NC legislators file “RBG Act” to expand reproductive healthcare access

The following statement from Rep. Julie von Haefen’s office was released today and shared with us by NARAL Pro-Choice NC executive director Tara Romano:

During a virtual press conference on Monday, March 1st, members of the NC General Assembly, Representative Julie von Haefen (HD 36), Senator Natasha Marcus (SD 41), and Senator Jay Chaudhuri (SD 15), announced the introduction of the Removing Barriers to Gain Access to Abortion Act, (“RBG Act”). HB 188 and SB 167 would eliminate medically unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions that have limited access to reproductive healthcare in North Carolina for many years.

The RBG Act would do four main things to expand access to reproductive healthcare:

  • Repeal the biased counseling requirement and 72-hour delay before someone may access abortion care.
  • Allow NPs, PAs, and CNMs to provide abortions within their scope of practice.
  • Repeal the ban on abortions provided via telemedicine.
  • Repeal the insurance/funding bans that prohibit abortion coverage in ACA plans in NC, the state employee health plan, local government employee health plans, and Medicaid.

“If someone needs an abortion, North Carolina has fifteen different barriers in place to prevent that person from receiving necessary medical care,” said Rep. von Haefen. She continued, “These barriers have led to provider shortages and inadequate public health infrastructure, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these issues. The NCGA should be expanding access to health care, not restricting it.”

Emphasizing the need to roll back barriers to access, Sen. Marcus said, “Current laws restricting access to abortion were designed by politicians to chip away at reproductive freedom and to push abortion out of reach by making it more expensive and harder to access. Our bill addresses these problems so that North Carolinians are not subjected to barriers to care that people in neighboring states are not.”

“Family planning is essential healthcare,” said Sen. Chaudhuri, “Patients must be free to make the decisions that are best for themselves and their families. The RBG Act is about making sure that patients are able to access essential health care, including vital family planning services, no matter where they live or how much money they make.”

Mars Earle, Director of Engagement with the North Carolina Abortion Fund, stressed the importance of this legislation, saying, “Decades of attacks on reproductive freedom by this General Assembly have increased the risks and expenses related to abortion care, making it more inaccessible for people of color, people who live in rural areas, and people of lower-incomes.” They continued, “The RBG Act would reverse previous attacks on reproductive freedom and would make reproductive healthcare safer and more accessible.”

Anne Logan Bass is a Planned Parenthood South Atlantic clinician and a healthcare provider in both North Carolina and Virginia. However, she is only able to provide abortion care in Virginia because North Carolina has banned Nurse Practitioners and Physicians Assistants from providing abortion care, “I can’t tell you how many times my patients [in North Carolina] have asked that I perform their abortions because they knew and trusted me already…I hate to have to explain to them that I am not allowed to provide this basic health service to them. It’s heartbreaking because it’s politics, not health care, and it prevents me from providing the best care to my patients.”

“Abortion access is about being able to receive the quality and affordable health care you need, when you need it, from a provider you trust, from within your own community,” said Dr. Erica Pettigrew, MD. She concluded, “North Carolina is nowhere near that vision, but the RBG Act could help us get a little bit closer.”

Congressional Dems bent the universe toward justice last week. We need to keep pushing

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Hopes of getting an increase to the piteously low federal minimum wage tucked into the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill were dealt a serious blow this week when the U.S. Senate’s Parliamentarian ruled that it couldn’t be included in the massive legislative package now moving through Congress.

The announcement that came Thursday night was widely expected, and the ruling from the strenuously nonpartisan arbiter threw a major roadblock into Congressional Democrats’ path to raising the current federal minimum from $7.25 an hour, where it has sat since 2009, to $15 an hour by 2025, the Associated Press reported.

But if there is a ray of hope here, it is that it now feels like it’s a matter of when, not if, the government will move to lift millions of Americans out of poverty.

And it was one of two developments on Capitol Hill this week that signaled that, after a four-year pause, the United States is back on the path toward living up to the promise of equality and justice for all.

That other development was the U.S. House’s vote Thursday approving a sweeping LGBTQ rights bill, known as the Equality Act. The legislation bans sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination across a variety of arenas, including employment, housing, education, public accommodation, credit, and jury service, according to NBC News.

“The LGBTQ community has waited long enough,” U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., the bill’s sponsor, said during remarks on the House floor, according to NBC News. “The time has come to extend the blessing of liberty and equality to all Americans, regardless of who they are or who they love.”

The need for that embedded protection was driven home, ironically enough, not in an employment law case in a state court, but in the halls of the U.S. Capitol this week during a pair of incidents.

During a Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday, President Joe Biden’s pick for the No. 2 position at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Rachel Levine, of Pennsylvania, endured a transphobic rant at the hands of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Paul, an ophthalmologist, tried to draw a pernicious equivalency between female gender mutilation and gender affirmation surgery for transgender youth. If she’s confirmed, Levine would be the highest-ranking openly transgender official in the federal government, the Capital-Star’s Laura Olson reported.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., meanwhile, was blasted this week after she hung an offensive sign outside her office to mock a colleague across the hall who had displayed a transgender flag outside her office in support of her transgender daughter and to protest Greene’s opposition to the Equality Act. Greene’s sign read, “There are two genders: Male & Female. Trust the science.”

Greene’s assertion, by the way, flies in the face of current scientific assumptions about gender.

But the two incidents are emblematic of the sort of hostile workplace behavior that LGBTQ Americans endure every day without blanket federal protection, though there are a patchwork of protections at the state level, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Read more

U.S. House COVID relief bill is the response North Carolinians need

Today’s passage in the U.S. House of Representatives of a comprehensive COVID relief bill is an important step forward. A recovery is still far off, and the greatest risk now is that Congress will do too little, rather than too much. The pandemic has caused widespread financial pain, with people of color often hit the hardest.

Nearly a year into the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis, millions of North Carolinians are struggling to put food on the table, make rent or cover basic expenses. Nationally, at least 10 million children have a family member who is unemployed or who lacks paid work because of the pandemic.

Congress has provided some relief, but it is not enough. While the COVID relief package signed into law in December provided an urgently needed down payment, it left critical needs unmet and allowed some unemployment benefits to expire in mid-March, long before the crisis will end. The greatest risk right now is doing too little, not too much, to address the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis, which has left millions out of work and struggling to cover basic expenses, such as food, rent or mortgage, car payments, and medical costs.

North Carolinians need Congress to pass the House relief bill:

Policymakers must move quickly to help families stay afloat and get our nation on track for an economic recovery. Key elements of the House-passed bill that will help struggling people in North Carolina include:

  • Temporarily extending increased SNAP food assistance benefits and the federal eviction moratorium so that people continue to get help putting food on the table and keeping a roof overhead while the economy remains weak
  • Temporarily extending federal pandemic unemployment assistance to better protect unemployed workers
  • Providing housing assistance to help renters keep their homes and emergency assistance to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
  • Financial assistance to help meet urgent household expenses such as utility bills and car payments, delivered through an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit for low-paid working adults, temporarily enlarging the Child Tax Credit, and making stimulus payments to individuals and families regardless of their immigration status and including adult dependents
  • Improved access to affordable health coverage through enhanced premium tax credits and a new incentive for holdout states like North Carolina to expand Medicaid
  • Much-needed state and local government fiscal relief, including funds to restore jobs for teachers, firefighters and other critical public employees and prevent further layoffs and cuts to core services like education and health care

The Senate should embrace this plan to provide relief to families and state and local governments and make it even stronger by extending unemployment assistance through September to avoid putting North Carolinians at risk for a lapse in benefits.

We know what works to help our neighbors and communities in North Carolina make it through this pandemic. In the coming weeks, the U.S. Senate must swiftly pass the House COVID relief bill to support the still-weak economy and millions struggling to get through this crisis.

Suzy Khachaturyan is a Policy Analyst at the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Pence podcast could be a real sleeper

In “news that will surprise absolutely no one,” former Vice President Mike Pence has announced he is going to host a podcast. This might have been more exciting a few years ago because, let’s face it, you can’t sling a dead cat without hitting somebody who has their own podcast these days. Go ahead; try it; I’ll wait.

You see, podcasts are like air fryers in that people who like them REALLY like them and they won’t rest until you share their devotion. Sure, one is about grisly unsolved murders and the other is about crispy, low-fat chicken wings but you get where I’m going here.

Pence’s podcast will be sponsored by the makers of mayonnaise, typing paper and thick white underpants. I’m guessing.

Plot twist: The Pence podcast will have a “youthful” spin, owing to its sponsorship by the Young Americans Foundation, a conservative youth organization founded in the ‘60s while everybody else was getting high and painting themselves blue if you can believe the “Dragnet” reruns from that era, which I totally do.

No stranger to radio—Pence hosted a popular syndicated show for many years before getting bitten by the lackey bug– the former veep might need to jazz up his old format because competition among podcasts is Dua Lipa levels of fierce. It will be tough sledding against cult faves like “Whatever Happened to Pizza at McDonald’s?” and the decidedly un-Pencelike “Fairy Tales for Unwanted Children.” Popular podcasts tend to be smart, caustic and compelling. Pence will need to fight for listeners with the relentless fervor of, say, a sort of Etsy homemade militia obsessed with hanging him in front of the Capitol. It won’t be easy.

Because I’m a giver, I’d like to help the former vice president in his new career. He’s going to need (forgive me, “mother”) sexy topics to keep listeners coming back for more. When he was on the radio 22 years ago, Pence enjoyed Limbaugh levels of loyalty, but he may need to refresh his brand to reach beyond the almost never coveted “Up With People” demo.

Give the people what they want, Mikey, and show us you’re just like us, only demonstrably less interesting. Trust me, listeners love vulnerability like a Proud Boy loves mispronouncing Ayn Rand’s name.

Episode 1: Have your so-called friends ever left you for dead and, no, I’m not speaking metaphorically? Same.

Episode 2: Why I hate flies.

Episode 3: “You harlot!” What to say when a female co-worker wants to meet with you “at 2 p.m. to review the proposed budget.”

Episode 4: Let’s get back to how everybody I thought was my friend just kinda didn’t care that I WAS NEARLY KILLED.

Episode 5: How to bury the hurt when your employer says your beloved house pets make you look “low class.” Hint: tapioca and keep it coming.

Episode 6: That time I spent hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to leave a football game before it started. #lackeylife!

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT bestselling author and humor columnist. Write her at [email protected].

NC legislative committee takes yet another misstep on unemployment insurance

This morning, the Finance Committee of the North Carolina House approved House Bill 107, which, among its largely technical provisions, would make two significant changes to state unemployment insurance policy: 

  • it would reinstate work search requirements for individuals making non-COVID-19-related unemployment insurance claims, and 
  • it would hold the base tax rate for employers at just 1.9%, rather than following the planned increase that currently contained in state law. 

The decision to hold employer tax rates at the current low rate is a mistake. 

Back in 2013, when lawmakers and Gov. McCrory approved House Bill 4 — the bill that imposed significant cuts to worker benefits — they also included a trigger that would have raised the State Unemployment Tax Act (SUTA) base tax rate in order to ensure that employer contributions into the state Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund are sufficient to keep the system solvent — a major priority of legislative leaders.  

At present, North Carolina’s tax rate is the fourth lowest in the country.  

Meanwhile, as national experts, state researchers, and media outlets have repeatedly noted, North Carolina has the least effective unemployment insurance system in the country because it serves too few jobless workers, with too little wage replacement for too short a time. 

A glance at the latest data from the third quarter for southeastern states further demonstrates how our program has fallen behind. North Carolina trails only Florida for the number of people exhausting state unemployment insurance before finding a job, is only barely ahead of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee in the average weekly benefit amount it pays, and in 2019 was worst in the country in terms of the number of jobless workers who receive unemployment insurance.

Engaging in a “race-to-the-bottom” competition with other southeastern states when it comes to supporting the economy is not the right path for our state. If we have any hope of improving what research shows has been a very unequal recovery, North Carolina policymakers should be focused on driving policy toward achieving more equitable outcomes, and be deeply concerned that their policy choices are driving a wedge between people and critical supports. 

Policymakers should instead follow the expert advice of a wide array of economists to build an unemployment insurance system that: a) minimizes the harm to families caused by job losses, and b) stabilizes the economy by helping to maintains consumer spending. 

At present, North Carolina is failing on both counts by maintaining a system that: 

  • provides 14 fewer weeks than the standard 26 weeks of state benefits, 
  • pays extremely low benefits that, on average provide just 23 cents per dollar of the average worker’s in prior wages (the national standard is at least 50 cents), and 
  • reaches less than 9% of those who are jobless, compared to the standard of reaching at least 50 percent of the unemployed. 

A broken unemployment insurance system increases hardship, worsens health outcomes, reduces lifelong earnings and economic mobility for people, and doesn’t do enough to stabilize consumer spending — a key to supporting demand for goods and services of businesses (i.e. employers) and supporting economic recovery.?The National Employment and Law Project noted that due to its shorter benefit duration alone, a typical North Carolina jobless worker could have received as much as $24,000 less in unemployment insurance benefits over the course of the last recession thanks to the 2013 cuts. 

The bottom line: this legislation ignores the desperate need to repair and improve the system for jobless workers (click here for a list of simple and necessary policy changes that lawmakers should enact in 2021) and, indeed, erects another barrier by reviving administratively costly work search requirements. 

By keeping employer taxes low while refusing?to improve things for workers and their families, lawmakers have signaled that working people will continue to be an afterthought in legislative policymaking and are doubling down on an economic approach that will continue to serve us all poorly. 

Alexandra Sirota is the Director of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center.