Yet another poll confirms that NC lawmakers defy public opinion with attacks on abortion rights

At some point in the foreseeable future, the American anti-abortion movement is going to founder on the rocks of public opinion. Unless the nation’s democratic institutions simply cease to function — and admittedly, that’s probably not beyond the realm of possibility in a country in which a sizable minority has fallen for the lies of a serial grifter and would-be autocrat — the law will eventually reflect what most people believe about this most private of personal healthcare matters.

And what they believe, by consistently large margins, is that laws that restrict the right of the pregnant person to decide for themselves about whether to seek abortion care are wrong.

This fact was on display in 2022 when voters in several states — including deeply “red” states like Kansas and Kentucky — rejected efforts to remove this right. And it was demonstrated once again this week in North Carolina in the latest Meredith College Poll results.

According to the Meredith findings, 57.1% of North Carolinians support preserving the abortion rights North Carolinians currently enjoy or expanding them. Only 34.7% support greatly restricting or banning abortion rights. Just over 8% expressed no opinion.

These findings comport with results seen in numerous other U.S. polls and referenda votes. Last May, for instance, a Pew Research Center survey found that 61% of U.S. adults said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Similarly, nearly 60% of Kansans voted against a ballot initiative last summer that would have allowed legislators to restrict abortion rights.

Of course, the sad reality is that North Carolina is not a state that provides for citizen-instigated ballot initiatives. If it were, one can easily imagine any number of popular policy choices long frustrated by the gerrymandered, Republican dominated General Assembly — abortion rights, gun safety rules, Medicaid expansion, a higher minimum wage, higher taxes on the rich, just to name a few — that would have long ago found their way into state law.

As the news from the Legislative Building continues to make clear, however, for the time being, conservative lawmakers will continue to do the bidding of the loud minority that makes up their political base. And the challenge for the majority will continue to lie in mustering the energy, creativity, and long-run commitment necessary to ride out the current difficult era and, ultimately, make our democracy work as it is designed to work.

Hasty passage of “anti-riot” legislation tramples free speech in multiple ways

NC House Speaker Tim Moore

House Speaker Tim Moore is the chief sponsor of House Bill 40

Of all the protections enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, none stands above the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right to speak freely and to dissent.

It therefore stands to reason that any effort by elected officials to place curbs on these rights must be viewed with great skepticism and only approached with the utmost caution.

And it’s in light of this fact that the process employed by the North Carolina House this week in swiftly advancing a bill to increase penalties under the state’s so-called “anti-rioting” law constituted an especially egregious act.

As numerous advocates have argued and/or attempted to argue, the legislation raises some very serious concerns. The following, for instance, is from a release distributed by the government watchdog group, Democracy North Carolina:

Those lobbying against HB40 urged lawmakers to first and foremost oppose the bill, or in the absence of opposition, adopt amendments for the bill, including 1) removing the requirement to have a judge, instead of a magistrate, decide whether to release those who get arrested while protesting, leading to longer waits in jail, and 2) increasing the property damage amount needed to receive a felony charge from $1,500 to $5,000. The House adopted one amendment to increase the amount to $2,500 and shorten the wait time period to 24 hours.

“Regardless of the intent of this bill, HB 40 will disproportionately harm Black and brown North Carolinians due to the wide discretion being given to law enforcement and the over-policing that already exists in our communities. Black North Carolinians in 44 counties are currently three times more likely to be disenfranchised than their white counterparts,” said Carol Moreno Cifuentes, Policy and Program Manager at Democracy NC. “North Carolina’s current rioting law is similar to the federal anti-riot statute, which the 9th Circuit and 4th Circuit Court of Appeals have already ruled unconstitutional for being overly broad and vague. This bill also allows anybody who claims their property was damaged to sue those they believe responsible for up to three times the cost to repair damages. If a driver is near a protest, will they now be able to argue that someone standing nearby damaged their car? Finally, the bill will have a disparate impact in smaller rural counties where finding a judge to determine the pre-trial release will be more difficult, leading people to be held in jails that are at times already overcrowded. We ask lawmakers to oppose this bill in its entirety or to make amendments to aid in minimizing harm to our most disenfranchised communities.”

Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry, Wilkes)

Are all of the concerns voiced by Moreno and other critics completely valid? Probably, but it would be hard to say for sure.

Normally, when you’re mucking around with the right to free speech and protest, it’s imperative to let everyone have their say — critics and supporters — and to only proceed with extreme care after constitutional experts have weighed in and thoroughly vetted every possible implication of the proposal.

Unfortunately, that’s not how state House Republican leaders roll these days. Instead, they rammed the bill through two committees and two House floor votes in just a few hours. Public commenters were given a paltry two minutes to speak. Some were cut off mid-sentence in the House Judiciary 2 Committee by chair, Rep. Sarah Stevens.

And this is just wrong.

The bottom line: What are GOP legislators afraid of? If the law in question really needs revisions or an update, the least they could do is to have the courage and integrity to do so in an open, deliberate, and transparent manner. Sadly however, as is so often their wont, respect for free speech — even in the consideration of legislation designed to regulate it — is not a priority for North Carolina House Republicans.

More than 800K in NC applied for Biden’s student debt relief

This post is adapted from a report authored by John L. Micek of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

With President Joe Biden’s student debt forgiveness program now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court, the White House went on offense last week, blasting out state-by-state breakdowns of how many Americans stand to benefit from it.

In all, 26 million people in all 50 states applied — or were automatically eligible — for the onetime relief, the administration said last week. That included 812,000 North Carolinians, 522,000 of whom saw their applications approved and sent to loan servicers, the data showed.

According to the White House, more than 40 million student loan borrowers nationwide would qualify for the one-time relief, with 90 percent of the benefits for out-of-school borrowers going to those earning $75,000 a year or less.

“Millions of those borrowers could be experiencing the benefits of that relief today – were it not for lawsuits brought on by elected officials in some of their own states,” the White House said in a fact-sheet it released last week.

The long-awaited plan, officially announced last year, forgives $20,000 in student debt for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for borrowers earning $125,000 or less annually, the Pennsylvania Capital-Star reported at the time.

With 55 percent of North Carolina college graduates having student loan debt in 2019-20, the state ranks among the top half in the nation for most student debt, according to the Institute for College Access and Success, a national organization that advocates for accessible and affordable education.

The average debt load of a North Carolina college graduate during the same timeframe was $29,681. In North Carolina, 9 percent of college graduates had private student loan debt, with an average total of $34,015.

Republican opponents immediately went to court to try to stop the debt-forgiveness program, and the U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will hear oral arguments in two of the challenges at the end of February, CNBC reported.

The high court is set to hear challenges brought by six Republican-led states, who argue that “forgiveness will disrupt state entities that profit from federal student loans, as well as a lawsuit backed by the Job Creators Network Foundation, a conservative advocacy organization, featuring two borrowers in Texas who are partially or fully left out of the president’s relief,” CNBC reported.

It’s possible the nation’s highest court, which has a conservative majority, will strike down the White House’s program, one legal expert told the financial news network.

That’s because the justices swiftly agreed to hear the challenges, suggesting they’re eager to strike it down, Harvard University Law School professor Lawrence Tribe told CNBC.

“It’s basically put the program in deep freeze until it proceeds to most likely dismantle it,” Tribe told CNBC.

In North Carolina, Democratic Congresswoman Alma Adams has been an outspoken defender of student loan debt relief. In announcing the introduction of legislation last summer to codify and expand student loan debt relief, she said: “The debt is too damn high.”

Link between abortion bans and anti-worker policies detailed in new report

Image: AdobeStock

A new report prepared by researcher Asha Banerjee at the Economic Policy Institute explores and documents a troubling but unsurprising connection that afflicts several states in which the political right dominates policy-making. In “The economics of abortion bans,” Banerjee shows how “Abortion bans, low wages, and public underinvestment are interconnected economic policy tools to disempower and control workers.”

This is from the release that accompanied the report:

States with abortion restrictions or bans have lower wages, weaker labor standards, and higher levels of incarceration, according to a new EPI report. Given the consistent pattern of state abortion bans and negative economic outcomes, the results of the analysis underscore the connection between abortion access and economic mobility and financial security.

On average, states with abortion restrictions or total bans have:

  • lower minimum wages ($8.17 compared with $11.92 in the abortion-protected states)
  • unionization levels half as high as the abortion-protected states
  • only 3 in 10 unemployed people receiving unemployment insurance (compared with 42% in other states)
  • lower rates of Medicaid expansion
  • an incarceration rate 1.5 times that of the states with abortion protections

As the report explains, abortion access is an economic issue because access to, or denial of, abortion services directly impact labor market experiences and economic outcomes. The decision whether to and when to have children is an economic one with powerful effects on one’s professional and personal life.

“Abortion has long been framed as a cultural, religious, or personal issue rather than a material ‘bread and butter’ economic concern. In reality, abortion rights and economic progress are fundamentally intertwined, and the loss of abortion rights means the loss of economic security, independence, and mobility for millions of people,” said Asha Banerjee, EPI economic analyst and author of the report. “Specifically, in states where abortion has been banned or restricted, abortion bans are yet another economic policy that disempowers workers.”

Following the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the report argues that policymakers must recognize that abortion access is an economic issue with economic consequences and restore abortion access nationwide immediately. Further, policymakers must dismantle economic policies that have hurt workers for generations and support working people who are most negatively impacted by abortion bans and restrictions, including by raising the federal minimum wage and expanding Medicaid coverage.

Though abortion care remains legal in North Carolina under most circumstances for the time being — indeed, the report notes that “…some states that still have abortion access have seen significant increases in their abortion rates, most notably North Carolina, which borders the new large abortion-restricted region in the South”– the state still imposes multiple dangerous restrictions and may well impose new ones in 2023. This fact coincides with the report’s listing it as a state with very low economic security for workers in a raft of important categories.

The report’s bottom line conclusion:

Abortion bans as an economic policy have not appeared in a vacuum, or even as a narrowly tailored religious concern, since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1972. Rather, denial of abortion access is one additional policy that states have engineered over decades in a sustained project of economic subjugation, control, and worker disempowerment. States that have banned and restricted abortion have largely also kept minimum wages low, underfunded and complicated their unemployment insurance systems, declined to expand Medicaid, suppressed unionization, and preferred to over-incarcerate. These policies, in conjunction, keep working people economically disempowered.

Click here to explore the full report.

Experts: Why workers are much less likely to earn a decent wage in states like North Carolina

It comes as little surprise, but a new post from a pair of Economic Policy Institute experts — economist Ben Zipperer and state policy coordinator Dave Kamper — confirms that a key contributor to the stagnant low wages that millions of American working people continue to labor under is simple: out-of-date state minimum wage laws. The following is republished from EPI’s Working Economics blog:

Workers are 46% more likely to make below $15 an hour in states paying only the federal minimum wage

By Ben Zipperer and Dave Kamper

The crisis of low pay is widespread throughout the United States and will remain so until federal and state policymakers prioritize the economic hardships of low-wage workers. Even after the rapid inflation of the past 18 months and the recent unprecedented wage growth for lower-wage workers, 21 million workers are still paid less than $15 per hour.

The problem is severe for workers in the 20 states that still follow the stagnant and outdated federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which hasn’t been raised in over 13 years and is now worth less in inflation-adjusted terms than at any point since 1956. 1 In those states, 19% of workers are paid less than $15 per hour, compared with 13% of workers in the 30 states and District of Columbia. As a result, a worker in one of the 20 states with a $7.25 minimum wage is 46% more likely to make less than $15 an hour than a worker in the other 30 states or District of Columbia with higher minimum wages.

According to EPI’s Family Budget Calculator, there is no part of this country where even a single adult without children can achieve an adequate standard of living with a wage of less than $15 an hour.

With the lack of Congressional action, the federal minimum wage has lost more than a third of its value since its inflation-adjusted high point of 1968. Policymakers in the 20 states following the federal minimum should not wait for Congress to pass a minimum wage increase and begin raising workers’ wages now.

Note:  1. Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. (source: EPI’s Minimum Wage Tracker)