U.S. House Democrats send sweeping climate, health and tax legislation to Biden

Search warrant shows Trump under investigation for possible Espionage Act violations

Biden’s bill to combat climate change advances as NC breaks new heat records

Graphic: NOAA

It’s been another hot summer for the Northern Hemisphere, the U.S., and in North Carolina.

According to the North Carolina State Climate Office, it was the driest June in over three decades.

In July – which is climate-wise the state’s hottest month – high pressure over the Southeast pushed temperatures to 102 in Raleigh on July 6 and 7, to tie a record high on both days.

Climate change is driving these global weather patterns, which include fires, drought and record heat in Western Europe and India, and torrential, life-threatening floods in Missouri and eastern Kentucky.

President Joe Biden’s landmark climate and spending bill recently passed the Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote of 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats. The Inflation Reduction Act is a $740 billion package would tackle climate change, healthcare and taxes. It now goes to the House and would need Biden’s signature to become law.

The bill includes strategies for reducing climate change, renewable energy production investments, and tax incentives for consumers to buy efficient electric appliances and electric cars.

On Thursday, two Duke University climate health scholars, Ashley Ward and Luke Parsons, held a virtual media briefing with journalists about the costs of extreme heat, climate change and the how the recent legislation could help mitigate a planetary crisis.

Ward, the senior policy associate for engagement and outreach for the Internet of Water, said the Inflation Reduction Act is a major positive step. “What we’re talking about here is a real shift in thinking, away from regulatory approaches towards an investment,” Ward said.

Ashley Ward (Photo: Duke University)

“This is important because investment is what’s needed to build production in the U.S. to clean energy,” Ward said. “In doing so, it accelerates the transition already underway, and cleverly so, by decreasing the demand for fossil fuels rather than decreasing the supply, which results in something politically difficult, which is driving up the cost.”

Luke Parsons, an earth and climate studies researcher, said the bill would help low-income families. “The thing I’m really excited about with this is this idea of also providing lower-income communities with the ability to try to cool themselves more effectively,” Parsons said.

“This is an equity issue. The average middle- or upper-class person with more income in North Carolina has probably more air conditioning access than a lower-income person. Protecting people by allowing them to efficiently and more effectively cool themselves during the day and at night is really important.”

Other issues in the briefing included extreme heat’s harm on the health of outdoor workers, athletes, and other people who spend long hours outside; deforestation, which reduces shade and prevents cooling; and public misconceptions about the heat.

More than 300,000 people living in NC are especially vulnerable to extreme heat. The number of heat wave days in the state are projected to quadruple by 2050, according to States at Risk, a project looking at the 50 states and the impacts of climate change.

Ward and Parsons both said that even though the heat will only increase in the future, people should still do what they can to fight climate change to help future generations.

Luke Parsons (Photo: Duke University)

Earlier this year, Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order to ensure climate action and environmental justice. The order establishes science-based goals of a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050.

In 2018, Gov. Cooper also established the North Carolina Climate Change Interagency Council as part of another executive order to address climate change and transition to a clean energy economy.

In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency also said the state has other issues due to climate change, such as higher water levels eroding beaches, submerging low lands, exacerbating coastal flooding and increasing the salinity of estuaries and aquifers.

James Burrell is a summer journalism fellow with NC Policy Watch, sponsored by the States Newsroom. He graduated from NC Central University, where he co-edited the student newspaper, the Campus Echo.

Veteran law enforcement officer: On Jan. 6 I was bewildered. Now, I’m outraged.

Protesters enter the Senate Chamber on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Ahead of the first hearing of the January 6 Select Committee I had the opportunity, due to my more than 40 years in law enforcement, to share my thoughts as part of a panel discussion about what had happened on that terrible day, and what I expected to come from the hearings.

I shared that I felt bewildered that so many citizens who purport to support democracy would attempt to overturn an election. That so many elected officials, including some county sheriffs and others in positions of power, had urged their supporters to do so.

After watching the first eight hearings of the committee these last two months, I am no longer bewildered.

I am outraged. As every American should be.

The January 6 Select Committee has done a remarkable job sharing its findings about the attack on the Capitol itself, and the months-long criminal conspiracy that led up to it. They have exposed the truth for the world to see, former President Donald Trump and his MAGA allies attempted to overturn the results of a free, fair, safe and secure election they knew they had lost through a multi-pronged scheme that included lying to their own supporters while bilking them out of millions of dollars in the process.

Even if the conspiracy had ended there, in cheating hard working Americans out of their hard-earned wages through outright lies about election lawsuits and allegations of fraud, it would have represented an egregious violation of the public trust by all involved.

But it didn’t end there, of course. The plot culminated in a violent attack on the Capitol that left over 100 police officers injured, many beaten and bloodied with career ending injuries.

So far, Mr. Trump and his enablers, both in the White House and Congress, have escaped accountability under the law.

So far.

The news that the FBI seized documents from Trump’s home in Mar-a-Lago this week shows that there is a serious case unfolding against the former president.

I served more than 40 years in law enforcement, including 15 as Dane County, Wisconsin Sheriff, and served as president of the National Sheriffs Association, which represents more than 3,000 sheriffs nationwide. I know how investigations work; I’ve seen prosecutors build out cases. And my advice to Mr. Trump and his co-conspirators after watching these hearings is straightforward: Lawyer up. Prepare to accept responsibility. Accountability is coming.

I swore an oath to uphold the United States Constitution, as all law enforcement members do. It’s sometimes hard to put into words what that means, how that sticks with you. But here’s what I know: Former President Trump swore an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution, too. That oath makes the unprecedented, egregious and illegal actions he took that had the effect of undermining our democracy unforgivable. He used the office of the presidency to manipulate, pressure and browbeat his subordinates into breaking the law for his own personal gain. He had help from members of Congress and staff in his White House and, as committee vice chair Liz Cheney has shared with us, he’s still trying to cover up his actions through witness intimidation.

Thankfully, the Justice Department has expanded its probe into the events of January 6, issuing subpoenas in multiple states.

Ensuring accountability and that no president ever abuses the office in this manner again is essential. That requires letting the committee finish its work and allowing the Justice Department to complete their own investigation unimpeded.

That is the only way to stop the ongoing efforts by many Trump Republicans, including here in Wisconsin, from sabotaging future elections by changing state laws, threatening state officials and packing election administration offices so that they can have the final say over election results – even when they lose.

Members of law enforcement held the line for all of us on Jan. 6, 2021. May we all honor them, including those we lost as a result, through our commitment to seeing that justice is done and this never happens again.

David Mahoney served as the sheriff of Dane County, Wisconsin for four terms and worked for 41 years in law enforcement before retiring in 2021. This essay was first published by the Wisconsin Examiner.

NC Elections Board proposes more detailed rules for poll-observer conduct

The state Board of Elections is considering tighter rules for partisan elections observers that outline what they can do at polling places.

The revised rules grew from a survey of local elections officials after the May primary.

Image: AdobeStock

The proposed rules “are necessary to ensure election workers and voters are not interfered with and the voting process is not disrupted in any way,” state Board of Elections spokesman Patrick Gannon said in an email.  “State law specifically prohibits observers from electioneering at voting sites and from impeding the voting process or interfering with or communicating with voters. These proposed rules are designed to ensure observers comply with the law.”

Election observers aren’t supposed to talk to voters or elections workers, except for the chief judge. They sign up to work four-hour shifts. They are supposed to be in an area of the polling place where they can see and hear the interactions between poll workers and voters, but they aren’t allowed to enter a voting booth, try to look at ballots, or take pictures.

The new proposal says observers shouldn’t be close enough to documents to see confidential voter information or ballots, must stay in a designated area, and can’t use doors designated for precinct officials or one-stop workers. Observers who create a disruption by walking in and out of a polling place repeatedly during a four-hour shift could be removed by the chief judge.

Fifteen county elections officials reported in the survey that they had some problems with observers –  some identified as Republican observers – during the primary. Some of the violations were minor, such as an observer talking to a voter they knew. Others reported that observers tailed elections workers driving from polling places to elections headquarters, wanted to take pictures at polling sites, interfered with voters, and distracted poll workers.

Wayne County elections director Anne Risku said in the survey response that an observer was ejected when she tried to block a voter from inserting his ballot into a tabulator. Republican observers objected to curbside voting, even though they were able to observe it. They called it “ballot harvesting,” she wrote. One chief judge there doesn’t want to work during early voting anymore.

According to the survey, an observer got into an altercation with a voter in Alleghany County. Several observers in Davidson argued that they should be able to stand behind machines to watch people vote. Poll workers in Pasquotank were intimidated.

North Carolina does not offer standardized training for election observers, though some states do.

Most of the people who spoke at public hearings Thursday and on July 28 said the revised rules were unnecessary or too restrictive. Most of the speakers were conservative or Republicans involved in poll monitoring.

Conservative groups have been holding classes to train elections observers, a response to false assertions of widespread voter fraud.

Several speakers opposing the revised rules mentioned being trained by Cleta Mitchell, Jay DeLancy, and Jim Womack.

Mitchell is a lawyer who tried to help Donald Trump overturn the 2020 election. She was on the phone with  Trump when he told a Georgia official to find him enough votes to overturn that state’s presidential election results. Mitchell is schooling activists around the country on aggressive poll monitoring, the New York Times reported.

DeLancy has been looking for voter fraud in the state for at least a decade. Jim Womack, Lee County GOP chairman, has an organization that trains elections observers.

DeLancy said at the July hearing that the proposed rule is “a solution in search of a problem.”

Angela Hawkins, a Republican member of the Wake County Board of Elections, called the proposed rules “too restrictive and unnecessary.”

Jane Pinsky said at the July hearing that Common Cause supports the new rules because they’ve heard of voters being intimidated or confused. Observers should wear tags identifying themselves as observers and should stay in designated areas, she said.

“I as a voter would be terribly intimidated to have an observer walking around with a notebook watching me vote,” she said. “That’s not what I consider the process to be.”

The state Board of Elections is accepting written comments on the proposed rules until 5 p.m. today.