Should the US Supreme Court dismiss the elections law case from North Carolina? The parties have their say.

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Lawyers for NC Republican legislators, voting rights groups, and the U.S Department of Justice told the US Supreme Court whether they think the justices should still decide a case watched nationwide for its potential impact on election laws, even though the issues are still being argued in a North Carolina court. 

The US Supreme Court wanted to know whether it still had jurisdiction in the case known as Moore vs. Harper. The US Supreme Court doesn’t usually hear cases that are still alive in lower courts.

Just last week, lawyers for North Carolina Republican legislative leaders were in state court asking Supreme Court justices to overrule the February 2022 redistricting decision Republicans appealed to the US Supreme Court.

Republican legislators appealed to the US Supreme Court last year after the state Supreme Court threw out redistricting maps based on state constitutional violations and required new plans.

Republicans argued that the Elections Clause in the US Constitution makes legislatures the final state authorities on federal elections laws, including how congressional districts are drawn.  The US Supreme Court heard arguments on the “independent state legislature theory” in December. 

Then, Republican legislators asked for a redo of the state redistricting case after the GOP won the majority on the NC Supreme Court. Republican lawyers asked the court to overrule last year’s redistricting decision. The rehearing was held in Raleigh last week. 

Republican lawyers told the US Supreme Court in a brief filed Monday that it still has jurisdiction.

But the three groups that brought the redistricting case, the NC League of Conservation Voters, Common Cause, and voters backed by the National Redistricting Foundation don’t have a unified opinion on whether the case is properly with the high court. 

Common Cause said the US Supreme Court has jurisdiction. 

Lawyers for the NC League of Conservation Voters and the voters backed by the National Redistricting Foundation reminded the Supreme Court justices that they opposed the court taking the case last year because the North Carolina court wasn’t finished with it. 

The US Solicitor General said it was complicated. 

The state court agreeing to the rehearing makes it hard to argue that it had made a final determination on a federal issue, Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar wrote. And if the state court issues a decision before the US Supreme Court issues its opinion, it would moot the federal issue. 

“Given that possibility, it is not clear that it would advance the relevant federal policies for this Court to invest additional time and effort in a case where future events may prevent the Court from resolving the federal question,” she wrote. Still, “no precedent squarely governs this issue, and that the Court could reasonably reach a different conclusion.”

NC House bill would ban COVID-19 vaccination requirements for public employees and students

A public health strategy meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 would be outlawed under a bill the state House is considering.

State and local governments, public schools, the community college system, and the UNC system would not be allowed to require workers, job applicants, or students to show proof that they were vaccinated for COVID-19. There are some limited exceptions, including for people working in federally-regulated health facilities.   

Rep. Jon Hardister, a Guilford County Republican and a bill sponsor, said the state Department of Health and Human Services is not interested in a vaccine mandate. 

“We’re trying to make sure it doesn’t happen,” he said. 

Opponents of House bill 98 said that with medical and religious exemptions people who shouldn’t take or don’t want the shots are able to opt out of vaccine requirements. 

Having vaccinated public employees is a way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to members of their communities, said Rep. Maria Cervania, a Wake County Democrat. 

Rep. Larry Potts, a Lexington Republican and a senior chairman of the House Health Committee, said people shouldn’t have to justify why they won’t be vaccinated. 

“I don’t have to explain why I don’t want the vaccine,” he said. “If I don’t want it, I don’t want it.”

The committee approved the bill on a voice vote, with some voting against it.

Gov. Roy Cooper and legislative Republicans clashed repeatedly over COVID-19 public health measures in the height of the pandemic, with Republicans passing bills to open bars and various sports and entertainment venues and Cooper vetoing those bills.

When the highly-contagious COVID-19 delta variant was spreading in 2021,  Cooper, a Democrat, began requiring workers in Cabinet agencies to be vaccinated or take weekly COVID tests. 

A 2021 House bill would have prevented schools, governments, hospitals, or childcare centers  from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations. That bill did not move out of committee. 

About 78% of state employees who were subject to the vaccine-or-testing requirement received shots by early May 2022, according to information complied by the Office of State Human Resources. Compliance varied widely. Almost everyone in Cooper’s office was vaccinated, while 67% of Department of Transportation employees were vaccinated before the requirement for weekly testing of unvaccinated employees was lifted in May 2022 for most agencies. 

Through May 9, 2022, state Human Resources office recorded 52 people having lost their jobs for not complying with the vaccine-or-testing requirement.

Critics of NC GOP tax policy want to stop corporate income tax cuts

Eliminating the state’s corporate income tax means more money for out-of-state corporations and less to support the needs of North Carolinians, critics said Monday.

NC sources of revenue

NC sources of revenue Source: NC consensus economic forecast

They discussed bills that would freeze the corporate income tax at 2.5% rather than have it fall to zero in 2030. 

North Carolina’s corporate income tax rate was 6.9% from 2011 to 2013 and declined in steps over the years to 2.5% in 2019. Republican legislators’ budget plan has the corporate rate set to start falling again in 2025 until the tax is eliminated in 2030. In his budget released last week, Gov. Roy Cooper proposed halting the corporate tax cut. 

“Making sure corporations pay what they owe provides critical dollars to connect more people to  economic opportunity, and supports the expansion and start up of locally-owned businesses,” said Alexandra Sirota, executive director of the NC Budget and Tax Center said Monday. 

According to a 2021 poll, about two-thirds of North Carolinians oppose eliminating the corporate income tax, NC Policy Watch reported. 

The consensus revenue forecast presented last month showed corporate income tax revenue is 5% of total state revenues. Money collected from personal income taxes is 53% of state revenues. North Carolina has a $3.25 billion revenue surplus. 

North Carolina’s corporate income tax rate of 2.5% is the lowest among the 44 states that have such a tax.

NC corporate income tax rate, by year

NC corporate income tax rate, by year Source: NC Department of Revenue

Corporations benefit from taxpayer-funded infrastructure and services, including roads their employees travel to get to work, public education, universities, and childcare subsidies, said Sen. Lisa Grafstein, a Wake County Democrat. She is a primary sponsor of the Senate bill that would cancel the corporate income tax phaseout. 

Stopping the tax cuts is unlikely this year, with Republican legislative leaders talking about more tax cuts rather than tax freezes. House Speaker Tim Moore told WUNC he wants to consider a range of tax cuts.

Cassandra Stokes, democracy and economy coordinator for NC Black Alliance, said corporate tax cuts cost all North Carolinians. Lawmakers should focus on helping state residents and local businesses, she said. 

“Eliminating the corporate income tax will not help connect the vast majority of black-owned businesses to technical assistance, to new capital, or to new markets,” Stokes said.”Instead it would send dollars out of state to large, profitable corporations and give outsized benefits to shareholders who are overwhelming white and overwhelmingly wealthy.”

Gov. Cooper will allow two bills similar to those he previously vetoed to become law without his signature

Gov. Roy Cooper said Friday he is allowing bills on hotel tenants and rioting penalties to become law without his signature. 

Senate bill 53 says that people who live in inns, motels, campgrounds, or other lodgings do not have legal rights afforded tenants if they live in those places for fewer than 90 consecutive days. 

Cooper vetoed a similar bill in 2021.The bill this year passed along party lines in the Senate and easily passed the House with bipartisan support.

Cooper said in his statement, Cooper acknowledged the bill has broad legislative support.  “However safe housing is sometimes only available from temporary shelter such as hotels, and I remain concerned that this bill will legalize unfair treatment for those who need protection, and this will prevent me from signing it.”

House bill 40, a bill increasing penalties for rioting, will also become law without Cooper’s signature. House Speaker Tim Moore championed the bill, and has said it was inspired by protests against George Floyd’s murder. Civil rights groups warned that the law would be used to target people of color and make people hesitant to protest injustices. 

Cooper vetoed a version in 2021.

The bill on rioting penalties passed this year with one Democratic vote in the Senate and six Democratic votes in the House – enough to override a veto if all legislators show up for an override vote. 

Republicans have revived several bills Cooper vetoed in past years. With bigger GOP majorities in the House and Senate, those bills have a better chance of becoming law. 

In his statement on the rioting penalties, Cooper said, I acknowledge that changes were made to modify this legislation’s effect after my veto of a similar bill last year. Property damage and violence are already illegal and my continuing concerns about the erosion of the First Amendment and the disparate impacts on communities of color will prevent me from signing this legislation.”

NC maternal death rate exceeds national rate

North Carolina’s maternal mortality rate is rising much faster than the national rate reported by the CDC on Thursday. 

The US maternal mortality rate in 2021 was 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the CDC, up from 23.8 per 100,000 in 2020, and 20.1 per 100,000 in 2019.

North Carolina’s maternal mortality rate doubled over those years, to 44 deaths per 100,000 births in 2021, up from 22 deaths per 100,000 in 2019, Policy Watch reported this week using  CDC data obtained by the investigative news organization MuckRock. 

Nationally,  Black women are 2.6 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. The maternal death rate for Black women was 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2021, while for white women it was 26.6 deaths per 100,000 births. The CDC counted maternal deaths of women while they were pregnant or within 42 days of giving birth. The death rate increased for women of all races, the CDC reported. 

“Provisional data released in late 2022 in a U.S. Government Accountability Office report indicated that maternal death rates in 2021 had spiked – in large part due to COVID-19,” Dr. Abbasi Hoskins, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in a prepared statement Thursday.

“Still, confirmation of a roughly 40% increase in preventable deaths compared to a year prior is stunning news,” the statement said. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic had a dramatic and tragic effect on maternal death rates, but we cannot let that fact obscure that there was – and still is- already a maternal mortality crisis to compound.”

The maternal death rate is higher in the United States than it is in any other wealthy country, according to the Commonwealth Fund reported

A Policy Watch analysis of MuckRock data found that in 2020 and 2021 about 56% of the 119 Black women in North Carolina who died within a year of giving birth died from pregnancy-related causes.

For 163 white women in the state who died within a year of giving birth in those years, about a third died from pregnancy-related causes.