News

NC Congressman: Arming teachers ‘a terrible idea’, time to focus on gun violence research

Congressman David Price (NC-4) and a handful of his congressional colleagues are pressing Speaker Paul Ryan to allow debate and a vote on legislation to provide adequate funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research about gun violence.

Price, who is a Vice Chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force in the U.S. House of Representatives, tells NC Policy Watch it’s long past due for Congress to repeal the Dickey Amendment that has blocked meaningful research into the nation’s gun epidemic.

Congressman Price sat down this week to chat with NC Policy Watch Director Rob Schofield about the need for federally-funded research. He also dismissed calls at the state and national level to consider arming teachers to make schools safer.

Click below to hear an excerpt from our weekend interview with the Congressman:

On Thursday, President Donald Trump sought to clarify his remarks about arming school teachers in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida shooting.

The president tweeted he would look at the possibility of concealed guns only for ‘gun adept teachers with military or special training experience – only the best.’

Commentary, News

Public hearing re: offshore drilling on the NC coast scheduled for next Monday in Raleigh

In case you missed it — and it wouldn’t be surprising if you did — the Trump administration has scheduled a single public hearing in North Carolina on its plan to open up the state’s coastline to seismic testing and, ultimately, oil and gas drilling. The event will take place next Monday, February 26 from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in Raleigh at the North Raleigh Hilton Hotel.

The following is excerpted from an editorial that ran earlier this week in the Wilmington Star News: entitled “Large turnout needed at offshore-drilling hearing in Raleigh”:

“The federal government’s only public hearing in North Carolina on plans to open our waters to oil and gas drilling and seismic testing is this Monday at a hotel in Raleigh – 130 miles or so from the nearest threatened beach.

That’s not too surprising. The Trump boat is tilted so far in favor of oil, coal and other fossil fuels, it’s a wonder it hasn’t capsized. (We guess we should count ourselves lucky the hearing is not being held in Asheville.)

President Trump has filled his offices with old oil-and-gas hands: Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon/Mobil; Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who tried his best to block President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency, and now runs the EPA; and Ryan Zinke, a former board member for an oil pipeline company who’s now the Interior secretary.

We’ve seen how Mr. Trump has all but moved to outlaw solar energy, slapping a 30 percent tariff on solar power parts and slashing funds for solar energy research. Clearly these folks don’t want a bunch of tree-huggers and snowflakes standing in the way of Smoky Progress.

They’re joined, of course, by 7th District Rep. David Rouzer, who’s said again and again that he thinks offshore oil wells would be the best thing in North Carolina since Krispy Kreme. (Rouzer, the distinguished representative of the state’s biggest coastal region, lives near Raleigh, so we don’t expect him to know about Britt’s doughnuts.)….

We want to repeat our position: We are realistic about our need for oil and natural gas, and, therefore, are not opposed in principle to offshore drilling. We also are realistic about drilling’s potential threat to our vital tourism and fisheries industries. At a time when oil is relatively cheap and plentiful (compared to the $5 a gallon gasoline of the Bush years) and the United States is becoming a net oil exporter, we believe possible benefits of drilling are currently outweighed by inherent risks. We believe there are many residents in our area who share those views. We wish our representative in Washington did, too….

(You also can submit comments online through March 9 at tinyurl.com/yawoltb8).

And then we should consider this: If we can’t get public officials who’ll stand up for our sounds and beaches and our unique coastal economy, maybe it’s time we get some new ones. You can make your voice heard on that issue, too, in November.”

Courts & the Law, News

Does the constitution require lawmakers to provide public notice of special sessions?

From left: Judges Martin McGee, Wayland Sermons Jr. and Todd Pomeroy

What does the constitutional right to instruct mean? Did lawmakers violate it when they called a special session in 2016 with just two hours’ notice?

Those are some of the questions a three-judge panel is considering in the case of Common Cause v. Forest, a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the session in which two laws were passed that changed the power structure of state government.

“What the defendants did was undemocratic, unprecedented and unconstitutional,” said Burton Craige, an attorney representing the plaintiffs — Common Cause NC and 10 state residents.

He told the judges that the 2016 fourth extra special session was the only one in 75 years that did not provide advance notice to the public that a special session would be convened and notice of the purpose of the special session.

In addition to the lack of notice, lawmakers passed a number of special rules that Craige said truncated the legislative process and deprived members of the public a meaningful opportunity to participate.

“Even citizens well-versed in the legislative process did not have a practical opportunity to communicate with their legislators,” Craige said.

He pointed to an affidavit submitted by Common Cause NC Executive Director Bob Phillips that said the organization did not have enough time to review bills, offer inside analysis or suggestions to make the legislation better.

Burton Craige

“This was legislation by ambush; this was a premeditated assault on democracy,” Craige said.

His solution is for the court to apply a constitutional test that applies to the circumstances of the case — the legislature should be required to either provide advance notice to the public of a special session and its purpose or provide some justification for its departure from historical precedent.

He accused the defendants, Lieutenant Gov. Dan Forest, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, of providing no justification for the 2016 special session.

“There was no reason other than to exclude the public from participating,” Craige said. “We have to look at the circumstances, and here the circumstances we have are zero notice, extraordinarily complex legislation, deliberate secrecy and no explanation for why.”

Matthew Tulchin, of the State Department of Justice, argued that lawmakers did in fact give notice and that Craige was using rhetoric to make a policy argument.

“Underneath it all though, what this is about, is the plaintiffs don’t like the two laws enacted,” he said.

He added that lawmakers have a right to determine what processes and procedures they follow, and that there is no expressed time or notice requirement in the constitution. He also said that the public had 44 hours to review the bills introduced during the 2016 special session.

Matthew Tulchin

“It’s erroneous to say that there wasn’t any notice,” Tulchin said. “Hundreds of people showed up at the General Assembly … and expressed their viewpoints in loud enough terms to disrupt their session.”

The three-judge panel had numerous questions for both Tulchin and Craige, but one they seemed to come back to was what the right to instruct meant in Article 1, Section 12 of the North Carolina Constitution.

The three judges presiding over the case are are Judge Wayland Sermons, a registered Democrat who serves the second judicial district, which includes Beaufort County; Judge Martin McGee, a registered Republican who serves Cabarrus County; and Judge W. Todd Pomeroy, a registered Republican who serves Cleveland and Lincoln counties.

Tulchin compared the right to instruct with dead letter law — a law that is still in effect but cannot be enforced because of a change in circumstances.

“It is a function of the times of when it was enacted,” he said, noting that technology now is a lot different than when the provision was enacted.

He also said the provision was a process of a representative government, which the state has, and voters could exercise their rights at the ballot box.

Craige argued that the provision is meant to give voters a meaningful opportunity to participate in the legislative process.

“Those words have meaning,” he said. “They would eliminate these words from the constitution, pretend they don’t exist, and of course, they can’t do that. This court can’t do that.”

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

New redistricting lawsuit filed over four Wake County legislative districts

A new redistricting lawsuit has been filed in state court, this time challenging the constitutionality of four state House districts in Wake County.

The same districts were challenged in the racial gerrymandering case, North Carolina v. Covington, based on a state constitution prohibition on mid-decade redistricting — lawmakers were accused of redrawing districts they didn’t have to during a court-ordered remedial map-making process.

A special master redrew those districts and the U.S. District Court ordered they be used in this year’s elections, but the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the districts, likely because they involved issues of state law, not federal law.

GOP lawmakers at the time argued that if the plaintiffs wanted to litigate issues of state law, they should file a lawsuit in state court. Plaintiffs in a similar racial gerrymandering case pending at the state level then tried to resolve the issue, but a three-judge panel agreed a week ago that a new lawsuit was necessary.

The new lawsuit was filed on behalf of North Carolina NAACP, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, Democracy North Carolina, North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute and four individual plaintiff-voters from Wake County.

“Voters in North Carolina have a state constitutional right to have their legislative districts changed only once a decade,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney at SCSJ and lead attorney in the case. “This is an important protection in state law — one that many states don’t have — and its clear purpose is to prevent the ills of gerrymandering and political gamesmanship present here.”

The lawsuit asks that the four state House Districts in Wake County be returned to their 2011 boundaries in time for 2018 state legislative elections. The primary election is scheduled for May 8, and legislative candidates have only until the end of the month to file elections paperwork.

“North Carolinians have not been able to vote in constitutional state legislative districts this decade,” said Janet Hoy, co-President of the League of Women Voters of NC. “Lawmakers have dodged their obligations to enact fair districts time and time again. That will not deter us from continuing to push fair districts for voters that comply with the state and federal constitutions.”

There also was a House district in Mecklenburg County challenged on the state constitution violation grounds in the Covington case, but it is not included in this lawsuit.

Education, News

After Florida school massacre, hundreds rally in Raleigh for gun control

Zainab Antepli speaks at Tuesday’s gun control rally.

“I am 13 years old. I should be worried about what Netflix show I want to watch next, not a plan of escape from a public place.”

Sandra Gonzalez-Parral, an eighth grader from Wake County, was speaking to hundreds who gathered outside Pullen Memorial Baptist Church Tuesday in Raleigh to demand gun control legislation from state and federal lawmakers.

Zainab Antepli, another Wake County student, offered a fiery denunciation of school violence and anti-gun control politicians that stirred the crowd.

“We are calling for common sense,” said Antepli. “We are calling for adults to act like adults.”

The rally was emotional, hopeful and seething at the same time, as North Carolina K-12 students lit candles in memory of the 17 people who died in a mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school last week. Afterwards, they marched down Hillsborough Street to the state capitol in downtown Raleigh, holding signs that alternately skewered legislators and gun culture.

“Thoughts and prayers cannot bring back those students to their families,” said Zoe Nichols, a student at Broughton High in Raleigh.

Tuesday’s rally was one of a number of massive, student-led protests cropping up since a 19-year-old  allegedly used an assault rifle to gun down teenagers and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High a week ago.

Protesters are planning multiple events in March, including campus walk-outs and a national march in Washington, D.C., to advocate for change in the nation’s gun laws, even as gun rights groups push back against any restrictions.

Speakers on Tuesday talked about mental health awareness, but saved the most anger for the NRA and politicians such as Republican senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, who were reportedly among the largest beneficiaries of NRA contributions in the last election. 

Zoe Nichols, of Raleigh, addresses the rally Tuesday.

“We are watching you,” said Rev. Nancy Petty, pastor at Pullen Memorial. “We are paying attention and we demand change.”

“Once again our national leaders have failed us,” added Bryan Lee, Pullen Memorial’s youth minister. “Once again our state leaders have failed us.”

State leaders signaled their intent to at least discuss school safety in the coming weeks, with N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore announcing the launch of a new legislative committee geared toward possible legislation.

Yet the GOP-controlled General Assembly seems unlikely to approve any stringent gun restrictions in the coming days, even as Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, called on lawmakers to take action.

Legislators reportedly may talk over a proposal to arm school personnel, a controversial suggestion lobbed by Rep. Larry Pittman, a Cabarrus County Republican, last week.

Gov. Roy Cooper

Cooper said Tuesday that he spoke to his daughters after the Parkland shooting, and millennials have “had enough of this.”

“It is time to step up and do something,” said Cooper. “It is time to make sure that we look at all options, that we strengthen background checks. There is just no reason why someone with this background that people knew about should be able to go in and buy an (AR-15) assault rifle.”