Commentary

Op-ed: If we’re not going to regulate guns, at least do this

In case you missed it, columnist Ned Barnett has a fine op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer in response to the latest mass school shooting. After explaining the absurdity and futility of the idea that we can arm our way to safety, Barnett acknowledges that the current General Assembly won’t do anything about limiting access to guns. But, he says, at least we can do something — namely, hiring enough counselors and psychologists to make areal difference. Here’s the conclusion:

“We need to improve the awareness of and response to students who may be prone to striking out against their teachers and other students. The teachers who rallied last week asked for more money for school counselors, nurses, social workers and psychologists. The ranks of those workers have been reduced by cuts in state funding.

Mark Jewel, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, said the legislature can help teachers “not by arming us with guns but by arming us with the support personnel who can help us with the emotional needs of our children.”

In terms of school nurses, there is one for every 1,086 students in North Carolina. The state’s recommended level is one for every 750 students. State legislative staff estimates it would cost an additional $45 million to attain that ratio. Fifty eight percent of schools do not have a full-time health professional on campus. It would cost an additional $79 million to ensure every school has a nurse.

The recommended ratio of school psychologists to students is 1 to 700. In North Carolina, the ratio is 1 to 2,100. Some rural counties do not have a single school psychologist.

School counselors, previously called guidance counselors, are also in short supply: 1 to 386 students when the recommended ratio is 1 to 250.

Gov. Roy Cooper has proposed spending for school safety that includes $40 million to go toward hiring more counselors, psychologists, social workers and nurses, and $15 million for new programs to address students’ mental health challenges. In April, a state legislative subcommittee adopted a report recommending that the state increase the number of school support personnel but did not include funding levels.

Schools need more people attuned to the physical, emotional and mental health of students. They can rescue a child from distress and perhaps spare a school from heartbreak. If state legislators are worried enough about gun violence that they need metal detectors at the Legislative Building, they ought to also provide schools with more mental stress detectors.”

Click here to read the entire essay.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Cooper appoints new judges to the state bench

Gov. Roy Cooper has appointed six new judges to the state bench — one to Superior Court and five to District Court.

Each of the appointees are replacing judges who retired or who were appointed to other judgeships.

“Superior and District Court judges are so important to our justice system and hear cases critical to their communities every day,” Cooper stated in a news release. “These appointees bring strong experience to the bench and I believe they will serve the people of our state well.”

He appointed Judge William “Bill” Wood to the Superior Court bench in Guilford County to replace Judge Lindsay Davis, who retired earlier this year.

Wood has served as an assistant district attorney in Guilford County for nearly thirty years, where he has specialized in prosecuting violent crimes, according to Cooper’s office.

Cooper appointed Judge Keith Mason to the District Court serving Beaufort, Hyde, Martin, Tyrrell and Washington counties. He is replacing Judge Michael Paul, who retired earlier this year.

Mason served as an attorney in private practice for more than 25 years and previously served as an assistant district attorney in the same counties he was appointed to as a judge.

Judge Sophia Gatewood Crawford was appointed as a district court judge serving Anson, Richmond, Scotland and Hoke counties. She is replacing Judge Lisa Thacker, who retired earlier this year, according to Cooper’s Office.

Gatewood previously served as a trial attorney in private practice for 17 years and as a senior assistant district attorney.

Cooper appointed Marcus Shields as a District Court judge serving Guilford County — he replaces Judge Avery Crump, who retired earlier this year.

Shields served as an attorney in private practice, as an attorney for North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services and as an assistant public defender. He has also served as an adjunct professor of law at Elon University School of Law.

Cooper appointed Faith Fickling as a District Court judge serving Mecklenburg County. She is replacing Judge Donnie Hoover, who was recently appointed to a Superior Court judgeship.

Fickling served as an attorney at Legal Aid of North Carolina for nearly 12 years and previously served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar.

Roy Wiggins was appointed as a District Court judge in Mecklenburg County. He is replacing Judge Karen Eady-Williams, who was recently appointed to Superior Court judgeship.

Wiggins served as an attorney in private practice for over 20 years and previously as an assistant district attorney.

Commentary

NC Policy Watch Policy Prescription #5: Tackling the issue of environmental racism

During this week and next, as state lawmakers return to Raleigh for the 2018 legislative session, we hope you will continue reading our special series “Policy Prescriptions” researched and written by A. J. Fletcher Foundation Fellow Samone Oates-Bullock. Prescription #1 addressed food insecurity in North Carolina. Prescription #2 took on the issue of early childhood investments. Prescription #3 analyzed the challenge of funding school adequately and fairly. Policy Prescription #4 called for racial equity in education.

This is from today’s installment, “Clearing the air: Tackling the issue of environmental racism in North Carolina”:

“For decades, low-income, rural, minority communities have been subjected to repeated instances of environmental racism. Environmental racism is often described as the strategic siting of hazardous facilities and emitters, such as toxic waste disposal sites and trash dumps close to minority and/or low- income neighborhoods. Exposure to these environmental hazards can harm the residents of these communities – both physically and emotionally. If North Carolina is to become a state in which communities of color are not forced to pay the price for the wrongful acts and negligence of polluters, it is critically important that state government address and acknowledge these environmental injustices….”

Read the full report here.

Commentary, News

The week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Teachers demand policy changes, cheer Cooper at unprecedented education rally

“Here for our kids” is the common refrain as 20,000+ marchers overrun downtown Raleigh

On Tuesday, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger—one of the state’s most powerful Republican politicians—told North Carolina’s teachers they’d soon be receiving their fifth consecutive round of raises.

Emily Rex heard Berger’s promise. But the fifth-year, special education teacher—who lives in Berger’s state Senate district in Guilford County—points out she’s received raises in four of the last five years, not that she could much tell after soaring health premiums took their toll.

Rex said she completed her taxes in April. And over the last five years, her take-home earnings have inched up by about $1,000. “Any increase that we’ve had has been consumed by higher payroll deductions,” she said. [Read more…]

***Bonus: Memorable moments from NC’s #RallyforRespect (audio postcard)

2. Process schmocess: Berger, Moore say 2019 budget changes have already been negotiated | Read more

3. Residents voice passionate opposition to proposed methyl bromide operation; regulators remain tight-lipped | Read more

***Bonus reads:

4. Stealth session? G.A. returns, but the agenda (including plans for judicial redistricting) remains under wraps | Read more

5. Speakers at Durham conference: Criminalization of poverty is big and growing problem in NC | Read more

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Poll: North Carolinians prefer to elect their judges over appointment process

Image courtesy of High Point University Survey Research Center

A new poll shows that the majority of North Carolinians prefer to elect their judges over any sort of appointment process.

The High Point University Survey Research Center and Department of Criminal Justice conducted a statewide poll and analysis on residents’ level of awareness and support for potential changes to the way the state appoints judges.

Lawmakers have been considering plans for judicial redistricting and various merit selection plans — either of which would significantly change the way judges are elected. The short session began Wednesday and it is expected such changes could be put up for a vote.

The poll — which surveyed 513 adults between Feb. 19 and 25 — found that 49 percent of participants were unaware that lawmakers were considering changing the way it appoints judges from direct elections to appointment by the governor or the General Assembly.

A total of 47 percent of respondents had some level of awareness, including 11 percent who said they were highly aware, 16 percent moderately aware and 20 percent slightly aware.

A 75 percent majority strongly prefer to directly elect judges, while 8 percent prefer appointment by the governor and 10 percent prefer appointment by the General Assembly.

“We found that almost half of the registered voters we surveyed were aware of the issue,” said Bobby Little, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice. “In our analysis, we didn’t find any similarities in the demographics of those who prefer to keep judge appointments election-based. They represented a wide variety of people across the board.”

Little and Thomas Dearden, assistant professor of criminal justice, analyzed and recently produced a preliminary report about their findings, which they plan to submit for publication.

“This study made sense for our department as judges are an integral part of the criminal justice system,” Little said. “Judges are critical to the outcomes of justice, and we hope these results are of value to the general public who may or may not be familiar with this conversation.”