Bipartisan former members of Congress call for boost in funding to secure elections

Bill would fund two jail inspectors to examine county jails across North Carolina

A handcuffed person in a jail cell

Photo: Getty Images

A bill before the legislature would pay for two full-time jail inspectors to examine county detention facilities across the state.

House Bill 380 would send $211,502 in recurring funds to the Department of Health and Human Services so the state could hire two new jail inspectors. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Carla Cunningham (D-Mecklenburg), references the need for the new hires in its title: “An Act to Appropriate Funds to Hire Two Additional Statewide Jail Inspectors Due to the Increased Time Required for Those Inspections Resulting from the Growing Complexity of Inmate Health and Safety Regulations.”

The proposal is currently before the Appropriations Committee.

According to a tweet from Disability Rights North Carolina, the funds are also included in Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget.

Inspectors visit county, municipal and regional jails twice each year. They investigate conditions of confinement, how incarcerated people are treated, and the maintenance of entry-level job standards for jail employees. They then write a report detailing whether the jail meets minimum standards set by state law, and submit it to the officials responsible for the jail.

Jails can be cited for a wide range of violations, such as a door not being up to code to the improper monitoring of incarcerated people who have been placed on suicide watch.

Disability Rights NC released a report last year which found that jails fail half of all state inspections, and that weak forms of enforcement allow dangerous conditions to persist for years. Those consequences can be disastrous for the incarcerated people entrusted to their care.

Weekend reads: A chilling effect on education, NC takes a bet on sports gambling, and how Medicaid expansion finally won approval

In this issue:

1. GOP bill to limit topics of discussion in public schools wins state House approvalParents, Democratic lawmakers decry censorship and “chilling effect on education”

A controversial bill that would restrict how the state’s public school teachers discuss race, gender and sexuality was approved by the state House by a 68-49 party line vote on Wednesday, and is now headed to the state Senate.Rep. Julie von Haefen

Several Democrats from the state’s urban centers vigorously opposed House Bill 187. The Republican-backed legislation would require school districts to give a 30-day notice to parents and the state Department of Public Instruction if teachers or invited guests plan to expose students to more than a dozen concepts GOP lawmakers deem unacceptable. [Read more…]

Bonus read: GOP bill establishing a federal parental bill of rights passed in U.S. House

2. North Carolina should learn from other places and try to do marijuana right

Cannabis – aka marijuana. Most Americans already live in a state where it’s lawful to sell, obtain and possess – either for medical purposes, recreational purposes or both – and the genie is clearly not going back in the bottle.

What’s more, if a bipartisan group of North Carolina lawmakers gets their way in the current legislative session, North Carolina will soon become the 38th state to embrace such a statutory environment. Senate Bill 3 – the “Compassionate Care Act” – would make marijuana a lawful treatment in this state for several specified medical conditions.[Read more…]

3. EPA asks for feedback on shipping waste to Sampson County, then admits it’s been doing just that — since 2017.

The stench punched them in the face. People scurried across the parking lot of the Snow Hill Missionary Baptist Church, trying to escape the clammy miasma that had descended over the neighborhood.

“It’s the landfill,” neighbors told the newcomers. “Some days we can’t even sit on our front porch.”

The Sampson County landfill, operated by GFL, is the largest in the state. It ranks second in methane emissions in the U.S. and first in North Carolina for vinyl chloride. But most of the time, it just stinks. [Read more…]

4.‘Beyond anything that most of us could have imagined’: Health officials, lawmakers tackle youth mental health crisis

Marcella Middleton grew up in foster care in Colorado and North Carolina and was taken to therapists and put on medications at a young age.

“A lot of people who really weren’t experienced were trying to diagnose me,” she told a town hall on the youth mental health crisis in Winston-Salem last week.

A good therapist helped her sort through the trauma of her early childhood and the experience of living with strangers, adjusting to foster homes. Now an adult volunteer with youth advocacy group SAYSO and the Pembroke County Housing Authority, she’s trying to help a new generation of young people navigate caring for their mental health. [Read more…]

5. Sports wagering advances with bi-partisan support and plenty of reservations
Legislation that would authorize gambling on professional and college sports in North Carolina cleared its first House committee on Tuesday.

After efforts failed last year, Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) said he and the co-sponsors of House Bill 347 began work on how to make the legislation more palatable.

“This is a truly bipartisan effort.The four sponsors are two Republicans and two Democrats, and we’re joined by 52 other members of the House representing both parties. I hope whether you are for or against the bill, you appreciate the effort to move something in a truly collaborative fashion.” [Read more…]6. NC House bill would ban COVID-19 vaccination requirements for public employees and students

A public health strategy meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 would be outlawed under a bill the state House is considering.

State and local governments, public schools, the community college system, and the UNC system would not be allowed to require workers, job applicants, or students to show proof that they were vaccinated for COVID-19. There are some limited exceptions, including for people working in federally-regulated health facilities.

Rep. Jon Hardister, a Guilford County Republican and a bill sponsor, said the state Department of Health and Human Services is not interested in a vaccine mandate. [Read more…]7. North Carolina’s existing abortion restrictions harm patients, doctors sayAs Republicans in the state legislature contemplate more abortion restrictions, doctors who treat pregnant patients highlighted the existing legal barriers that present obstacles to good medical care.

Among the state’s restrictions are a 20-week abortion ban, a 72-hour waiting period, a prohibition on telehealth appointments for abortion pill prescriptions, a requirement that patients take the first pill in the presence of a doctor, and a prohibition on medical professionals other than doctors prescribing abortion pills.

Sponsors call the bill lifting those restrictions and others “The RBG Act,” an homage to former US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.[Read more…]

Bonus read: “More important than ever” UNC Panel talks faith and abortion

8. “A long, bumpy history”: North Carolina House gives final approval to Medicaid expansion. (w/video)

After more than a decade of contentious debates, it took the North Carolina House of Representatives less than two minutes on Thursday to pass Medicaid expansion.

Rep. Donnie Lambeth (R-Forsyth) wasted little time in urging his colleagues to support the bill that will extend health insurance coverage to about 600,000 North Carolinians who currently fall into the coverage gap.

All I’m gonna say to you is – thank you, thank you, thank you. Vote!” [Read more…]

9. ‘Kayla’s Law’ domestic violence bill clears committee with bipartisan vote

The proposal would allow survivors of domestic violence to testify remotely against their alleged abusers and increase the statute of limitations for prosecution of misdemeanor domestic violence.

Kayla Hammonds was afraid to go to court. She couldn’t bear the thought of facing her ex-boyfriend in the courtroom alone, so she would bring her sister for moral support. Terror-stricken, Kayla would glance at the door throughout the hearing, afraid her alleged abuser would walk through it. Sometimes, she just didn’t go.

“He threatened her life, family members [lives,] it’s understandable why she didn’t show up in court numerous times,” her grandfather, J.W. Hammonds, said at a press conference Tuesday. [Read more….]

10. Cooper launches Office of Violence Prevention as Republicans send gun reform bill to his desk

Last week Gov. Roy Cooper announced that he’d launch an Office of Violence Prevention, an initiative aimed at reducing violence and firearm misuse across North Carolina.

“All of us deserve to feel safe in our homes, our schools and our communities,” Cooper said in a statement. “This new office will help coordinate the efforts to reduce violent crime, tackle both intentional and careless gun injuries and deaths, and work to keep people safe.”

Cooper created the office via an executive order. [Read more…]

11. Neighbors of abandoned Wake Forest golf course want to know what chemicals are in the soil

Nature — and spray paint — are reclaiming the old Wake Forest Golf Course & Country Club. The 160-acre tract off Capital Boulevard was once a destination for those who wanted to conquer a difficult course, including the first hole, a Par 5, that according to ForeTee, a golf course review website, “plays to a whopping 711 yards from the back tees.”

Now the club house is boarded up, its mint paint faded by the sun. The swimming pool is empty, serving as a concrete canvas for graffiti artists. Golf cart paths are overgrown and muddy, flanked by noble old trees. Turtles bask on logs in the ponds, where beavers have built their dams. The fairways are still mowed, though, and the property has become a de facto park for walkers, joggers and nature lovers. [Read more…]

12. Weekly Radio Interviews and Daily Radio Commentaries:

Help wanted: Women needed for U.S. chips manufacturing plan to succeed

Natalie Bell- welder

Natalie Bell, 23, an art student turned welder has worked in construction since 2019. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal)
(Photo by Graham Stokes for States Newsroom)

Natalie Bell was thinking about a career in art after college when a welding class and a delivery of four pizzas changed her career trajectory. 

“I was taking a delivery out to a construction site and I met an ironworker who I was taking the delivery to,” said Bell, who lives in Columbus, Ohio. “I asked him, I said, ‘Hey, are you looking for apprentices? I don’t want to do college anymore, but I’m a welder.’ He said, ‘Yeah,’ and he gave me the number to the ironworkers union.”

Bell, now 23, said she was worried at first about being accepted.

“I took my interview and I was so scared because I was like, ‘They’re not going to accept me. I’m a woman trying to do construction.’ I didn’t know how things worked at all,” she said.

Bell, who entered the industry in 2019, said working in construction has its challenges but the money provides her with a decent lifestyle and good health insurance. 

“I live very comfortably … I’m going to Iceland in July just because I can,” she said. “I can go do that. I can take a vacation every year. I don’t have to worry about medical bills because I have phenomenal insurance.”

The Biden administration is counting on more women like Bell seeing the value of jobs in the construction industry. Over the next decade, the administration wants to add a million more women in construction jobs to aid in infrastructure projects across the country, including its effort to increase semiconductor manufacturing. The success of that effort will depend on the federal policies now being put in place and changes to an industry that’s not known for being welcoming to women. 

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 1.2 million women were employed in construction in 2020, and a University of Michigan analysis of the data found that women have gained jobs “at three times their share of the industry,” since the beginning of the pandemic.

Women were slowly but surely entering more male-dominated occupations before the pandemic, said Betsey Stevenson, an economist and professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan who did the analysis with Benny Docter, a senior data and policy analyst at the university. Women lost jobs in education and in the service industry during the pandemic and as they returned to work many shifted to new occupations that reflect changing market conditions, according to their analysis. Read more

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: A little history lesson (and common sense) on drag shows

A drag performer entertains a full house in a Nashville, TN club. (Photo: John Partipilo for the Tennessee Lookout)

A friend recently gave me an illustrated history of the small town I grew up in—Wallace, N.C.— and I still can’t believe what I saw while thumbing through the pages.

Drag queens. Tons of ‘em! And guess what else…They were, in many cases, the dads of the friends I grew up with!

There was the beloved long-time Wallace police chief, enormous flesh-colored fake bosom anchored into place with a Playtex longline; his ruddy cheeks made pale with a dusting of Max Factor, a curly wig transforming him into a… drag queen.

The picture sent my mind reeling. I had no idea he was a pedophile! I just knew he was reliable and pleasant in a Sheriff Andy Taylor kinda way, the sort of fella who left a printed business card tucked into your screen door that said, “Your door was found unlocked!” 

Another prominent perv was, wait for it, the beloved coach of the high school football team, wearing a perky bow in his glossy blonde wig! So many men in high heels…Oh, the depravity!

And here’s the sickest part: These drag shows featuring the town’s most beloved patriarchs went on for YEARS. I know this because, barely out of high school, I was hired to take pictures of that smorgasbord of sin.

I suppose that makes me culpable in the grooming. It was bad enough being a registered Democrat AND a newspaper reporter but this, THIS! I got a ton of repressed memories I need to process now.

Photographs told the whole sad story. Desperate for an influx of cash, the Ruritans and others made some kind of Satanic bargain and used these so-called “Womanless Weddings” to raise money for a new firetruck or perhaps the scarily named “Jaws of Life” that could peel back a wrecked cartop like a tin of sardines to removed trapped passengers.

Sure, we had gospel sings and “normal” pretty girl beauty pageants and barbecue plate dinner fundraisers; we had fish fries and car washes and bake sales but those paled in comparison with the profits those demonic drag queen shows produced.

And the whole town board was IN on it! What’s worse, parents brought their children to these drag shows, happily plunking down the reduced-cost admission for the under 12’s.

May God have mercy on our souls.

I hear you. Womanless weddings, fundraising staples in rural areas across this great land, aren’t drag shows. When these real men glued on fake nails and camouflaged their bits with binding undergarments, it was harmless fun!

Sure, it was. 

And so are drag shows. 

I’ve been to drag brunches where the mimosas flow freely, and it was a good time. There were no children present because no one was an idiot. 

Time and place, friends; time and place.

Which brings me to Drag Queen Story Hour, which I want desperately to support but.. I’m not crazy about it. The intent – using drag queens reading to young children to demonstrate diversity and inclusion sounds noble. But…time and place. I don’t know a single 5-year-old who has questions about the drag-queen life. And I’ll bet you don’t either. 

So, while I understand the goal is to foster acceptance (and just maybe encourage a future free of Proud Boys and similar dirtbaggery), drag queen story hour provides low-hanging fruit photo opps for politicians who prefer to blather about non-issues while real problems fester.

Politicians like Tennessee Governor Bill Lee who last week took time away from addressing his state’s abysmal public-school funding to sign the nation’s most restrictive crack down on drag shows.

You have to hand it to Republican governors. When it comes to grandstanding about non-issues for a gullible electorate, nobody does it better.

To quote RuPaul, who would’ve raised enough money for a FLEET of fire trucks, I wish they’d all just “Sashay away.” 

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].