Commentary, Defending Democracy, Education, Environment, Legislature, News, Voting

The week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Lack of support for power-grabbing amendments speaks volumes

There are a lot of strange – even downright bizarre – aspects to the ongoing effort by North Carolina Republican legislators to pass a slate of six constitutional amendments during this fall’s election.

There is, for instance, the absurd dearth of process that accompanied the approval of the amendments during the final harried days of the 2018 legislative session. Ideally, constitutional amendments are accompanied by weeks, or even months, of debate, multiple public hearings, lengthy oral testimony and written analyses from academics and other experts, detailed findings from study commissions and extended opportunities for the public at-large and various interest groups to weigh in.

This year, however, few, if any, of those things were present. Instead, lawmakers rammed through all six amendments during the final week of June. Two of the amendments were then actually rewritten in a single day at the end of August – just a handful of days prior to the distribution of absentee ballots. [Read more…]

2. PFAS, but not GenX, found in blood of residents living near Chemours plant

Four types of fluorinated compounds were detected in blood samples of all 30 people tested who live near the Chemours plant, although none of the compounds was GenX, the NC Department of Health and Human Services announced today.

In July, DHHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Cumberland County Health Department tested for 17 types of fluorinated compounds in the blood and urine of 30 people living near the facility, which abuts the Bladen-Cumberland county line.

All of the people who voluntarily participated in the program use well water for their household needs. Many of the private wells, plus rainwater, lakes, soil, groundwater and even honey have tested positive for fluorinated compounds. [Read more…]

**Bonus read: Last chance for the red wolf? Advocates ask federal judge to intervene to preserve endangered species

3. Questions linger about victims’ rights constitutional amendment, big budget campaign

Early voting started Wednesday, which means North Carolinians will finally get to decide on six proposed constitutional amendments, including one that would bolster crime victims’ rights.

At first glance, voting on an amendment to enhance victims’ rights may seem like a no-brainer, but like many issues, it’s not so black and white. Supporters of the amendment say victims need teeth in the law to assert their rights. Opponents say victims’ rights already are enshrined in the constitution and enhancing them should be done by statute, not by an experimental amendment. [Read more…]

**Bonus read: 3-judge panel rules Board of Elections, Ethics Enforcement structure unconstitutional

4. Battle looms as state officials propose takeover of Goldsboro elementary school

If North Carolina goes forward with the recommendation to allow a private charter operator to take control of a Goldsboro elementary school, they should expect a stubborn resistance, the school’s principal told Policy Watch Wednesday.

“You’re bringing in outside people, but Wayne County is a unique district,” said Carver Heights Elementary Principal Cortrina Smith. “You are going to consistently receive pushback, because we don’t know you, but you’re in my house and you’re trying to tell us what to do. You don’t know my kids, you don’t know my community.”

Smith is in her third year as principal at the struggling Goldsboro school, which serves a predominantly poor population in eastern North Carolina. But if the State Board of Education approves the so-called Innovative School District’s (ISD) recommendation this week to turn over operations and leadership in the elementary to a yet-to-be-named private operator, the school may see many of its teachers and administrators, including Smith, scuttled in the next year. [Read more…]

**Bonus read: NC’s latest school takeover experiment will deny Goldsboro students the education they deserve

5. Eastern North Carolina residents press for a just hurricane recovery

As lawmakers gathered Monday to approve funding for Hurricane Florence relief, residents and community leaders from Eastern North Carolina came together outside the General Assembly.

They told their personal recovery stories and encouraged lawmakers to put recovery money – and their political power – where it’s most needed.

The Just Florence Recovery Collective represents more than 25 community organizations and dozens of impacted residents. Its goal: to shed a light on racial and class disparities that have made storm damage worse and recovery slower in North Carolina’s poorest and encourage those in power to reverse the trend and make those communities whole.

Bobby Jones of the Down East Coal Ash Coalition came from Goldsboro where, he said, “part of our community has been used as a dumping ground for Duke Energy’s 6 million tons of poisonous coal ash.” [Read more…]

**Bonus read: Legislature, Cooper make headway on hurricane recovery, but vexing longer-term issues loom

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Defending Democracy, News, Voting

Sen. Burr: Russians continue use of social media to influence, divide Americans (video)

Three months before November’s mid-term elections, leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee acknowledged that foreign operators are using social media to divide Americans, spread disinformation and undermine U.S. elections.

Republican Senator Richard Burr, who chairs the committee, said it was a complex problem that Congress must take every bit as seriously as terrorism:

“…it’s also the case that social media isn’t going anywhere. It’s part of how we exchange ideas and stay connected. It binds us as a community, and gives voice to the voiceless.

This was never about election, it is about the integrity of our society.

So how do you keep the good, while getting rid of the bad?”

Senators also on Wednesday rejected an amendment (50-47) that would have earmarked $250 million for election security.

North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis was among those voting against the appropriation, which needed 60 ‘Yea’ votes to advance.

Senator Burr was recorded as having not voted.

Click below to hear Burr’s opening remarks Wednesday morning before the Senate Intelligence Committee:

 

 

Commentary, Environment, News, Voting

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Powerful new hog trial testimony puts Smithfield back on the defensive
By Lisa Sorg

As a former police officer and firefighter, Wesley Sewell has encountered odors so putrid that they would make most people retch. He’s even ranked the smells. No. 1 “is when I had to remove burning bodies from a plane crash,” Sewell told a jury in a federal hog nuisance trial yesterday. No. 2 “is when I had to remove a person from their home who had been dead a week on the toilet. Hog feces is number three, or at least in the top five.”

Sewell is not a plaintiff, but was subpoenaed as a witness in the most recent lawsuit against the world’s largest pork producer, Murphy-Brown. [Read more…]

2. Fearing suppression, voting rights advocates make case for early voting sites in letters to county boards
By Melissa Boughton

Early voting in North Carolina is a big deal with a big turnout, but advocates are bracing for a negative impact this year after some last minute legislative wheeling and dealing.

To help minimize the damage, the ACLU of North Carolina and Democracy NC teamed up to inform county boards of elections of the effects of Senate Bill 325 and House Bill 335 and to make recommendations for consideration as they adopt early voting plans. [Read more...]

3. Just say ‘no’: The easiest way to push back against NC’s rogue General Assembly is to vote against all six proposed constitutional amendments
By Rob Schofield

Like Congress and most modern American state legislatures, the North Carolina General Assembly is not a popular or respected body. Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling asked voters their opinion of the General Assembly earlier this year and the results were fairly dismal. It found that less than one-in-five North Carolina voters (19%) approved of the job the legislature was doing, while more than half (51%) disapproved. [Read more]

4. Plea deal offers glimpse into rampant bail industry fraud
By Joe Killian

When Sarah Jessenia Lopez plead guilty in May to attempted notary fraud related to bail bonding, it was not earth shattering. After all, fraud and criminality in North Carolina’s for-profit bail industry has been rampant for years.

The North Carolina Department of Insurance regulates the bail industry. Between 2009 and 2016, its criminal investigators made more than 1,500 arrests related to insurance and bail bonding fraud alone. There have been more than 750 criminal convictions with more than 250 cases currently pending in court. But a close examination of Lopez’s plea deal reveals details that could reverberate throughout the already troubled industry and contribute to the final dismantling of one of the state’s largest and most powerful bail surety companies. [Read more]

5. N.C. General Assembly has failed to act, but the time to stop Chemours’ pollution is now
By Billy Ball

“How long before we say enough is enough?” state lawmaker Ted Davis Jr. asked his colleagues in the N.C. House in February. “How much more is Chemours going to get away with before something is done?”

Chances are the Wilmington Republican, whose constituents are right to be worried about the Delaware-based chemical company’s discharges into the Cape Fear River, is asking the same questions today as pressure mounts on Chemours practically everywhere outside of the North Carolina General Assembly. [Read more]

6. Cartoonist John Cole: It’s getting deep… [Read more…]

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News, Voting

Republican senator to critic of GOP’s controversial voting reforms: “Stop bothering people at such an hour.”

Sen. Rick Horner, R-Johnson, Nash, Wilson

“Stop bothering people at such an hour.”

A Republican North Carolina senator had this to say in an email late Thursday to one woman’s criticism of surprise, GOP-led voting reforms unveiled at the legislature this week.

On Friday, Policy Watch obtained a copy of the terse email exchange, in which Sen. Rick Horner, a one-term Republican who represents Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties, took a Raleigh woman to task.

Horner was firing back at Joanne Rohde of Raleigh, who blasted GOP legislators for their efforts to overhaul early voting and voter ID laws late in the short session.

Rohde is not one of Horner’s constituents, but her email—which was timestamped at 10:59 p.m. Thursday—was directed to all of the state’s Senators. Horner’s reply was sent at 11:06 p.m. Thursday.

From Rohde’s email:

Our State Legislature is the poster child of hollowing out Democracy from within.  Shame on those of you promoting legislation that thwarts the intent of the Supreme Court ruling.  Shame on those of you limiting our basic right to vote.  Shame for sneaking around in the middle of the night changing laws without public discourse.

You think no one is watching, or no one cares; or maybe you just think [you’re] untouchable.  But you’re wrong.  Not only will I cast my vote against those working against our democratic principles, but I will spend my weekends knocking on doors and making calls to make sure that as many citizens as possible know what you’re doing.  And I assure you, I’m not alone.

It appears the lawmaker copied all of his Senate colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, on the response. It’s unclear whether that was intentional or unintentional.

Horner couldn’t be immediately reached for an interview Friday afternoon.

Voting rights advocates are fired up over new Republican proposals to nix a major early voting day and revive voter ID requirements.

House Speaker Tim Moore announced the voter ID bill Monday, which would put it to voters to decide whether the state requires mandatory photo IDs at the polls, an idea that’s been widely denounced for its potential impact on minority voters.

Two years ago, a federal court shot down the GOP’s 2013 voter ID law, writing that it targeted African-American voters with “almost surgical precision.”

The new legislation is awaiting review in a House elections committee.

Meanwhile, GOP legislators in the House gutted a 2017 tax cut bill from the Senate this week, reintroducing the measure as “The Uniform & Expanded Early Voting Act.”

The bill’s sparked fierce criticism because it would do away with early voting on the Saturday before Election Day, a particularly popular day.

The legislation swept through the state House Thursday and Friday amid often bitter debate. After its approval Friday morning, state Senate lawmakers placed it on their calendar for a possible vote Friday.

[Update: The Senate approved the House-amended bill Friday afternoon. Horner voted to approve the proposal. It’s now bound for Gov. Roy Cooper.]

Commentary, Voting

Unlike North Carolina, some states are making voter participation easier instead of suppressing it

Most of the voting rights news lately has not been very encouraging. State legislative leaders are promising to bring up another photo ID bill in one of the series of special legislative sessions likely to be held this summer and fall.

The last effort at enacting a photo ID requirement was part of the massive voter suppression law struck down by federal courts who said it targeted minority voters with “surgical precision.”

Things are even scarier in Washington, where President Trump’s absurd election commission held its first meeting this week with its vice-chairman Kris Kobach from Kansas refusing to admit that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 election.

The meeting’s coda was an MSNBC television interview in which Kris Kobach, the Kansas Republican who is the panel’s vice chairman and de facto head, was asked, “Do you believe Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three to five million votes because of voter fraud?” He replied: “We will probably never know the answer to that question. Because even if you could prove that a certain number of votes were cast by ineligible voters, for example, you wouldn’t know how they voted.”

But some states are not playing the dangerous voter suppression game. In fact, the Governor of Rhode Island this week signed legislation that automatically registers people to vote when they are getting a driver’s license or renewing one, unless they choose to opt out.

Steve Benen over at the Rachel Maddow Blog points out that the signature means nine states now have automatic registration and Illinois will soon become the 10th.

Not too long ago there was a consensus that the more people who participated in the Democratic process the better. The folks on the Right don’t think so anymore. Sadly, now their goal is to keep putting barriers to voting in front of people who are not likely to support them.