News

Co-chairs discuss scope of legislative committee to study school safety

House Speaker Tim Moore announced the appointments Tuesday to a new House Select Committee on School Safety.  Moore says the legislative panel will seek expert input on securing the state’s classrooms and education facilities in the wake of a shooting in Parkland, Florida last week that left 17 dead and more than a dozen wounded.

Rep. John Torbett and Rep. David Lewis outlined the scope of the committee’s work at a press conference in Shelby.

Recommendations are expected by the short session in May.

The following House members will serve on the Select Committee on School Safety

Representative David Lewis, Co-Chair Representative Nelson Dollar Representative Brenden Jones
Representative John Torbett, Co-Chair Representative Jeffrey Elmore Representative  Donny Lambeth
Representative John Faircloth, Vice-Chair Representative Elmer Floyd Representative Marvin Lucas
Representative John Bell Representative Rosa Gill Representative Chris Malone
Representative Larry Bell Representative Holly Grange Representative Allen McNeill
Representative Mary Ann Black Representative Pricey Harrison Representative Rodney Moore
Representative Jamie Boles Representative Kelly Hastings Representative Garland Pierce
Representative William Brawley Representative Cody Henson Representative Stephen Ross
Representative Dana Bumgardner Representative Yvonne Holley Representative Jason Saine
Representative Justin Burr Representative Craig Horn Representative Sarah Stevens
Representative Carla Cunningham Representative Pat Hurley Representative Larry Strickland
Representative Ted Davis Representative Verla Insko Representative Harry Warren
Representative Jimmy Dixon Representative Darren Jackson Representative Donna White
Representative Josh Dobson Representative Linda Johnson
News

Charges dropped against Durham protesters in Confederate statue incident

Durham District Attorney Roger Echols dropped the remaining charges against protesters accused of helping to topple a Confederate statue last summer.

The move came a day after District Court Judge Frederick S. Battaglia Jr. threw out charges against two other suspects and a third was found not guilty.

Echols, who previously signaled he would take into account the political atmosphere and circumstances when bringing charges, said he believed misdemeanor charges were appropriate.

Durham District Attorney Roger Echols

“Acts of vandalism, regardless of noble intent, are still violations of law,” Echols said in a statement Tuesday.

But the evidence for the remaining five suspects was much the same as that against those whose charges were dismissed on Monday, Echols said.

“For my office to continue to take these cases to trial based on the same evidence would be a misuse of state resources,” Echols said.

Whitley Carpenter helped represent the defendants as part of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s Criminal Justice litigation team. She applauded Echols’ decision Tuesday.

“The statue that was torn down was a symbol of white supremacy that has no place in front of the public buildings that represent our community,” Carpenter said in a statement.  “We applaud the District Attorney for finally dropping the charges in this case.  It’s time for us to recognize that these symbols of hate create division within our communities.  We need to make monuments to the ill-conceived project of white supremacy a thing of the past.”

Commentary

National experts assail Trump’s latest healthcare treachery

In case you missed it, the Trump administration has launched yet another outrageous attack on the Affordable Care Act today. Under the new proposed rule, the ACA ban on junk/sham health insurance policies would be, in effect, repealed. This is from an assessment by the experts at Families USA:

“The draft rule released by HHS allows insurance companies to sell sham insurance plans that do not cover essential health benefits or preexisting conditions, protections that are required under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). More specifically, the rule allows short-term, sham insurance plans, which currently may only be sold for a coverage period of 3 months, to be sold and marketed for up to 364 days. These sham plans can include fine print that, for example, would exclude coverage of asthma, diabetes, or cancer treatments, exclude critical services like pharmacy or maternity care, or include hidden limits, like covering only two days or no days of hospital care a year.”

Families USA executive director Frederick Isasi says the proposal would have disastrous consequences:

“The consumers who buy these plans won’t be the only ones harmed by the Trump administration rule. These sham plans are likely to cause the price of comprehensive coverage to escalate if healthier individuals and families exit the marketplace where comprehensive coverage is sold and instead buy these junk policies.”

Experts at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities were also highly critical:

“The proposed rule change would roll back 2016 regulations defining short-term plans as those lasting less than three months, defining them instead as those lasting less than one year. It will be open for public comment until April 23.

Because short-term plans offer less coverage and can deny coverage or charge higher prices to people with pre-existing conditions, they offer lower premiums for some healthy consumers than comprehensive plans that comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As a number of groups representing both insurers (such as America’s Health Insurance Plans and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association) and consumers (including CBPP) have warned: “If short-term plans are allowed to be sold as a long-term alternative to regular health insurance, they will attract healthier consumers away from the regular insurance risk pool and endanger people’s access to comprehensive coverage.”

Compounding the problem, the tax law enacted in December will, in 2019, end the ACA’s individual mandate that most people have health coverage or pay a penalty. This year, the mandate could provide some protection against the expansion of short-term plans because enrolling in one wouldn’t protect someone from having to pay the penalty during 2018. But next year, without the mandate, short-term plans would likely attract more enrollees.”

The center says the change will likely lead to higher premiums in the individual market, the demise of market reforms and access to comprehensive coverage in the individual market, and the exposure of more consumers to gaps and high costs.

The proposal will, in other words, continue the Trumpists’ nefarious effort to undermine a law that they could not muster the votes in Congress to repeal. As such, it is yet another perfect symbol for a dishonest, illegitimate, incompetent and utterly heartless presidency.

Courts & the Law, News

3-judge panel will hear arguments over constitutionality of 2016 special session

A three-judge panel will hear arguments tomorrow challenging a surprise special legislative session from 2016 in which lawmakers made changes to existing power structures in the state.

Common Cause North Carolina and 10 state residents filed suit last year against Lieutenant Gov. Dan Forest, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger over the constitutionality of the special session, which was called with just two hours notice and no public disclosure on what bills would be considered.

The lawsuit seeks to void two bills that were passed during that special session: Senate Bill 4 — an omnibus measure that changed the structure of state and county boards of elections, created partisan appellate elections and took some appointment power from the governor; and House Bill 17 — a measure transferring power from the State Board of Education to newly elected Republican Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Mark Johnson.

Both of those bills have been challenged separately in unrelated lawsuits.

The three judges assigned to hear the Common Cause v. Forest case are Judge Wayland Sermons, a registered Democrat who serves the second judicial district, which includes Beaufort County; Judge Martin McGee, a registered Republican who serves Cabarrus County; and Judge W. Todd Pomeroy, a registered Republican who serves Cleveland and Lincoln counties.

The hearing will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday in courtroom 303 at Campbell University School of Law, on Hillsborough Street.

Commentary

Editorial: What NC can and should do about gun safety

There’s an excellent lead editorial in this morning’s Charlotte Observer that spells out a logical path for North Carolina in the aftermath of last week’s assault weapon massacre at a Florida high school.  The editorial points out that after Congress failed to act in the aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, state officials took matters into their own hands:

“In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, state lawmakers passed and Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a package of strong gun measures. The package expanded a ban on the sale of assault weapons and required the registration of existing assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines. It launched a registry of weapons offenders and mandated background checks for all sales of firearms.

It worked. As the New York Times reported Sunday, gun deaths started to drop after the laws passed. In four years, the number of deaths resulting from firearms – including homicides, suicides and accidents – fell from 226 to 164….With few exceptions, states with the strictest gun control measures have the lowest rates of gun deaths. North Carolina does not; we’re 23rd in the country in firearm deaths per capita, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

To be more precise: In Connecticut, Nikolas Cruz could not have legally purchased the AR-15-style rifle and high capacity magazines he used to mow down the victims in Parkland, Fla. In North Carolina, he could have.

Changing that – and passing other tough gun control measures – is harder in our state thanks to North Carolina’s Republican-led General Assembly. But that doesn’t mean Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, shouldn’t try. As North Carolinians grapple with the possibility of a Florida mass shooting happening here, Cooper should call for lawmakers to address the spiraling toll of gun violence. He should follow up by working to help legislators introduce tough gun measures like Connecticut’s, as well as other sensible measures such as raising the minimum age for gun purchases. If we don’t think 18-year-olds have the maturity to hoist a beer, they sure shouldn’t be able to lift and fire their own semiautomatic weapons.

That legislative package also should include measures that address the mental health issues that Republicans often cite as the cause of mass shootings. Confronting gun violence shouldn’t be about choosing one party’s preferred approach, and there is no one law that will prevent gun violence. But a package of measures that help lessen the chance of the next deadly day is one worth passing.”

While the Observer concedes that such action would no doubt meet resistance from the gun lobby and its de facto employees in the Republican leadership at the General Assembly, it urges Cooper to, at a minimum, try to make a record of that resistance so that voters will know where their lawmakers stand come November. Amen.