Commentary, Environment, News, Voting

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Powerful new hog trial testimony puts Smithfield back on the defensive
By Lisa Sorg

As a former police officer and firefighter, Wesley Sewell has encountered odors so putrid that they would make most people retch. He’s even ranked the smells. No. 1 “is when I had to remove burning bodies from a plane crash,” Sewell told a jury in a federal hog nuisance trial yesterday. No. 2 “is when I had to remove a person from their home who had been dead a week on the toilet. Hog feces is number three, or at least in the top five.”

Sewell is not a plaintiff, but was subpoenaed as a witness in the most recent lawsuit against the world’s largest pork producer, Murphy-Brown. [Read more…]

2. Fearing suppression, voting rights advocates make case for early voting sites in letters to county boards
By Melissa Boughton

Early voting in North Carolina is a big deal with a big turnout, but advocates are bracing for a negative impact this year after some last minute legislative wheeling and dealing.

To help minimize the damage, the ACLU of North Carolina and Democracy NC teamed up to inform county boards of elections of the effects of Senate Bill 325 and House Bill 335 and to make recommendations for consideration as they adopt early voting plans. [Read more...]

3. Just say ‘no’: The easiest way to push back against NC’s rogue General Assembly is to vote against all six proposed constitutional amendments
By Rob Schofield

Like Congress and most modern American state legislatures, the North Carolina General Assembly is not a popular or respected body. Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling asked voters their opinion of the General Assembly earlier this year and the results were fairly dismal. It found that less than one-in-five North Carolina voters (19%) approved of the job the legislature was doing, while more than half (51%) disapproved. [Read more]

4. Plea deal offers glimpse into rampant bail industry fraud
By Joe Killian

When Sarah Jessenia Lopez plead guilty in May to attempted notary fraud related to bail bonding, it was not earth shattering. After all, fraud and criminality in North Carolina’s for-profit bail industry has been rampant for years.

The North Carolina Department of Insurance regulates the bail industry. Between 2009 and 2016, its criminal investigators made more than 1,500 arrests related to insurance and bail bonding fraud alone. There have been more than 750 criminal convictions with more than 250 cases currently pending in court. But a close examination of Lopez’s plea deal reveals details that could reverberate throughout the already troubled industry and contribute to the final dismantling of one of the state’s largest and most powerful bail surety companies. [Read more]

5. N.C. General Assembly has failed to act, but the time to stop Chemours’ pollution is now
By Billy Ball

“How long before we say enough is enough?” state lawmaker Ted Davis Jr. asked his colleagues in the N.C. House in February. “How much more is Chemours going to get away with before something is done?”

Chances are the Wilmington Republican, whose constituents are right to be worried about the Delaware-based chemical company’s discharges into the Cape Fear River, is asking the same questions today as pressure mounts on Chemours practically everywhere outside of the North Carolina General Assembly. [Read more]

6. Cartoonist John Cole: It’s getting deep… [Read more…]

Commentary, News

Horror stories emerging about life in former Wal-Mart-turned-ICE facility

The list of horrible acts being committed in the name of the American people by the Trump administration continues to grow. For a classic and stomach-turning example, check out reporter Alan Pyke’s story on Think Progress entitled “‘This is it for you. You’re fu**ed.’: Inside ICE’s abuse of migrant kids at a frigid old Walmart — Nicknamed the “hielera” or icebox, Casa Padre is a hellscape of cruel guards, sickening food, and psychological torture. Here are some excerpts:

“Children are sleeping on floors and being cussed out by guards, subsisting on meager rations of beans, crackers, and tortillas that leave them feeling ill, and passing the nights sleeping on floors under bright lights in a converted Walmart in south Texas.

The new reports of harsh physical conditions, humiliating psychological abuse, and basic deprivation at the so-called ‘Casa Padre’ facility in Brownsville, Texas, come almost a month after President Donald Trump took symbolic steps to quash public outcry over his family separation policy aimed at punishing and deterring migrants.

The children and parents who swore out hundreds of affidavits to attorneys appealing the United States government’s treatment of migrants have mostly fled violence in Central America. The conditions in which they find themselves today in the world’s richest and most powerful country shock the conscience — and almost certainly violate the conditions of the legal settlement that’s bound American officials in treatment of minors in immigration detention for decades, lawyers say.

In many cases, the only bathroom the children are allowed to use is located inside their holding pen.

There is a security camera in the room which points to the bathroom’ in the cell where a 17-year-old from Guatemala named Noe is being kept with a dozen other boys, he said.”

The story goes on to describe many dreadful aspects of life in the facility, including terrible food, outrageous discipline practices and a culture of abuse. Here’s the sobering conclusion:

“The horror stories were unearthed by attorneys seeking a judge’s help to enforce the longstanding consent decree that governs U.S. treatment of child detainees and families of migrants that include minor children. Only about one in 10 interviewees reported being treated particularly well, or offered any praise for the adequacy of the food, blankets, or other conditions, attorney Peter Schey of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law said in the filing that accompanied the shocking testimonials.

‘[A]bout 90%… provide testimony that is shocking and atrocious,’ Schey wrote. ‘It amounts to a picture not just of forcibly separating thousands of children from their parents, but on a much broader level of a program of forced hunger, forced thirst, forced sleep deprivation, coupled with routine insults, threats, and physical assault, that leave class member children crying, trembling, hungry, thirsty, sleepless, sick, and terrified.’

‘Mental health experts agree that many class members will never fully recover from the terror and humiliation they experienced in Defendants’ custody.’

Though Schey is bound by legal standards to use the word ‘Defendants’ there, the rest of us don’t have to be so oblique. The people doing this to the 900-plus children at Casa Padre and more than 1,000 others at other facilities — while also failing to reunite families as they were ordered to do by a federal court — are officials of the United States government that represents all 300-plus million people who are citizens of this country.”

 

 

Commentary, Defending Democracy

Big crowd expected for Raleigh “democracy reform” townhall tonight

Organizers expect a big crowd tonight for a “democracy reform” townhall meeting featuring Congressman David Price that will take place at Broughton High School in Raleigh.

The event, which features the moniker “A Better Deal for Our Democracy,” will take place from 6:30 – 8:30.

The event website says that those in attendance will receive a congressional update from Price on issues like “extreme partisan gerrymandering and attacks on voting rights to foreign interference in our elections and rampant corruption in Washington,” hear from local advocates about the democracy reform agenda in North Carolina, and get a chance to offer their own thoughts and ideas for solutions to the challenges facing our nation.

Attendees will also discuss the road ahead in light of recent developments such as the Supreme Court’s redistricting rulings and the General Assembly’s proposed constitutional amendments. Click here for more information and to RSVP.

Commentary

Prof. Gene Nichol provides a useful lesson in constitutional history

In case you missed it this morning, be sure to check out Prof. Gene Nichol’s fine essay in Raleigh’s News & Observer  celebrating and explaining the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as it arrives at its 15oth anniversary.

Here are some on-the money excerpts:

“This month marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the most consequential provision of the U.S. Constitution, the 14th Amendment. It grants citizenship to anyone born in America and assures that state governments afford due process and equal protection of the laws.

Rep. John Bingham, the enactment’s principal author, explained he sought ‘a simple, strong, plain declaration that equal laws and exact justice shall be secured within every state for any person, no matter whence he comes, or how poor, how weak, how simple, how friendless.’ The 14th Amendment, along with its civil war counterparts, sought to remedy the tragic defects of 1789 and bring egalitarian democracy to the United States.

Of course Bingham’s words have been much-ignored in our constitutional history. The 14th Amendment was largely gutted in its first 50 years – except as a tool for corporate interests. And Plessy v. Ferguson cruelly buried its central meaning.

But since 1954, the Supreme Court has frequently used the 14th Amendment to demand that American government make real its foundational promises. Brown v. Board of Education (school segregation), Loving v. Virginia (anti-miscegenation laws), Craig v. Boren (sex discrimination), Harper v. Virginia (voting rights), Goldberg v. Kelly (right to hearing), Roe v. Wade (reproductive rights), Graham v. Richardson (immigrant rights), Obergefell v. Hodges (gay rights) and Reynolds v. Sims (equal representation) are its principal markers. Without them, the U.S. would be a tyrannous nation. Anything but the land of the free. So it’s good to raise a glass to the old, but essential and defining, provision.”

After noting the repeated and ongoing efforts of conservative politicians like Donald Trump and North Carolina legislative leaders to undermine the amendment, Nichol concludes this way:

“But it’s also accurate to characterize the struggle as a continuing, never-yielding fight over Bingham’s 14th Amendment. The Tar Heel State initially voted against the amendment in 1866, for example, before eventually yielding to the pressures of the Reconstruction Congress. And the aggressive social and political agenda of today’s North Carolina Republican Party is impossible to square with the due process and equal protection mandates of the last half-century. Read more

News

Marshall, Stein, Coble to meet on ballot language, summaries for constitutional amendments

As Policy Watch reporter Joe Killian reported two weeks ago, not all details of the six constitutional amendments that will appear on this November’s ballot have been finalized. The state Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission — a somewhat unlikely trio made up of Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, Attorney General Josh Stein and the General Assembly’s Legislative Services officer, Paul Coble — must meet to come up with captions for the ballot along with brief summaries. Today, Marshall released the following announcement about the Commission’s plans:

NC Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission to Meet July 31st
New website provides amendment information and how to send proposed summaries

Raleigh – The North Carolina Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission will meet on Tuesday, July 31st at 9:30 a.m. in Room 105 of Campbell Law School at 225 Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. The Commission will prepare official summaries and captions for six proposed amendments to the North Carolina Constitution that will be put before voters in the November 6, 2018 general election.

The six proposed amendments were created by the North Carolina General Assembly during its most recent session and concern board appointments, selecting judges, voter ID, crime victim protections, hunting and fishing, and the state income tax rate.

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall chairs the three-person Commission. The other members are NC Attorney General Josh Stein and the Legislative Services Officer of the NC General Assembly, Paul Coble. The Commission webpage has information about the six proposed amendments and provides instructions for members of the public who want to submit suggested text for the summaries for any of the proposed amendments. In order to be considered, suggested text submitted by the public must be received by 5 p.m., Wednesday, July 25.

Secretary of State Marshall thanked Campbell Law School for use of the School’s state-of-the-art auditorium for the meeting. “Six proposed amendments mean we have a lot of work to do as Commission members,” Secretary Marshall said. “This facility gives us the best infrastructure in the area for accomplishing our duties.”

Campbell Law School Dean J. Rich Leonard noted, “we are delighted that Campbell Law’s location in the heart of Raleigh gives us the opportunity to be the venue for critically important governmental activities.”

The Commission’s role is limited to preparing the captions and summaries for each of the proposed amendments in simple, commonly used language. Commission meetings are open to the public, but are not public hearings. The Commission does not open the floor for the public to speak, ask questions, or advocate in favor of or in opposition to proposed amendments.

The Commission was created in 1983 by N.C.G.S. § 147-54.8. In 2016, the law was amended to give the Commission the additional duty of preparing a short caption to go on the ballot reflecting the contents of the summary for each proposed amendment. Once approved by the Commission, the full summary of each proposed amendment, along with the captions, will be made available to the public and the media, and will be available to voters through county boards of election prior to the November election.

If it becomes necessary for the Commission to continue its meeting to a second day, then the group will meet on Wednesday, August 1st in Room 105 of Campbell Law School at 225 Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. The same location will be used on Thursday, August 2nd if the Commission needs to meet a third day.

Anyone wishing to send in written comments on paper instead of using the Commission’s website (the same deadline of 5 p.m., May 25 applies for receiving mailed comments) can send them to:

Mailing Address:
Attention: Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission
NC Department of the Secretary of State
PO Box 29622
Raleigh, NC 27626-0622

Street Address (for USPS express mail or other express delivery service):
Attention: Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission
NC Department of the Secretary of State
2 South Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC 27601-2903