Weekend reads: GOP targets diversity efforts, State Supreme Court revisits 2 key rulings, and teachers a top priority in Cooper budget

In this issue:

1. General Assembly asking for info on DEI at UNC campuses as GOP targets diversity efforts

This week the N.C. General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Commission on Government Operations requested documents related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) training programs through the UNC System and all of its 17 campuses.

The request, according to a Tuesday letter from Derrick Welch, director of Senate Majority Staff Government Operations, is part of the commission’s “inquiry into university employee training programs administered through the UNC System or its member universities.” [Read more…]

2. State House committee advances latest version of anti-Critical Race Theory legislation

Republicans defend bill as promoting equality, while Democrats forecast chilling impact on honest classroom discussions

Rep. Ken Fontenot, a Wilson County Republican, vigorously defended House Bill 187 this week, contending that the bill restricting how educators teach about race, gender and sexuality, would prevent educators from teaching racially divisive doctrines.

Fontenot, who is Black, noted that HB 187, which is innocuously titled “Equality in Education” would prevent North Carolina educators from teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT). [Read more…]

3. Déjà vu: NC Supreme Court rehears arguments in voter ID case

For the second time in two days, the Republican-majority high court rehears arguments in a case decided by a Democratic majority just months ago

The North Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on whether a voter ID law passed in 2018 was intended to discriminate against prospective voters of color.

The high court issued a ruling in the case just three months ago, under a previous Democratic majority. That court ruled the voter ID bill was unconstitutional because lawmakers enacted the legislation “with an impermissible intent to discriminate against African American voters in violation of the North Carolina Constitution.” [Read more...]

4. State Supreme Court revisits redistricting rulings it issued in just months ago

A Democratic court majority struck down maps as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders, but a new GOP majority has been asked to do an about-face.

State Republican legislators Tuesday brought their argument that courts cannot bar partisan redistricting to a friendlier state Supreme Court than the one that ruled against them last year.

If Republican legislators secure all they want from the high court, they will be able to redraw state House and Senate districts, in addition to congressional voting districts, for the 2024 election without concern that state courts will find them unconstitutionally partisan.[Read more…]

5. North Carolina’s maternal mortality rate increased sharply during the pandemic, according to newly released data

The death rate in in North Carolina for women within 42 days of giving birth doubled from 2019 to 2021, according to CDC data released by the investigative news organization MuckRock.

The death rate in 2019 was 22 per 100,000 births. The next year, the rate per 100,000 births increased to 29 then spiked to 44 in 2021.

“It’s a huge jump, especially in such a short period of time,” said Keisha Bentley-Edwards, a Duke University researcher who studies health equity. Black women continued to be more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes.[Read more…]

Bonus read: NC maternal death rate exceeds national rate

6. House committee advances bill to erase language in law describing minor offenses that lead to school suspensions

A bill stripping language from current law that provides examples of student conduct that’s not serious enough for suspension or expulsion received a favorable hearing Tuesday before the House Standing Committee on Education – K-12.

House Bill 188 removes from state law the use of inappropriate or disrespectful language, noncompliance with a staff directive, dress code violations and minor physical altercations that do not involve weapons or injury as misconduct that is not serious enough to warrant lengthy suspensions or expulsions. [Read more…]

7. NC Gov. Cooper presents budget proposal with 18% average raises for teachers

Gov. Roy Cooper released his proposed $32.9 billion state budget that includes hefty raisesforteachers that he said would raise average teacher salaries to No.1 in the Southeast.

Teachers and principals would see average salary increases of 18% over two years under the plan Cooper presented Wednesday. His budget also restores master’s pay for teachers and includes retention bonuses.[Read more…]

8. Gov. Cooper asks for 23% increase in DEQ budget to help cash-strapped agency

The NC Department of Environmental Quality is the Oliver Twist of state government, approaching the legislature, its empty bowl extended, and pleading: “Please sir, I want some more.”

Over the past 10 years state lawmakers have been notoriously stingy in its appropriations to the department. They have flaunted their distaste of environmental regulation, not only by introducing bills to hamper such efforts, but also by starving the agency, which has subsisted on the financial version of gruel. [Read more…]

9. EPA proposes new rule to crack down on PFAS, forever chemicals in our water

The EPA today announced its proposed maximum contaminant levels — MCLs — for six types of toxic PFAS in drinking water and acknowledged that no amount of these compounds is safe.

“EPA anticipates if fully implemented the rule will prevent tens of thousands of serious PFAS-attributable illnesses or deaths,” the agency wrote in a slide presentation obtained by Policy Watch. [Read more…]

10. ‘Good, serious ideas’: Commission on university governance talks transparency, amplifying student voices

Should students and faculty have more prominent voices on boards of trustees at UNC System schools? Should the system’s board of governors elect members geographically, be more transparent and open to public input? And would any of these suggestions matter to a Republican dominated legislature resistant to such changes?

These were a few of the questions members of the Governor’s Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina tackled in its third public listening session on Monday. The session, held at the Charlotte Area Chamber of Commerce, drew a sparse but vocal crowd — typical of the listening sessions held so far.[Read more…]

11. A terrible bet: North Carolina should not cave in to the sports gambling onslaught

North Carolina elected leaders have enacted several ineffective and misleading laws over the years, but when it comes to undermining public confidence in government and taking advantage of vulnerable people, the badly misnamed “education lottery” has to be near the bottom of any “worst of” list.

The lottery – which became law in 2005 after surviving some close and sketchy votes in the General Assembly – was sold to lawmakers and the public as harmless entertainment that would provide a magical boon to the state’s public schools. Indeed, lottery ads still promote this fiction.

But it never was such a thing.[Read more…]

12. Weekly Radio Interviews and Daily Audio Commentaries:

As opioids overdose deaths keep rising, report urges lawmakers to develop new approaches

Gov. Cooper will allow two bills similar to those he previously vetoed to become law without his signature

Gov. Roy Cooper said Friday he is allowing bills on hotel tenants and rioting penalties to become law without his signature. 

Senate bill 53 says that people who live in inns, motels, campgrounds, or other lodgings do not have legal rights afforded tenants if they live in those places for fewer than 90 consecutive days. 

Cooper vetoed a similar bill in 2021.The bill this year passed along party lines in the Senate and easily passed the House with bipartisan support.

Cooper said in his statement, Cooper acknowledged the bill has broad legislative support.  “However safe housing is sometimes only available from temporary shelter such as hotels, and I remain concerned that this bill will legalize unfair treatment for those who need protection, and this will prevent me from signing it.”

House bill 40, a bill increasing penalties for rioting, will also become law without Cooper’s signature. House Speaker Tim Moore championed the bill, and has said it was inspired by protests against George Floyd’s murder. Civil rights groups warned that the law would be used to target people of color and make people hesitant to protest injustices. 

Cooper vetoed a version in 2021.

The bill on rioting penalties passed this year with one Democratic vote in the Senate and six Democratic votes in the House – enough to override a veto if all legislators show up for an override vote. 

Republicans have revived several bills Cooper vetoed in past years. With bigger GOP majorities in the House and Senate, those bills have a better chance of becoming law. 

In his statement on the rioting penalties, Cooper said, I acknowledge that changes were made to modify this legislation’s effect after my veto of a similar bill last year. Property damage and violence are already illegal and my continuing concerns about the erosion of the First Amendment and the disparate impacts on communities of color will prevent me from signing this legislation.”

General Assembly asking for info on DEI at UNC campuses as GOP targets diversity efforts

This week the N.C. General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Commission on Government Operations requested documents related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) training programs through the UNC System and all of its 17 campuses.

The request, according to a Tuesday letter from Derrick Welch, director of Senate Majority Staff Government Operations, is part of the commission’s “inquiry into university employee training programs administered through the UNC System or its member universities.”

The letter, produced below, includes an exhaustive 10-point request for documents, descriptions and costs related to any DEIA related training.

“For purpose of this letter, ” Welch wrote, “DEIA” includes, but is not limited to, those subject matters which reference or discuss ‘diversity’, ‘equity’, ‘inclusion’, ‘accessibility’, ‘racism’, ‘anti-racism’, ‘anti-racist’, ‘oppression’, ‘internalized oppression’, ‘systemic racism’, ‘sexism’, ‘gender’, ‘LGBTQ+’, ‘white supremacy’, ‘unconscious bias’, ‘bias’, ‘microaggressions’, ‘critical race theory’, ‘intersectionality’, or ‘social justice.'”

Read more

NC maternal death rate exceeds national rate

North Carolina’s maternal mortality rate is rising much faster than the national rate reported by the CDC on Thursday. 

The US maternal mortality rate in 2021 was 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the CDC, up from 23.8 per 100,000 in 2020, and 20.1 per 100,000 in 2019.

North Carolina’s maternal mortality rate doubled over those years, to 44 deaths per 100,000 births in 2021, up from 22 deaths per 100,000 in 2019, Policy Watch reported this week using  CDC data obtained by the investigative news organization MuckRock. 

Nationally,  Black women are 2.6 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. The maternal death rate for Black women was 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2021, while for white women it was 26.6 deaths per 100,000 births. The CDC counted maternal deaths of women while they were pregnant or within 42 days of giving birth. The death rate increased for women of all races, the CDC reported. 

“Provisional data released in late 2022 in a U.S. Government Accountability Office report indicated that maternal death rates in 2021 had spiked – in large part due to COVID-19,” Dr. Abbasi Hoskins, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in a prepared statement Thursday.

“Still, confirmation of a roughly 40% increase in preventable deaths compared to a year prior is stunning news,” the statement said. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic had a dramatic and tragic effect on maternal death rates, but we cannot let that fact obscure that there was – and still is- already a maternal mortality crisis to compound.”

The maternal death rate is higher in the United States than it is in any other wealthy country, according to the Commonwealth Fund reported

A Policy Watch analysis of MuckRock data found that in 2020 and 2021 about 56% of the 119 Black women in North Carolina who died within a year of giving birth died from pregnancy-related causes.

For 163 white women in the state who died within a year of giving birth in those years, about a third died from pregnancy-related causes.