SCOTUS denies NC GOP map appeal, Senate fails to override Cooper veto, unity for Ukraine: The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

2. Putin’s war on Ukraine provides a powerful reminder to Americans: Maybe we’re not as divided as we had thought (Commentary)

NC rally in support of Ukraine

It seems certain that one of the contributing factors in the disastrous calculus that led Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to believe he could get away with his murderous and criminal invasion of Ukraine was his perception of weakness and division in the United States.

It was not a completely unreasonable perception to hold.

Like others around the world, Putin was watching carefully on Jan. 6, 2021, as American democracy appeared to teeter for a moment on the apex of the Washington Monument. He’s seen how the COVID-19 pandemic helped deepen the fractures in our already divided nation. He was fully aware of the way the U.S. has disengaged in recent years from its traditional post-World War II European friendships. And you can bet your bottom dollar that he’s also been aware of the way a certain former U.S. president and some of his noisiest sycophants have consistently voiced admiration for his ruthless tactics, while doing everything within their power to undermine the current inhabitant of the White House.[Read more...]

3. Congress reaches deal on massive spending package with billions for COVID aid, Ukraine

Compromise bill funds local “earmarks” for the first time in several years

WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans forged agreement early Wednesday on a spending package that will fund the government for the next eight months, as well as provide billions in emergency funding for COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine.

The announcement means Congress should be able to avert a government shutdown when a spending patch expires at midnight on Friday, though an additional patch until next week will have to be passed as well.

The $1.5 trillion government funding section of the bill includes the first round of earmarks in more than a decade, allowing members from both political parties to secure federal dollars for home-state projects. [Read more...]

Bonus read: Zelensky a ‘thug’? Ukrainian government ‘incredibly evil’? That’s not how NC’s two Republican senators see it

4. State Senate’s attempt to override veto of ‘Free the Smiles Act’ fails


Senate Republicans could not muster the three-fifths majority it needed Wednesday to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill allowing parents to decide whether children wear face masks in schools.

The veto override of Senate Bill 173, also known as the “Free the Smiles Act,” failed on a 27-22 vote. The Senate needed 29 of the 49 votes present to move the bill to the House. Three-fifths of that chamber is also needed to override a veto.

Every Senate Democrat voted against the veto override, including two who had supported the bill that won bipartisan support in the House and Senate. Sen. Ben Clark, (D-Cumberland) and Sen. Kirk deViere (D-Cumberland), previously voted in favor of the bill. [Read more…]

5. US Supreme Court denies NC GOP appeal over court-drawn congressional districts

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied Republican legislative leaders’ request to stop congressional elections using court-drawn maps while they appealed state redistricting decisions.

The Supreme Court’s denial means that North Carolina congressional districts are officially set for the 2022 election. Candidate filing ended on Friday.

The NC Supreme Court ordered the legislature to redraw new districts for state House, state Senate and congressional districts after determining that the first maps legislators created were unconstitutional pro-Republican partisan gerrymanders. [Read more….]

6. COVID “test and treat” is set to launch later this month. Here’s where the anti-COVID pills are available now.

Image: Adobe Stock

President Joe Biden announced in his State of the Union Address last week the next strategy in combating COVID-19 called “test and treat.”

The plan to be launched later this month would have COVID-19 tests available at pharmacy clinics, community health centers, long-term care facilities and veterans’ health centers. People who test positive and fit eligibility requirements would receive COVID antiviral medications on the spot.

The FDA granted Paxlovid and Molnupiravir emergency use authorization in December. The pills are available by prescription at clinics and pharmacies throughout the state.  Paxlovid is for adults and children 12 and older who are high risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19. Molnupiravir is for adults. People with COVID must start taking the pills within five days of symptoms. [Read more…]

7. Despite multiple fines, violations, NC Renewable Power is still a chronic and major air polluter

Robeson County facility seeks new air permit even as state records detail a long trail of failures as fines

Tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Dozens of violations. Millions of tons of air pollutants.

North Carolina Renewable Power in Robeson County was supposed to be part of the solution for Duke Energy to meet its renewable energy goals. Instead, over the past seven years, the facility, which burns virgin wood and poultry waste, has sputtered, shut down, and restarted, only to repeatedly violate its state air permit, according to state records.

“This facility is a bad actor,” Katie Moore, a citizen advocate who works on issues of air pollution and environmental justice, told state officials at a public hearing for the facility’s proposed permit changes. “It would retroactively authorize illegal emissions and allow them to continue.” [Read more…]

8. Poverty, gun accessibility looms large in congressional effort to reimagine public safety in the COVID era

North Carolina has experienced “a perfect storm of challenges” over the past two years of the pandemic.

Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry told members of a U.S. House Judiciary subcommittee Tuesday that rising poverty and increased access to firearms has led to a devastating rise in violence.

“Increases in poverty are closely linked to increases in crime as stress and desperation make people more likely to see crime as their best or only option,” Deberry testified. “At the same time, Americans purchased guns in record numbers — more than 40 million over that last two years, worsening this nation’s gun epidemic.” [Read more…]

9. Amid skyrocketing growth in home schools, NC legislators realize how very little is known about how students fare

The first year North Carolina parents could establish a home school for their children, the state recorded 381 such schools with slightly more than 800 students for the 1985-86 school year.

Fast forward to this school year and the state has 112,614 schools on record, educating an estimated 179,990 children.

“As home schools increased in the state, DNP staff did not,” Dr. Chena Flood, director of the Division of Non-Public (DNP) Education, told members of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on General Government on Tuesday. [Read more…]

10. Weekly Radio Interviews and Daily Audio Commentaries:

With NC Policy Watch director Rob Schofield.

11. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

State Senate’s attempt to override veto of ‘Free the Smiles Act’ fails

Senate Republicans could not muster the three-fifths majority it needed Wednesday to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill allowing parents to decide whether children wear face masks in schools.

The veto override of Senate Bill 173, also known as the “Free the Smiles Act,” failed on a 27-22 vote. The Senate needed 29 of the 49 votes present to move the bill to the House. Three-fifths of that chamber is also needed to override a veto.

Every Senate Democrat voted against the veto override, including two who had supported the bill that won bipartisan support in the House and Senate. Sen. Ben Clark, (D-Cumberland) and Sen. Kirk deViere (D-Cumberland), previously voted in favor of the bill.

The Raleigh News & Observer reported Wednesday that Cooper has endorsed deViere’s primary opponent, Val Applewhite a former Fayetteville City Council member, in the May 17 race.

Cooper said that Applewhite “isn’t afraid to stand up to Right Win Republicans, the paper reported.

The bill was moved to the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate at Sen. Bill Rabon’s, (R-Brunswick), request.

Sen. Jay J. Chaudhuri

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, (D-Wake), said the law is not needed, explaining that 110 of 115 school districts have already made masks optional.

“Today, with school mask mandates virtually gone, we’re going to vote on a bill about mask mandates and that doesn’t make any sense,” Chaudhuri said. “Today’s vote is yet another attempt by the governing majority to politicize masks and push for more extreme legislative overreach.”

He noted that Thursday marks the first anniversary of when Cooper and legislative leaders announced a bipartisan bill to safely reopen schools for in-person instruction.

That bill, Chaudhuri said, gave local school boards the authority to act in the best interest of their communities.

“Let’s be clear, this bill enacts a statewide mandate,” Chaudhuri said. “It takes away the ability of local health officials to respond to any resurgence of the variant that we might confront in the future.”

School boards have largely heeded Cooper’s recommendation to lift face mask mandates. The governor said last month that an increase in vaccinations and falling infection and hospitalization rates warrant lifting the mask mandate.

He was also critical of SB 173.

Gov. Roy Cooper

“The bipartisan law the legislature passed and I signed last year allows local boards to make these decisions for their own communities and that is still the right course,” Cooper said. “Passing laws for political purposes that encourage people to pick and choose which health rules they want to follow is dangerous and could tie the hands of public health officials in the future.”

In a statement, Sen. Deanna Ballard, (R-Watauga), accused Democrats of working against parents.

Sen. Deanna Ballard

“This bill provides a level playing field for all families across the state since politicians continue to ignore the parents who are speaking up for their children,” said Ballard, chair of the Senate Education Committee. “It’s disheartening that the Senate Democrats would choose to turn their backs on families and disregard the effects masking has on our young children.”

The statement acknowledged that most districts have dropped mask mandates. It pointed out, however, that some are “inexplicably requiring students to wear masks even though COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations are declining.”

“This legislation would not have prevented students from wearing masks if they chose to or if there was an outbreak,” the statement said.

New redistricting plans advance, mask mandates fall, and book banning back in the news: The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

1. In our schools: ‘Yes’ to books, science, diversity…and discomfort (Commentary)

Public school book banning is back in the news.

Yes, I know; it’s an amazing development in an era in which every imaginable form of explicit violence, sex, and hate speech resides just seconds away at our children’s fingertips.

Research indicates that 95% of American teens have ready access to a smartphone and that more than 90 percent of kids play video games – more than 90% of which are rated E10+ or above contain violence. For heaven’s sake, a 2021 Northeastern University study found that “more than one-third of adolescents (ages 13 to 17) say they could gain access in less than five minutes to a loaded firearm kept in the home, and half could gain access in 60 minutes or less.”

Nonetheless, a small but noisy group of mostly conservative parents across the country have recently decided to make printed words found in books – books that reside in some public school libraries and that have, in some instances, been designated as assigned reading by professional educators – as their new bête noire.[Read more…]

2. Citing positive infection and vaccination numbers, Cooper calls for end to school mask mandates

6. NC legislative leaders wanted a “gerrymandering mastermind” to help judge new redistricting plans

A three-judge panel has appointed three former jurists as “special masters” who will help evaluate new redistricting plans, instead of accepting recommendations from Republican defendants and groups that sued to have the plans changed.

Republican legislative leaders had recommended John Morgan, whom a Virginia lawmaker called a “gerrymandering mastermind,” help judge North Carolina’s revised plans. Morgan knows about North Carolina redistricting. He was deposed in 2012 in a North Carolina redistricting case, where he said he worked on state Senate plans for the GOP. [Read more…]

7. The NC Supreme Court opinion on redistricting describes ways the legislature can tell whether its plans are constitutional

 

The state Supreme Court on Monday issued its opinion in the big redistricting case decided this month against Republicans in the legislature and for those challenging GOP redistricting plans.

The court order issued February 4 gave the legislature until Friday to the redraw congressional, state House and state Senate districts the majority said were unconstitutional in systematically weakening Democratic votes. The Supreme Court’s three Republicans dissented.

The majority opinion does not spell out what measurements should be used to determine whether the redrawn maps pass constitutional muster. It mentions five different metrics redistricting experts use, and says some combination of those should work. [Read more…]

8. Students defrauded by for-profit colleges to get millions in loan repayments

Action comes as part of Biden administration’s “borrower defense” initiative

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Education announced Wednesday that nearly 16,000 student borrowers would receive millions in loan repayments, after the department found that four private for-profit institutions made misleading claims about their job placement rates.

“The Department remains committed to giving borrowers discharges when the evidence shows their college violated the law and standards,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement.

Students count on their colleges to be truthful. Unfortunately, today’s findings show too many instances in which students were misled into loans at institutions or programs that could not deliver what they’d promised.” [Read more…]

9. Weekly Radio Interviews:

Click here for the latest radio interviews and daily commentaries with Policy Watch director Rob Schofield.

10. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Field notes: Dispatches from the 2022 U.S. Senate election

Us senate seal

U.S. government, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

[Editor’s note: This is the first in what will be a regular series of end-of-the-work-week news roundups from veteran journalist Kirk Ross on the 2022 North Carolina U.S. Senate race to replace retiring Republican Richard Burr.]

Walker stays in the race

Mark Walker didn’t just say ‘no’ to high-level entreaties to get out of the Republican Senate primary, he said ‘heck no.’

With a new bus for a backdrop, Walker told the crowd at a rally in Greensboro Thursday night that he was urged to drop out of the race and run for a seat in the U.S. House in a conversation with former President Donald Trump at a meeting at Mar-a-Lago during which Trump offered his endorsement. He also received an offer of campaign appearances with former Vice President Mike Pence if he made the move.

“The last 45 days have been a whirlwind,” Walker said. “We were thrilled to get all these endorsements and asking about the U.S. House.”

But the former congressman said he’s staying in the race, noting that he stood his ground and won his congressional seat in 2014 after being told by GOP leaders they were backing someone else. Walker lost the first primary that year, but won in a runoff.

He told the crowd in Greensboro that he seriously considered changing races, but that when he stepped away from congress last January he was determined to run statewide.

Rep. Ted Budd

“So, obviously as you see the bus tonight, what we’re basically saying is that we’re going to stay on that path and we’re going to keep working on this.”

Although consistently polling behind former governor Pat McCrory and U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, Walker’s presence in the race is likely to affect the outcome.

A recent Civitas poll shows Budd with a slight edge over McCrory in a head to head contest, but McCrory with a solid lead in a three way race.

Walker and McCrory have bonded recently in chiding Budd for not joining them at recent campaign forums as Budd continues to build support, including the reiteration of the former president’s endorsement in a Trump email blast last week.

Radio Free Pat

The McCrory campaign came out firing against “cancel culture” after a CNN KFILE report on the former governor’s take on being turned down for a position at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

In a January 2021 radio show, McCrory said he was blacklisted by Duke University after protests by students and faculty against his potential appointment. He then compared his experience to African-Americans being refused service at lunch counters during segregation.

“They were blacklisted because of the color of their skin,” McCrory says in an excerpt provided by CNN. “Other people are now being blacklisted because of our politics. And it’s both wrong. It’s both deplorable. And we’ve got to speak out against it.”

McCrory spokesperson Jordan Shaw told CNN that  McCrory, who moved to Greensboro in 1966, considers the students who protested at lunch counters heroes and “their example drives Gov. McCrory to call-out cancel culture where it exists today, whether in politics, religion, academia, business, or media.”

North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Bobbie Richardson called McCrory’s remarks offensive.

“North Carolinians have come to expect this type of ignorant, self-important rhetoric from Pat McCrory, and it’s exactly why they voted him out in 2016,” Richardson said in a statement Friday. “As an alumna of the then-still-segregated Perry High School, it is clear to me that Mr. McCrory has a lot to learn about what the brave students who participated in the Woolworth sit-in endured. I assure him that his experiences have nothing in common with those heroes.”

McCrory’s tenure on the radio was bound to be mined for content and the lunch counter report isn’t likely to be the last. The story noted that McCrory’s comments “were reviewed by CNN’s KFILE as part of a look at the rhetoric he used after leaving office in 2017.”

Cheri Beasley

Anita Earls

Court consideration

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice and Democratic front-runner Cheri Beasley and state Supreme Court Associate Justice Anita Earls were listed among potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees after President Biden’s recommitment this week to nominate an African-American woman to replace Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced his retirement Wednesday.

Both Earls, whose term runs to 2026, and Beasley applauded the president’s statement.

“Diversity means and representation means, frankly, for all the decisions that the US Supreme Court makes, it matters that those who are in service have a real appreciation and understanding of the law and the impact of those laws and the Constitution, and the impact of those decisions on people’s everyday lives,” Beasley told April Ryan in The Grio on Wednesday.

Campaign spokesperson Dory MacMillan said Beasley remains focused on her Senate run, which has been consolidating support since the withdraw of state Sen. Jeff Jackson from the race last month.

Governor Roy Cooper made his support for her candidacy official earlier this month just as she reported a hefty $2.1 million in fourth quarter fundraising and $2.8 million in cash on hand going into the new year.

“Cheri is fully committed to running for the U.S. Senate to fight for North Carolina to lower costs, grow good-paying jobs, strengthen our schools, and ensure our seniors can retire with dignity,” MacMillan said Friday.

Primary still set for May

For now, the primary date remains May 17, as per a late December court order in redistricting cases that halted filing and delayed the original March 8 election.

On Friday (today), Governor Roy Cooper vetoed legislation passed along party lines that would have delayed the primary until June 7, a move sponsors said was necessary to give the legislature ample time to redraw new districts should the state Supreme Court strike down maps passed last year. Read Cooper’s veto statement by clicking here.

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U.S. Senate blocks change in the filibuster for voting rights bills