“Change is coming”: Medical marijuana legislation advances in NC legislature

Supporters of medicinal marijuana are one step closer to seeing the measure legalized in North Carolina. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee gave the green light to the NC Compassionate Care Act on Tuesday after approving a handful of new amendments.

Bill sponsors say their intent is prioritize the protection of public health and safety in creating a system for the cultivation, processing, and selling of medical cannabis. Patients with debilitating medical condition such as cancer, Epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are among those who could gain access with a physician’s written certification.

An appointed 11 member Compassionate Use Advisory Board would meet at least twice a year to determine whether to approve additional qualifying medical conditions to the list that would be eligible for legal cannabis.

Chris Suttle, a long-time advocate for legalization, praised lawmakers for moving the bi-partisan bill forward, but urged them to go further, expanding the number of companies licensed to sell marijuana in North Carolina.

Under this current legislation, the state would allow just 10 companies to hold licenses.

The North Carolina Family Policy Council and the Christian Action League both spoke against the bill.

On a voice-vote, Senate Judiciary committee members approved the Compassionate Care Act, sending it on the the finance committee. That measure will be heard today (Wednesday) at 1:00pm. You can watch that meeting here.



Reproductive rights advocates tell legislators to reject more abortion restrictions

Reproductive rights news conference at the NC Legislative Building

Janice Robinson recalled a scary time when she was a pregnant 15-year-old in South Carolina, almost 50 years ago.

Her mother took her to have an abortion. Her mother took her not to a medical doctor, but someone unlicensed and working in secret. Robinson said she didn’t have a say in any of it.

“I experienced one of those back-alley abortions in my small hometown of Anderson, South Carolina,” she said. She called it “a nightmare.”

Robinson, who now lives in Charlotte, spoke at a news conference organized by reproductive rights advocates Tuesday as Republicans in the legislature consider more abortion restrictions.

Those who gathered at the Legislative Building to speak up for abortion rights planned to visit all 170 legislative offices, said Jillian Riley, state director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.

“We really believe that everyone needs to hear from advocates from across the state,” she said. They’re asking members of both political parties to “keep the status quo and not pass any more restrictions on abortion access this year.”

The state has a 20-week ban on abortions, except in cases of medical emergency. Republican legislative leaders have guaranteed further limits.

Democrats filed a bill last month that would put abortion rights as defined by Roe vs. Wade into state law. That bill is unlikely to get a hearing. State Rep. Julie von Haefen of Wake County said after the news conference Tuesday that a group of Democrats plan to file a bill next week that would lift state constraints such as the required state-scripted counseling, the 72-hour waiting period, and the prohibition on telehealth for medication abortions.

Vocal opposition to additional abortion restrictions is becoming more persistent. Duke University doctors last week held a video news conference where they talked about abortion restrictions in other states endangering people’s health.

Midwifery student Mariama Morray said Tuesday that the state needs to keep the health care providers it has and attract more.

Providers “want to practice in states where abortion care is legal and safe,” she said.

Doctors are turning down jobs in states with abortion bans, the Washington Post reported. Other doctors are leaving states with strict abortion limits, The Guardian reported.

Robinson and other reproductive rights advocates said people should make health care decisions without government interference.

“All abortion bans and other restrictions on reproductive health care fall hardest on people who already face discriminatory obstacles to health care – particularly Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, people with disabilities, people in rural areas, young people, undocumented people, LGBTQ people, and those having difficulty making ends meet,” she said.

Robinson is state director of an organization called Red Wine & Blue, which seeks to engage suburban women in politics.

After the news conference, Robinson recalled learning that she was pregnant those years ago from an older sister who figured it out. Her sister also encouraged her to drink turpentine to try to induce a miscarriage.

Robinson worries that more abortion restrictions will push others to desperate acts.

Women and girls across the country “are once again being put at risk of having to resort to unsafe abortions because government officials have decided they should interfere with a private health care decision,” she said.

Legislators could prohibit police from releasing mugshots

Legislators will consider a bill this session that would bar police from releasing people’s mugshots.

The proposal would ban law enforcement agencies from releasing booking photographs taken when a person is processed when they’re admitted to jail. Those mugshots would not longer be subject to public records laws.

There’s a notable exception: police could release mugshots in situations involving missing persons. A court could order the release of a mugshot upon a showing that disclosure is “actually necessary for immediate law enforcement needs.”

The bill is bipartisan. Sponsors include Rep. Timothy Moffitt (R-Henderson), Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Forsyth) and Sen. Todd Johnson (R-Cabarrus), as well as Rep. Bobby Hanig (R-Bertie) and Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover).

North Carolina wouldn’t be the first state to pass such a law. Republican governors in Utah, Montana and Louisiana have signed similar bills into law, and legislators in California, New Hampshire and Oregon have considered related proposals. Former Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also signed a mugshot ban bill passed by the legislature.

Supporters of the policy change contend that not publishing mugshots reduces racial stereotyping by law enforcement agencies and in news outlets’ crime coverage. They also argue that mugshots can exacerbate the collateral consequences of being arrested, even for people who haven’t been convicted of a crime. The photos can remain online well after the person’s admission to jail, even if the charges were reduced, dropped or they weren’t convicted of anything. Those jail booking photos are just a Google search away for a prospective employer or landlord.

Banning mugshots also follows a similar trend within journalism. Gannett, which owns six papers in North Carolina, limited its use of mugshots as part of a bigger overhaul of its crime coverage. The goal is to be more responsible in its coverage of crime and rebuild relationships with communities of color that had been harmed by such coverage in the past.

Some journalists have pushed back. A reporter in Salt Lake City urged legislators to reject the bill before the Utah legislature, arguing that mugshots can be evidence of police brutality inflicted during a person’s arrest. Police, meanwhile, have contended that publishing mugshots make other victims more likely to come forward because seeing the booking photos gives them “courage” in the knowledge that that person is behind bars.

The North Carolina Press Association and the N.C. Sheriffs Association are both opposed to the bill, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Plastics, natural gas and substation attacks: environmental bills to watch this week

(Collage by Lisa Sorg)

With Medicaid, guns and anti-LGBT legislation consuming lawmakers’ time, only a few environmental bills have been introduced this session. The pace usually picks up — a gut-and-amend bill here, an ambush provision there — so enjoy the relative quiet while you can.

That said, here are several bills worth watching this week as they emerge (or wither) in committee.

Regulatory reform 

There are no extra taxes, no mandates, no regulations — only voluntary incentives — yet previous versions of House Bill 28, the Managing Environmental Waste Act, have never become law.

“What we’re trying to address here .. with no additional funding from the state … is a public commitment to migrate away from using plastics,” State Rep. Harry Warren, a Rowan County Republican told the House Environment Committee earlier this month. “If it became law, North Carolina would be a leader in reducing plastics.”

The House passed this bill — twice, in 2019 and 2021 — by unanimous, or near-unanimous votes. The Senate, though, never brought it to a floor vote and instead let it die in committee.

The measure reallocates a portion of existing landfill fees — 5% of the 12.5% that goes to the state General Fund — to cities and counties that use plastics recycling programs. The language contains basic reporting requirements, as well as a study that would evaluate the opportunities for state agencies to phase out single-use plastics: utensils, plates and cups.

The plastic problem can’t be overstated. It takes up space in landfills, clogs streams, adds to the Pacific Garbage Patch. Its manufacturing process uses and discharges toxic chemicals, including those in the tanker cars that recently burned and contaminated the environment in East Palestine, Ohio.

  • Globally, 400 million tons of plastic is manufactured each year.
  • Of the 40 million tons of plastic waste generated in the U.S. in 2021, only 5% to 6% — or about two million tons — was recycled, according to the World Economic Forum.
  • Plastic accounts for 85% of all marine trash.
  • Also problematic: micro plastics, which are present in rivers, streams — including the Neuse River Basin — as well as sea spray. Fish and other aquatic life eat the particles, filling their guts in place of food. People might unknowingly drink those plastic particles in water flowing from their taps.

At the House Environment Committee meeting, there was a concern that plastics made with “post-use polymers or recovered feedstock processed at an advanced recycling facility” counted as recyclable. “I’m skeptical of chemical recycling,” State Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat, said. “It opens up the door to a toxic process. I appreciate the intent but the wording is problematic.”

The bill, including the problematic language, passed out of the Environment Committee.

“We can do much better we can take responsibility like private industry has,” Rep. Warren said. “If you aren’t tripping over it, you may not realize impact plastics are having on the world.” Read more

NC House gives final approval to its Medicaid expansion bill

The state House made quick work of its proposal to expand Medicaid to more low-income adults, moving the bill through committees, floor votes, and out to the state Senate in three days.

The chamber gave final approval to its version of Medicaid expansion with a 92-22 vote Thursday.

About 600,000 adults in North Carolina fall into a health insurance gap. They make too much to qualify for standard Medicaid but too little to qualify for subsidized insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

North Carolina is one of 11 states that has not moved to expand Medicaid.

North Carolina has debated expanding Medicaid for years. Democrats have always wanted it, while Republican legislative leaders were staunchly opposed. A significant turning point came last year when Senate leader Phil Berger announced he had changed his mind.

Rep. Donny Lambeth urged his colleagues to support Medicaid expansion.

The Senate passed a Medicaid expansion bill last year that included several additional health policy provisions. The House did not act on that bill.

The House bill approved Thursday did not include the policy provisions Senate Republicans want, setting up likely hard negotiations between the House and Senate.

“This is part of history,” said Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Winston-Salem Republican who was one of the bill’s main sponsors. He urged support for the bill so House members and senators can begin discussions.