House Democrats pass Biden’s $1.85 trillion ‘Build Back Better’ plan

Civil rights groups celebrate federal court ruling in favor of affirmative action at UNC

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As has been reported by an array of national news outlets, (click here to check out coverage from the New York Times and Washington Post), a federal court ruled yesterday in favor of the UNC-Chapel Hill’s affirmative action policy.

This is from the Times:

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill may continue using race as a factor in its admissions process, a federal judge ruled on Monday, rejecting the argument of a conservative nonprofit legal group that is trying to dismantle college affirmative action policies across the country.

In her ruling, which came down decidedly against the plaintiff, Judge Loretta C. Biggs said that the university’s use of race in deciding which students to admit was narrowly tailored, and that the university had made an effort to consider race-neutral alternatives.

“While no student can or should be admitted to this university, or any other, based solely on race,” she wrote, “because race is so interwoven in every aspect of the lived experience of minority students, to ignore it, reduce its importance and measure it only by statistical models,” as she said the plaintiff had done, “misses important context.”

In response to the ruling, civil rights groups intervening in the case in favor for the policy released the following statement. (Note: the North Carolina Justice Center is the parent organization of NC Policy Watch):

Race-conscious admissions policy at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill is upheld in key win for affirmative action

The race-conscious admissions policy at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC) is legal and must be upheld, Judge Loretta C. Biggs from the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina ruled Monday. The following are statements from groups involved with the case:

Genevieve Bonadies-Torres, an attorney with the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law: “Race-conscious admissions policies are a proven tool that advance equal access to educational opportunities, and ensure our talented yet historically marginalized groups are not overlooked. As our clients demonstrated with their trial testimony and evidence, race is an integral part of a students’ identity, and must be treated as such during the admissions process. We need to expand on the progress we’ve made when it comes to diversity and inclusivity in the classroom, and we are elated that the court has concluded that UNC’s admissions policy is both necessary and lawful.” Read more

Triangle people of faith call for action to address climate emergency

Human “prayer chains for climate justice” set to take place this afternoon and next Sunday

By Lynn Lyle and Claire Korzen

The 2021 UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, begins on October 31. Without exaggeration, the fate of the world is at stake. We believe people of all faiths and all people of conscience have a moral duty to act now to care for creation.

In advance of COP26, faith leaders and their communities in the Triangle are coming together to demand bold action from the U.S. Congress and from world leaders. Our demands are inspired by a worldwide GreenFaith movement called Faiths4ClimateJustice. People of faith in dozens of countries are taking part in this multi-religious action.

Interfaith Creation Care of the Triangle has organized a Human Prayer Chain for Climate Justice stretching between the Community United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh (UUFR) down Wade Avenue. At 5:00 p.m., Monday, October 18, people will be holding signs and praying for a global change in how we care for creation. All are welcome. An outdoor prayer vigil led by nine leaders from different religions will follow at 6:00 p.m. at UUFR.

Orange-Chatham Interfaith Care for Creation is sponsoring a similar prayer chain in Chapel Hill on October 24 at 2:00 p.m. In Charlotte, there will be a Faiths4Climate Justice gathering on October 18 at 12:00 p.m. to pray for financial and government leaders to invest in our future.

Around the world, you’ll find people across religions and denominations are rising up to fulfill their sacred duty to protect creation. United Methodist Social Principles call on governments around the world to work toward zero emissions. Locally, United Methodists in the eastern half of the state from Burlington to the coast have pledged themselves to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Last month, retired Methodist Bishop Hope Ward took a leading role in a Clergy Dialogue on Climate Action with U.S. Representative Deborah Ross.

Muslim faith leaders adopted an Islamic Declaration on Climate at an International Climate Symposium in Istanbul in 2015 that called on all nations to phase out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. Dr. Shereen Elgamal from the Zakat Foundation, a Muslim-led charitable organization serving the broader Triangle community, will participate in the Prayer Chain in Raleigh.

This year, Pope Francis followed up his Laudato si’ encyclical with a seven-year Action Platform, calling for “response to the cry of the earth, response to the cry of the poor, ecological economics, and adoption of simple lifestyles.”  In the Triangle, a number of Catholic churches, like St. Francis of Assisi in Raleigh and Immaculate Conception in Durham, are beginning to implement their own plans to fulfill these goals.

A trans-denominational group of Jewish organizations called Dayenu is confronting the climate crisis by calling on members of Congress to demand clean energy, good jobs, and justice through the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. In the Triangle, Rabbi Raachel Jurovics, Rabbi Emerita of Yavneh: A Jewish Renewal Community in Raleigh, will participate in the Prayer Chain on October 18.

Both the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina have called on Congress to ensure that the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill includes provisions to dramatically reduce emissions and invest in communities that are already most impacted by climate change. The Rt. Rev. Anne Elliott Hodges-Copple, VI Bishop Suffragan of North Carolina, will be in Charlotte on October 18 participating in the Faiths4ClimateJustice event there.

Whatever our particular religious beliefs may be, as people of faith and conscience, we are called to care for the gift of this marvelous planet. We are all part of the same world. We depend on each other and all creation, from the air we breathe to the water we drink to the food we eat. As we look to creating a world where all people can thrive, we are not alone. With our voices united, we demand global leaders act to save our future.

Lynn Lyle and Claire Korzen are members of Interfaith Creation Care of the Triangle.

Children’s experts: Investing in our state’s future starts with children not corporations

By Dr. Devonya Govan-Hunt, Muffy Grant and Dr. Iheoma Iruka

To build a thriving North Carolina, we need a multiracial democracy, an inclusive economy, and a commitment to ensuring people across the state have access to the health care, education, and social support they need. To realize this vision, our state needs equitable public investments, including funding for early childhood education that supports our youngest residents and their families. As our state lawmakers continue negotiations in an attempt to come up with a budget that the House, Senate, and Governor can agree on, they have a responsibility to create a budget which prioritizes North Carolina’s children over out-of-state corporations.

But the proposals that have come out of the NC Senate and House so far don’t meet this standard — the Senate’s budget proposal would eliminate corporate income taxes, and while the House’s doesn’t go quite as far, it includes multiple tax changes that will ultimately prohibit North Carolina from realizing its potential. Both proposals also include changes to income taxes that would primarily benefit the wealthiest families: under the House proposal, 56 percent of the value of these changes would go to households with annual incomes over $110,000. These changes would cost our state about $2 billion in annual revenue, limiting our ability to make the public investments our communities need.

As experts in childhood development and child care, we know we know that early childhood education presents one of the strongest cases there is for public investment. Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman conducted groundbreaking research showing that investments in high-quality early childhood education yield a robust return on investment of 13 percent per child per year. These benefits come from improved outcomes that children see throughout their lives, including in educational attainment, health, and employment. Public investments in early childhood education even impact future generations and reduce intergenerational poverty.

It doesn’t work to provide child care only through the private sector. Licensed child care providers operate on the thinnest of margins, because families cannot afford the true cost of high quality care. Even so, parents are left shouldering annual fees significantly higher than public university tuition. We have tried other models for years, and it hasn’t worked. Early childhood education is a public good that needs public funding — like parks, libraries, and K-12 education.

Investments in early childhood education are also an investment in racial and gender equity in North Carolina. The vast majority of early childhood educators are women, and over half are Black women and other women of color. These educators are paid an average of just $11 per hour to nurture our youngest children. North Carolina has some programs that boost wages for educators, but legislators have cut funding for these and so only a limited number of people can access them. The recent budget proposals ask these educators to subsidize corporate tax cuts with their persistently low wages.

North Carolina’s motto is “To be rather than to seem.” If we want to live up to that motto to truly be a state that cares about our children’s future, here are three key actions to take: Read more

From a Clear and Present Danger, to the latest on Leandro, to having your say on redistricting: The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

1. Clear and present danger: Former Army missile plant has polluted a Black, Latino neighborhood in Burlington for more than 30 years

Military, private owner have allowed toxic contaminants to fester, avoided penalties while residents bear environmental burden

This is the first of a two-part story about hazardous contamination at a former missile plant in Burlington that is threatening a predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhood. Part 2 runs tomorrow. You can also read this story as a pdf file and view the source documents, which are linked within the text.

Leer en español.

Tattooed in ivy, bound in chain-link fence, Building 16 casts an ominous three-story shadow over several homes along Hilton Road. The window blinds are torn, as if it were sleeping with one eye open.

This relic of the Cold War is among two dozen buildings sprawled across the 22-acre Tarheel Army Missile Plant in East Burlington. Here, in the 1950s and ’60s, Western Electric conducted top-secret research on behalf of the military.

That research, developing sophisticated guidance systems for Nike missiles, required workers to handle hazardous chemicals. Over time, those chemicals spilled and seeped and leaked. They were poured down sinks and dumped into storm drains.

Fifty years since the military mothballed the Nike missile program, the plant, once a source of civic pride for the city, is now a toxic disgrace. [Read more…]

2. Former Army missile plant in Burlington posesan urgent public health risk

Private owners neglect the contaminated property, posing an environmental threat to a Black and Latinx neighborhood

This is the second of a two-part story about hazardous contamination at a former missile plant in Burlington that is threatening a predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhood.

Inside Building 1A of the former Tarheel Army Missile Plant, a metal pipe rested on a table amid crumbs of broken glass. Many of the windows had been broken, so with no more effort than a step over the threshold, the entire contaminant 22-acre site was open for skateboarding, playing paintball, even homesteading.

This was the scene in early May. From the outside, little had changed from last November, when city, state and Army officials, as well as the current property owner, David Tsui, visited the plant in preparation for the next phase of the cleanup. [Read more…]

3. America dumbs down freedom, with disastrous consequences (Commentary)

Death and tragedy were front and center in the news again last week.

In Winston-Salem, a high school student was shot and killed by another child. Only a few hours later, tragedy was mercifully avoided at a Raleigh high school when two guns were taken from a student who had brought them to campus. A day after that, another Winston-Salem child – this one just 2 years old – died when a gun was discharged in his grandmother’s home.

Meanwhile, in hospitals across North Carolina and the nation, intensive care units were packed to the rafters with desperately ill and dying COVID-19 patients – the overwhelming majority of whom did not avail themselves of free and widely available vaccines. The pandemic death toll in North Carolina alone inched closer to 15,000.

Meanwhile, a devastating hurricane – fueled, scientists have confirmed, by climate change and the steadily rising ocean water temperatures – wreaked havoc from Louisiana to New England. Dozens died.

What do these three seemingly disparate tragedies have in common? [Read more...]

4. NC surpasses 15,000 COVID deaths, nearly one-third of new cases in children under 17

Governor Roy Cooper said Thursday there is increasing urgency for everyone ages 12 and older to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

For the week ending Sept. 4, children age 17 and under made up 31% of the state’s new COVID-19 cases.

That is the highest percentage since the pandemic began.

“The numbers aren’t good, especially the number of people in the hospital and dying,” Cooper said.

In the past 24 hours, the coronavirus has claimed 110 lives with North Carolina recording 15,004 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

By far, the most people hospitalized right now by COVID are unvaccinated.[Read more…]

Bonus Read: Pregnant women should be vaccinated for COVID-19, says Duke expert

5. Judge gives state lawmakers ‘one more last chance’ to fully fund the Leandro plan

Superior Court Judge David Lee has given state lawmakers “one more last chance” to meet their constitutional obligation to provide students in North Carolina with a sound basic education before he takes action to force their hand.

Lee, the judge overseeing the state’s long-running Leandro school funding case, made his remarks Wednesday during a court hearing with lawyers for the defendants and plaintiffs.

He gave lawmakers until Oct. 15 to fully fund a school improvement plan that calls for $5.6 billion in new K-12 funding by 2028. An Oct. 18 hearing has been set to discuss the next steps if an agreement has not been reached to fully fund the plan. [Read more…]

6. NC just enacted ambitious criminal justice reform legislation. Here‘s what it does.

Gov. Roy Cooper signed a comprehensive criminal justice reform package (Senate Bill 300) into law last Thursday. It became effective immediately.

The bill, originally sponsored by Republicans with input from Democrats, gained bipartisan support – though not universal acclaim.

A press release from Cooper’s office touted the fact that the bill included provisions recommended by the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice that the Governor established in June of 2020:

“Senate Bill 300 makes important changes to improve policing and criminal justice in North Carolina, as recommended by TREC, including:

  • Promotes recruitment of officers with diverse backgrounds and experiences and improves training so that officers are better equipped to be successful
  • Requires early intervention mechanisms to identify and correct officers who use excessive force or other misconduct
  • Furthers independent investigations of police-involved shootings
  • Limits local laws that criminalize poverty
  • Requires a first appearance in court within 72 hours of a person being arrested.”

The bill also won praise from law enforcement officials. In a press release, the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association applauded the sponsors of the bill for soliciting and considering the input of the organization.[Read more…]

7. Redistricting public hearings fall short in accommodating public input, advocates say

Lawmakers will travel to 13 locations throughout the state to host public hearings on redistricting, which will redefine the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts for up to a decade to come, including a new, 14th congressional district. However, it appears that members of the public will not be able to participate and provide comments online.

The 13 meetings will take place at these locations:

8. Weekly Radio Interviews and daily radio commentaries with Rob Schofield:

9. Weekly Editorial Cartoon: