin and Elizabeth Haddix, the former heads of the UNC Center for Civil Rights.

After UNC fired the two attorneys in December 2017 and banned the Center for Civil Rights from taking legal action on behalf of its poor and minority clients, Dorosin and Haddix moved their work to the newly-launched Julius L. Chambers Center for Civil Rights and continued working from Haddix’s home.

After seeking a partnership to expand their resources and advance their work, in July, they united with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a national nonprofit that, since 1963, has worked to address inequities for Black Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities. [Read more…]

7. Does money matter in public education? Let us count the ways.

Powerful new research confirms numerous benefits of substantially increasing public investments

For decades, a debate raged in education policy circles: does money matter? While this question has definitively been answered by academics, it will undoubtedly be the subject of heated debate over the next year in North Carolina.

In June, court-appointed consultants submitted a much-anticipated report detailing how North Carolina can meet its constitutional requirement to provide a “sound, basic education” to all students. For the time being, the report – part of the longstanding Leandro court case – remains confidential. But most observers anticipate the report will recommend that the state substantially boost its investment in public schools. [Read more…]

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Commentary, Courts & the Law, Education, Legislature, News

The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

1. In historic ruling, judges strike down North Carolina’s gerrymandered legislative maps

North Carolina voters may have a front row seat over the next two weeks to watch Republican lawmakers correct their redistricting wrong of using extreme partisan gerrymandering to dilute Democrats’ collective voting strength and to entrench their own political party in power.

A panel of three Superior Court judges unanimously struck down 2017 House and Senate maps in a 357-page ruling Tuesday, giving lawmakers two weeks, until Sept. 18, to draw new districts in “full public view” without the use of election data.

They wrote in their ruling that the 2017 House and Senate districts challenged in Common Cause v. Lewis were “significantly tainted in that they unconstitutionally deprive every citizen of the right to elections for members of the General Assembly conducted freely and honestly to ascertain, fairly and truthfully, the will of the People.” [Read more…]

Bonus read: First redistricting committee meeting set for Monday after court orders new districts

2. Dan Forest to headline Charlotte event featuring controversial religious right speakers


Lt. Governor to share the stage with speakers who have vilified LGBTQ and Muslim communities, called for plan to “free Christian children from public education.”

Next month, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest will be the special guest at The American Renewal Project’s “North Carolina Renewal Project” event in Charlotte. The roster of speakers for the private conservative Christian event includes:

A pastor who calls the notion of a separation between church and state “cowardice” and those in the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality “militant homofascists” bent on turning the U.S. into Sodom.
An author who has railed against Muslims as would-be conquerors and rapists and LGBTQ rights as a first step to America living under Sharia law.
A pastor and Republican politician who has asserted anyone not committed to the U.S. as an explicitly Judeo-Christian nation should leave.[Read more…]

3. Burr, Tillis keep quiet as volume rises in gun control debate

WASHINGTON — Democrats are angling to put gun control at the center of the debate when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill next week, but so far, North Carolina’s senators have stayed relatively quiet on the issue.

After a summer marked by multiple mass shootings across the United States, gun control is gaining more traction in Congress, even among some traditionally reluctant Republicans.

The House Judiciary Committee is slated to debate three gun control proposals next week, and House Democratic leadership has called for immediate action on the issue. Meanwhile, Walmart announced this week it would no longer sell ammunition for assault weapons.[Read more...]

4. The Right’s silly and simplistic attacks on “socialism”

Ever since Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders launched his first campaign for the presidency in 2015, America has found itself immersed in a renewed debate over the concept of “socialism.”

This is, of course, not a new discussion. The word itself goes back at least to the 19th Century and many of the ideas associated with it can be traced to the beginning of human history. What’s more, the “socialist” label has been embraced, attacked, defined and understood by countless leaders, thinkers, activists and political movements in myriad ways.

Today, Sanders may describe himself as a proponent of “democratic socialism,” but what the senator has in mind when he uses such a term clearly bears little resemblance to what many others who have used the “socialist” label were seeking to promote – be they the sclerotic autocrats of the late 20th Century Soviet bloc, the leaders of numerous Third World revolutionary movements, or even the far right “National Socialists” of Nazi Germany and today’s “Heil Trump,” white supremacist movement.[Read more…]

5. To buy out or rebuild? Hurricane Dorian shines a spotlight on the future of NC’s low-lying coast

Forty-eight hours before the arms of Hurricane Dorian locked on the coast, North Topsail Beach in Onslow County sounded like an untuned symphony. The roar of the ocean lay down a musical bed for the shrieks of seagulls, a concussion of hammers and the caterwauls of power saws.

Dozens of homes along and near the oceanfront were already boarded up, their inhabitants headed inland. Stragglers were folding their beach towels, collecting a few more seashells and abandoning their sand castles.“I’m going to hightail it out of here pretty soon,” said one man, scrambling toward the sea to soak in the final minutes of a long holiday.

The hundreds of homes along New River Inlet Road are among the most vulnerable to sea level rise and beach erosion on North Carolina’s southeast coast, according to coastal geologist Rob Young. A report, published by Young and the Program for Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, recommends a targeted buyout of many of these oceanfront homes, which are on “first line” of tropical storm exposure on the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts.

“There are very few buyouts on barrier islands,” Young told a crowd at a coastal resiliency summit in Havelock in June, where he previewed portions of the report. “But it’s a sensible solution.” [Read more…]

6. Another year, another monster storm: Our leaders must act on climate change

I was almost 16 years old in August 1998, when Hurricane Bonnie – traveling at a sluggish six miles per hour, about the speed of a brisk jog – cut up the North Carolina coastline. But my memories of the night it chewed up my hometown are indelible.

The pine trees bent and broke, the power transformer on the corner gave off a mechanical cough and exploded with a shower of incandescent sparks, and the house – which I’d had no call to question the fidelity of before that day – seemed to groan.

How swiftly that heady pre-storm mixture of glee and anticipation – summoned, of course, by school closures and a break in the late summer monotony – turned to fear. [Read more…]

7. North Carolina students show modest gains on the latest round of state tests

North Carolina schools posted modest gains on state tests. More schools met or exceeded growth targets and more schools earned A and B performance grades, according to the state’s annual accountability report released Wednesday by the State Board of Education.

The state’s graduation rate was 86.5 percent, which is a slight improvement over last year’s 86.3 percent rate.

“We are making changes in Raleigh to help our students and teachers – with less time spent on testing and more time for instruction, getting money out of Raleigh and into classrooms where it belongs, and a regional support system better tailored to support schools,” State Superintendent Mark Johnson said.

The percentage of third-graders reading at or above grade level was 56.8 percent for the 2018-19 school year compared to 56.3 percent the previous year.[Read more…]

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News, Ninth Congressional District

At-a-glance: Early voting in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional election

Republican Dan Bishop (L) and Democrat Dan McCready (R)

Early voting in the 9th congressional district race featuring Republican Dan Bishop against Democrat Dan McCready continues to draw attention ahead of the September 10th special election.

More than 22,840 absentee ballots have been accepted by the eight counties within that congressional district.

Catawba College political scientist Dr. Michael Bitzer writing for Old North State Politics has crunched that data and come-up with the following helpful charts:

For much more data, including how this year compares to 2018’s early voting, follow Dr. Bitzer’s Twitter account at @oldnorthstpol

Note that one-stop early voting continues through September 6th, but will be suspended in many locations on Labor Day, September 2.

Education, News, public health

Editorial: Time to roll up our sleeves and strengthen the laws that require vaccinations for school children

With a new school year right around the corner, the editorial board of the Greensboro News & Record reminds us of the need to listen to our medical professionals when it comes to vaccinating our children.

The numbers won’t be crunched for a few months, but officials fear that the disturbing trend of the last few years will continue. The percentage of children who have not been vaccinated is rising, despite the efforts of public health and school officials and despite reams of evidence from medical professionals showing that vaccinations are safe and effective.

Exemptions to the law are allowed for two reasons: medical and religious. Medical exemptions require documentation that the child has an allergy or some other condition that makes vaccination unsafe. Only about 1 in 1,000 children have a medical exemption.

The alarming increase is in the exemptions for religious reasons. All parents need to do to obtain a religious exemption is write a statement of their religious objections.

Last year, about 1 out of 300 North Carolina students were granted such exemptions.

We’ve already seen what can happen. Buncombe County, with the highest rate of parents requesting religious exemptions, had the largest outbreak of chickenpox in North Carolina since that vaccine became available. Buncombe County also had an outbreak of pertussis, called whooping cough in the bad old days when it was sometimes fatal to infants.

Officials consider the vaccines that prevent many childhood diseases to be one of the greatest public health success stories of recent decades. These diseases are not to be taken lightly.

Measles used to kill children and leave others blind or with neurological problems. Chickenpox can necessitate amputations, cause shingles later in life, and even kill infants and people with weakened immune systems. The list goes on.

Why would parents deliberately not take advantage of vaccines to prevent these diseases? Sincere religious beliefs probably figure in a few cases, but it’s likely that junk science, conspiracy theories and social media play a much bigger role.

Many of the so-called anti-vaxxers have bought in to the misinformation campaign started by the thoroughly discredited research of Andrew Wakefield, a former British physician who in 1998 published a “study” in The Lancet, a medical journal, claiming a link between the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella — often simply called MMR — and autism. The Lancet later retracted the “study” as false, and Wakefield lost his medical license. But the myths keep circulating, despite extensive new research showing there is no link, and that the MMR vaccination saves lives.

Some parents selfishly decide not to have their children vaccinated, believing that since most others are vaccinated, their children will be safe. That’s a false assumption, as the outbreaks in Asheville prove.

The very success of vaccinations makes some parents think they aren’t necessary. Today’s parents grew up without experiencing those diseases or having known friends who died or were permanently damaged by them. They don’t see the diseases as a real threat, despite what public health officials try to tell us.

But skipped vaccinations endanger not just their own children but also others — infants, pregnant women and those who legitimately can’t take vaccines.

State officials should strengthen the sensible laws that require vaccinations for children to attend any school, whether public, charter or private.

Today’s children face enough dangers; why add an easily preventable disease to the list?

Read more

immigration, News

BREAKING NEWS: Governor Cooper vetoes controversial HB370 ICE detainer bill

Gov. Roy Cooper wasted little time in vetoing House Bill 370, “An Act to Require Compliance with Immigration Detainers and Administrative Warrants.”

The House gave the measure final approval Tuesday on a 62-53 vote, with proponents saying the bill was necessary to aid law enforcement in protecting public safety.

But more than 100 national and state organizations joined together to call the bill dangerous, noting that it would tear apart families and strip local law enforcement of their ability to make decisions in the best interest of the public.

Governor Cooper released the following statement in issuing Wednesday’s veto:

“This legislation is simply about scoring partisan political points and using fear to divide North Carolina. As the former top law enforcement officer of our state, I know that current law allows the state to jail and prosecute dangerous criminals regardless of immigration status.

This bill, in addition to being unconstitutional, weakens law enforcement in North Carolina by mandating sheriffs to do the job of federal agents, using local resources that could hurt their ability to protect their counties. Finally, to elevate their partisan political pandering, the legislature has made a sheriff’s violation of this new immigration duty as the only specifically named duty violation that can result in a sheriff’s removal from office.”