Representative Pricey Harrison
House District 571218 Legislative Building
Raleigh, NC 27601-1096
GREENSBORO, NC June 16, 2017 Rep. Pricey Harrison
Greetings, Publicly, it has been a quiet week at the General Assembly. Most of the work and activity has been behind-the-scenes as House and Senate Republicans work out the differences between the two chambers’ budgets. We expect to vote on a final budget early next week which would allow time for Gov. Cooper to sign or veto the budget before the current fiscal year ends on June 30. If he vetoes the final budget bill, Republicans likely have enough votes to override the veto and pass the budget without the Democrat’s support. The week’s news is highlighted below.
Supreme Court Ruling on Redistricting
The U.S. Supreme Court declined on Thursday to speed up returning to North Carolina its rulings in the case of nearly 30 legislative districts that have been declared illegal racial gerrymanders. The one-sentence denials could make it harder for a lower federal court to assemble a workable plan to hold otherwise unscheduled elections this fall under redrawn boundaries.
Now it will not be until the end of June for the justices’ judgments to be issued to the three-judge court in Greensboro. Lawyers for more than two dozen voters who successfully got 28 House and Senate districts thrown out for needlessly packing too many black voters in them wanted the judgments issued immediately.
The timeline is important because attorneys for voters who sued want the lower court to act quickly on directing legislators to redraw maps and deciding whether a special election should be held. Now it will be another two weeks before the three judges formally receive them and act accordingly. Republican legislative leaders had asked that the case be returned after the routine 25 days. The GOP lawmakers prefer holding the first elections under new boundaries during the next regularly scheduled state election in 2018. Their lawyer had written Chief Justice John Roberts this week in a brief against accelerating the judgments. There wasn’t enough time to hold 2017 elections when considering requirements in state law for drawing boundaries, holding a candidate filing period, and issuing absentee ballots for both primary and general elections, the lawyer wrote.
Justice Roberts considers appeals from North Carolina. Thursday’s orders said he had referred the matter to the full court. No reasons were given for the denials.
Senate leader Phil Berger wrote on Twitter he was pleased with the denials of the “left’s scheme” to force a special election and nullify the voters’ decisions in the 2016 election. General Assembly members serve two-year terms. The state House “continues to await guidance from the courts on redistricting and will fully comply with their direction as soon as received,” House Speaker Tim Moore tweeted.
An attorney for the voters who sued over the maps didn’t immediately comment late Thursday on the maps. But in a brief to Justice Roberts filed Wednesday, an appeals lawyer for the voters wrote the opposition by legislative leaders to speed up the judgment was a “transparent ploy” to delay the process for creating constitutional maps. The “opposition to the application is simply another attempt to run out the clock on the possibility of a special election remedy,” Washington attorney Jessica Ring Amunson wrote. As reported by Gary D. Robertson, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.
Judges have rejected Gov. Cooper’s attempts to block a change in the partisan control of elections boards while his appeal on an earlier decision awaits consideration in court. The decision, released Thursday, is the latest in an ongoing power struggle between the Democrat in the executive branch and the Republicans at the helm of the General Assembly.
Several weeks ago, the judges rejected Gov. Cooper’s argument that the legislature’s merger of the state elections board and ethics commission violates the constitutional separation of powers. The three Superior Court judges unanimously agreed to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Gov. Cooper, as Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore had requested.
Before the changes, the governor’s party controlled a majority of the five-member statewide elections board, which selects who sits on local election boards in all of North Carolina’s 100 counties. The April law divides the merged elections board and ethics commission equally among Republicans and Democrats. Gov. Cooper is directed to select the members from lists compiled by the two parties.
As the law is written, a Republican is to head the new board in presidential election years when voter turnout is typically the largest. The merged board not only leads the oversight of elections and any disputes over ballots, it is in charge of investigating ethics complaints against politicians and possible violations of lobbying and campaign finance laws. As reported by Anne Blythe, THE NEWS & OBSERVER.
Litter Pickup to be Transferred to Private Contractors
A common sight for more than 100 years along North Carolina roads — prisoners picking up trash or clearing debris while guards keep close watch — could soon go the way of inmates smashing rocks with sledgehammers into gravel. The proposed two-year state budget is almost certain to stop sending $9.5 million to the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice to pay for litter crews and road squads. Both the House and Senate budget proposals included the shift, which means it’s unlikely to be removed from the final spending plan.
The work has long been considered a way for the public to know prisoners are contributing to the state and for behaving convicts to leave behind prison fences. The price would seem right too, since they make $1 a day and those payments don’t come from taxpayers.
But legislators who oversee transportation spending say that when the number of road miles cleaned up is considered, prisoners are more expensive than contractors, which the Department of Transportation increasingly uses. DOT would retain $9 million to expand contract litter pickup further.
A 2012 study by the Office of State Budget and Management determined a contractor cleaned 31 shoulder miles of road a day. Of four prison litter crews observed by budget analysts, the most any of the crew covered was 4.5 miles per day. The prison crews and squads are often comprised of eight prisoners and one unarmed or two armed correctional officers, depending on the security threat. While all prisoners must stay within sight of the officers to reduce the threat of escape, contract workers can be dropped off at longer intervals. Prison staff shortages and security concerns also contribute to delays.
About 1,200 prisoners — 3 percent of the state’s prison population — would need to find other work or programs to occupy their time should the budget provisions become law, said Keith Acree, a state prison system spokesman. The decision also would eliminate 183 correctional officer positions, essentially those that drive the crews and keep an eye on them. One budget-writer said those officers would have to find other duties.
“We’re not yet certain what would happen to prison road crews if this measure passed,” Mr. Acree wrote in an email. A separate program in which people sentenced to community service perform litter pickup would remain.
Inmates have been working on highways and roads since at least an 1887 law, according to the 2012 study. Some lawmakers are worried withholding the funds could mean prisoners are more likely to get into trouble back in prison. As reported by Gary D. Robertson, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.
A bill limiting House and Senate leadership to four consecutive, two-year terms cleared a House panel Wednesday, even though some members expressed concern about it. Representative Warren, the primary sponsor of House Bill 182, said the bill is similar to other bills that have previously passed the House, but died in Senate committees. The bill would put a constitutional amendment on the November 2018 ballot allowing voters to decide if the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate should be subject to serving a maximum of eight consecutive years.
Representative Grier Martin was concerned that term limits on legislative leadership could hurt the strength of the General Assembly in negotiations with the governor. Representative Warren said turnover in leadership could happen at any time because lawmakers “don’t have job security,” and said he didn’t see the power balance as a concern. Representative Graig Meyer also questioned why the proposal uses consecutive terms instead of lifetime terms. Representative Meyer said the consecutive terms would allow someone to take a few years off and come back to the position. Representative Warren has also introduced legislation, HB 193, to limit lawmakers to three, four-year terms. That bill has yet to be heard in committee. As reported by Lauren Horsch of THE INSIDER.
Local Sales Taxes
Cities and towns would be able to have their own sales taxes to raise money for infrastructure and economic development projects under a bill moving forward in the N.C. House. House Bill 900 would let municipal leaders pursue a quarter-cent sales tax — if voters agree to the tax in a ballot referendum. The sales tax would come in addition to the county and state sales tax rates.
Under current law, cities and towns don’t have the power to have their own sales taxes, but they get a share of any sales tax revenue collected through county sales taxes. Representative Ross, the bill’s sponsor, said the sales tax option is needed because many cities and towns have seen a drop in property tax revenue.
In 2015, the legislature eliminated the privilege tax, which was a licensing tax that many cities and towns charged on businesses. Opponents of the tax argued it was unfair and inconsistent because the tax rates varied between different types of businesses, but the tax brought in millions of dollars in revenue.
If HB 900 becomes law, cities and towns would be limited in how they could spend the sales tax revenue. It could not be used for general expenses but only for “construction and improvement public infrastructure and facilities or for economic development.”
An earlier version of the bill would have also allowed municipalities to pass meals taxes and occupancy taxes through a referendum, but those provisions were deleted from the legislation that passed the House Finance Committee on Wednesday. The sales tax bill now goes to the House Rules Committee. If it passes the House, it is unclear if the Senate will take up the proposal. As reported by Colin Campbell of THE NEWS & OBSERVER.
In what has become an annual hallmark of the approaching end of session, House lawmakers rolled out this year’s regulatory reform omnibus in committee Wednesday. Senate Bill 16 (with a link to the bill summary), as most omnibus bills do, addresses an array of regulations that lawmakers want to change, from vehicle safety inspections to staffing levels at so-called “doggie day cares.”
Many of the parts of the bill reflect other measures that have passed either the House or the Senate but haven’t yet completed the legislative process. That includes a proposal to allow private pipeline companies to use eminent domain to condemn land for their right-of-way, but only for public use, and another provision requiring companies that offer automatically renewing contracts to notify consumers in advance of the renewal date.
However, several other provisions dealt with issues that have been controversial in the past. One would remove the state requirement that businesses that sell security alarm systems must register their salespeople with the state’s Alarm Systems Board. In the past, in-state alarm companies have said the requirement protects consumers. But sponsor Rep. Bradford said cable companies that want to offer internet-based alarm systems shouldn’t have to register every salesperson that might make sales calls to North Carolina consumers. Alarm systems designers and installers would still be regulated.
Another provision that was discussed at some length would lower the threshold for small businesses to be able to buy stop-loss insurance to back up self-insurance or small-insurer coverage. The current threshold is 26 or more employees, meaning businesses with fewer employees have to buy coverage from a larger insurer. The bill would lower the threshold to five employees, which Rep. Bradford represented as a compromise.
Environmental groups and I expressed concern with a provision that would prevent cities from requiring better stormwater control when properties are redeveloped, even if the property was originally “grandfathered in” with little or no runoff control when current stormwater runoff laws were passed.
Another provision adds back-up lights to the list of lights covered by the state vehicle safety inspection, but it also requires the Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Quality to examine whether vehicle safety and emissions inspections should be required less frequently than once a year.
The House approved the bill Thursday. As reported by Laura Leslie of WRAL NEWS.
Limiting Citizen Opposition to Water, Air, Coastal Development, and Interbasin Transfer Permits
Citizens’ access to the courts in environmental cases would be cut back under provisions of a bill approved Thursday by the Senate Commerce Committee. The provision sought by the NC Chamber of Commerce was added to H374, Department of Labor Technical Corrections, in a PCS introduced late Wednesday.
Under current law, a person or a group that would be harmed by a permitted activity can challenge the permit issued by DEQ. Under the change adopted in committee, a person, group, or community that could be hurt by a permit decision would be shut out of the Office of Administrative Hearings unless they had submitted a specific comment during the public comment period.
This matters because notice of opportunity to comment early in the permit review process does not always reach affected citizens. The proposed change may also prevent review of conditions in the final permit that were never specifically put out for comment and therefore may be unknown to the public.
The provision could affect challenges to certain water, air, coastal development, and interbasin transfer permits. Members of the public should be able to weigh in on state actions that are under judicial review, regardless if they were aware of and participated in a comment process at the time the permit was being drafted.
H 374 has already passed the House and is only scheduled to go to the Senate Finance Committee before reaching the full Senate. This means the provision could become law without ever being heard in a Judiciary committee in either chamber. Molly Diggins, State Director, spoke on today’s vote, “This provision shuts out citizens, who don’t have lobbyists to represent their interests at every step of the permit process, from challenging permits to pollute that are harmful or wrongly issued.
A House bill allowing the Department of Environmental Quality to approve the use of spraying leachate — the liquid that comes from landfills — is on its way to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk. Those who oppose the bill say the process would essentially be “garbage juice in a snowblower.”
Democrats attempted to amend the bill to require landfills to detail what contaminants were in the leachate, and to make sure DEQ evaluates and approves the use of spray technology, instead of allowing the blanket use of the technology as long as landfills meet basic requirements. One of the amendments was tabled and didn’t receive a vote, and the other failed.
Sen. Paul Lowe expressed concerned that the technology would impact many of the communities around a landfill — particularly low-income minority communities. “Now, when you talk about spraying garbage juice into the air, I certainly wouldn’t want to be in the path, and I don’t know anybody in this room that would want to be in the path of garbage juice being spread about the community,” he said, adding that there should be more testing to determine if spraying the leachate was the best method.
The House Bill 576 passed 29-14 in the Senate on Thursday. The House passed the bill in April 75-45 (I fought the bill in the House). As reported by Lauren Horsch, THE INSIDER.
Cities and counties would lose much of their control over where billboards can go under HB 581. The bill that won approval (over my objection) in the House Regulatory Reform Committee on Wednesday represents the latest chapter in a battle over roadside ads involving money, aesthetics, the environment, and government rules. Billboard companies are sometimes required to remove signs to make way for road improvements. When the companies try for new locations, local governments won’t let the billboards go back up, said Rep. Lewis, the bill sponsor and chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee.
The NC League of Municipalities and conservation groups continue to oppose the bill, which would allow billboards that must be moved to be rebuilt in commercial or industrial areas in the same city. As reported by Lynn Bonner of THE NEWS & OBSERVER.
Child Services Overhaul
The General Assembly has agreed to start overhauling North Carolina’s child welfare and social services system to encourage more regional oversight and correct problems identified in a recent federal review. The House voted Wednesday to accept changes approved by the Senate, sending the bill to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk. The measure, HB630, would create a working group of experts and organizational leaders to make recommendations, including how to improve collaboration and accountability. The measure would allow counties to combine social services departments but doesn’t mandate consolidation. The bill also requires a social worker to observe a child who’s been removed from a home at least twice with his or her parent before recommending a return of physical custody. This proposal follows the death of a Moore County toddler. As reported by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.
The House has approved a bill that would allow the state to donate surplus computers to low-income students. Senate Bill 312 — which passed the Senate unanimously in April — mirrors House Bill 254* which has stalled in the House Appropriations Committee. Under the bill, the Department of Administration would donate any refurbished computers that are deemed surplus state property to low-income students or households throughout the state. As reported by Lauren Horsch THE INSIDER.
Some state lawmakers are trying again to limit video gambling operations in North Carolina while struggles over the games’ legality crawl through the courts. An amendment added to an unrelated House bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday would make it a felony to possess more than four such machines within 100 feet of any other electronic machine or device. The 100-foot provision, says sponsor Sen. Wells , “is so you couldn’t take an old grocery store, cut it up into cubicles and put four machines in each one. “This doesn’t change the legality of anything,” he explained. “It just says you can’t have that many of them.” Several times in recent years, legislators have tried to outlaw video gambling in its many guises, from video poker or bingo to video sweepstakes, a “server-based promotion” in which players buy a prepaid card with a number of entries that are then revealed one by one “using an entertaining display” as if the player were gambling. Each time lawmakers have tried to ban the games, the game makers and business owners have fought the latest law in court on a variety of grounds, winning legal injunctions against its enforcement. In some cases, they’ve reinvented games to narrowly skirt the statutes as they change. The measure will be heard next in the Senate Rules Committee. As reported by Laura Leslie of WRAL NEWS.
Despite concerns the bill could penalize slow-driving grandmothers, a proposal to fine drivers who block traffic in the left lane advanced in the N.C. House Wednesday. House Bill 827 would give law enforcement the power to issue $200 fines to drivers caught “impeding the flow of traffic” in the left lane of a highway — unless a driver is actively passing another car or preparing to turn left. A House judiciary committee approved the bill Wednesday, with a few legislators opposing it in a voice vote. It now heads to the House floor, but it could face roadblocks in the Senate.
The Senate version, SB 303, of the bill was voted down in April by the Senate Transportation Committee. Senators from both political parties voiced concerns about whether a left-lane law was needed or could easily be enforced.
The House bill — sponsored by Rep. Hall and Rep. Hardister — softens the proposal by instructing law enforcement to issue only warnings to drivers for the first year the law is in effect.
Bill sponsors stressed that the penalty in the legislation wouldn’t be considered a moving violation, and therefore wouldn’t cause higher insurance rates for drivers caught hogging the left lane. They also noted that the bill has support from the State Highway Patrol. As reported by Colin Campbell of THE NEWS & OBSERVER.
Drivers who are deaf or hard of hearing could get a special symbol on their North Carolina driver’s license to smooth interactions with law enforcement. The Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday approved a bill, HB 84* creating the driver’s license designation and adding new training for law enforcement on how to interact with deaf people. The designation would be optional, so deaf people who don’t want it on their license could opt out. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Insko said the legislation was requested by a constituent whose hard-of-hearing son had “a very unfortunate interaction with a law enforcement officer.”
Some senators raised concerns that the bill doesn’t require applications for the driver’s license symbol to include a doctor’s note. They questioned if someone might pose as deaf in an effort to get more lenient treatment from law enforcement. Representative Insko, however, said the designation shouldn’t require a doctor’s note. “I do think it’s an extra barrier, and this population has enough barriers as it is,” she said. As reported by Colin Campbell THE NEWS & OBSERVER.
Legislation to expand Sunday hunting cleared a divided Senate Rules Committee this week after some minor tweaks supported by religious groups concerned about the impact on churches. House Bill 559, titled “Outdoor Heritage Enhanced,” goes beyond a 2015 law legalizing Sunday hunting. If it becomes law, hunters would be allowed to use firearms between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on Sundays — when churches are typically in session — as long as they don’t come within 500 yards of a church.
Hunters could also hunt migratory birds, such as ducks, on Sundays if the state’s appointed Wildlife Resources Commission approves the change and sets rules for the practice. The commission would conduct a formal study of the issue and report findings to the legislature.
It was unclear if the bill had support from the majority of the committee — the “nos” sounded louder than the “yeas” — but Senate Rules Chairman Rabon announced that the bill had passed. Senator Alexander, a Raleigh Republican who’s sponsoring the bill in the Senate, successfully proposed an amendment that makes clear that hunting isn’t allowed within 500 yards of a church at any time on Sundays. That ban would also apply to any church facilities built in the future. Those provisions were sought by the conservative Christian Action League, which opposes all Sunday hunting. As reported by Colin Campbell of THE NEWS & OBSERVER.
Duke Coal Ash Insurers
Dozens of insurance companies say they’re not obligated to help pay for Duke Energy Corp.’s multi-billion dollar coal ash cleanup because the nation’s largest electric company long knew about but did nothing to reduce the threat of potentially toxic pollutants. The claim is in a filing by lawyers for nearly 30 international and domestic insurance companies that were sued by Duke Energy in March to force them to cover part of the utility’s coal ash cleanup costs in the Carolinas. The 57 policies generally promise to help Duke pay what it’s legally obligated to pay for property damage “caused by an occurrence,” even if liability for an incident doesn’t become known until decades later, the Charlotte-based company said in the same filing last week in the state court that hears complex business cases. Both sides filed the document in describing a litigation timeline that would lead to trial in mid-2019.
The insurers counter they’re not on the hook to pay. They say that because Duke Energy stored its coal ash in unlined pits as part of its normal practices, any property damage “was caused intentionally, by or at Duke’s direction” and there weren’t any distinct pollution events that triggered coverage. They note that Duke was well aware that burning coal to generate electricity leaves byproducts containing toxic substances that can contaminate groundwater. They say Duke’s ash ponds were built without safeguards to prevent groundwater pollution, and some ash ponds placed the ash in direct contact with groundwater.
“Duke continued to dispose of (coal ash) in unlined ash ponds long after it knew it had environmental problems. By the 1990s Duke submitted insurance claims to some of the defendants and other insurers for the same ash ponds that are now at issue in this action. Although Duke was aware of these issues, it continued to operate its unlined ash ponds for decades,” the companies’ lawyers said.
Duke Energy has estimated its liability for cleanup and storage efforts at $5.1 billion for 14 North Carolina coal ash sites and one in South Carolina. The utility had spent more than $725 million through November. Money recovered from insurers would reduce the price tag for consumers, the company has said.
The utility earlier this month asked North Carolina regulators for rate increases starting next year that include passing along to customers about $977 million over five years. South Carolina’s utilities commission allowed Duke Energy Progress to start recouping coal ash cleanup costs as part of a $56 million rate increase approved in December. My Democratic colleagues and I have pushed to limit recovery of these clean up costs from ratepayers. As reported by Emery P. Dalesio of THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.
The state does not intend to approve any more film or television productions for grant funding before the end of the fiscal year, according to a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Commerce. This will leave nearly two-thirds of the $30 million in funding unused as the program heads for what could be more changes beginning July 1, the start of the new 2017-18 fiscal year, as the N.C. General Assembly still negotiates the specifics of its future.
David Rhoades with the Department of Commerce also confirmed the program has no viable applications awaiting consideration at this time by the state. The department hasn’t, however, closed the door on possible clients.
Since the second and final round of $30 million funding became available on July 1, 2016, just three projects have been approved for grant money. TNT’s ongoing local production of the second season of “Good Behavior” was approved for $9 million, which will be made available once production is complete and an audit is performed. In addition, the Charlotte-shot heist film “American Animals” was approved for $1.7 million and an Audi television commercial for $162,500.
In an email last week, Mr. Rhoades indicated the program has seen nine applications since the three recipients were announced. Two did not qualify, one withdrew from consideration and one has been asked to provide more information, he said. The remaining five, all commercials, were presented with offers from the state but chose to film elsewhere.
As the state’s fiscal year winds down, the grant program closes out a quiet year plagued by the side effects of House Bill 2, the now-repealed “Bathroom Bill” that required residents use the public restroom assigned to the gender on their birth certificate. The bill kept a number of production companies from considering the state for projects. Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, said with HB2 gone the conversations with clients are less weighed down. “Now it is not even on the table and it’s one less thing to deal with.”
While it still unclear what funding the film industry will have to work with come July 1, the program’s uncertain immediate future recalls two years ago when the General Assembly fought over gutting the previous lucrative incentive. The House budget calls for the remaining $18 million in unspent funds and allocate $15 million more in 2017-18. It then calls for spending $30 million in 2018-19. The Senate budget rolls over $15 million in unspent funds and allocates $15 million each of the two years of the biennial budget, for $30 million in 2017-18 and $15 million in 2018-19.
For his part, Gov. Roy Cooper has proposed a resurrection of the industry-supported film incentive, with an estimated annual cost of $40 million. Previously, the incentive program had no funding cap and in 2014, its costliest year, paid out $80 million to productions that spent $322 million in the state. State film office director Guy Gaster said he is hoping the General Assembly will at least keep the funding bar at $30 million. As reported by Hunter Ingram, WILMINGTON STAR-NEWS.
Activists with the N.C. NAACP were threatened with arrest Tuesday when they attempted to deliver a letter to House Speaker Moore’s office, a video shows. The NAACP was distributing a letter calling on legislators to stop conducting their business and immediately draw new redistricting maps in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision. The video, posted to YouTube by Fusion Films, shows Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble making the threat to the small group as they delivered the letter in the reception area of Moore’s office. Mr. Coble, a former Raleigh mayor and Wake County commissioner, oversees the legislature’s staff and operations. His order in the video appears to contradict General Assembly Police Chief Martin Brock, who is shown in the video telling the activists that he’s alerted Speaker Moore’s staff of the visit. Chief Brock does not object to the NAACP’s actions on the video.
“You can hand it to her, but then you’re going to need to leave, because this is a private office,” Mr. Coble tells the group. “It’s not a private office,” NAACP staffer Tyler Swanson replies.
Mr. Coble: “Yes it is.” Mr. Swanson: “It’s the people’s office.” Mr. Coble, pointing to the hallway: “It’s the people’s space out there.” Mr. Swanson: “But this is also the people’s office. I’m not here to argue with you.” Mr. Coble: “You won’t have to argue, because I’m going to have you arrested.” Another NAACP activist, not identified in the video: “You can’t arrest people.” Mr. Coble: “Yes you can.”
The group leaves the office after a brief discussion with a staffer for Speaker Moore, who takes their request for a meeting with speaker. The videographer then questions Mr. Coble further as the group walks to another office. “You’re not allowed in the office,” Mr. Coble says. “People are trying to work, and this is a constant state of affairs with y’all.” The advocacy group Democracy North Carolina shared the video on Twitter, describing it as “Head of Legislative Services Paul Coble freaks out on young, black activists delivering letter.” As reported by Colin Campbell of THE NEWS & OBSERVER.
A national group put North Carolina in the bottom half of U.S. states for child well-being, something local advocates say needs to change. The annual Kids Count Data book uses 16 indicators to rank each state across four domains — health, education, economic well-being, and family and community. The report, released Tuesday, is published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. North Carolina ranked 22nd in education, but placed in the bottom half of states for health, family and community, and economic well-being. Overall, the state ranked 22nd in education, 31st in health, 36th in family and community, and 37th in economic well-being. The research examines things like graduation rates, low birth-weight babies, children living in single parent households and child poverty.
Child poverty fell 4.3 percent in 2015 in the United States. In North Carolina it dropped 3.4 percent.
The Kids Count findings demonstrate the important role policy decisions — from local to federal — play in health, education, and economic security for children and youths, said Greg Borom, director of advocacy at Children First Communities In Schools of Buncombe County. “When we offer children and youth a pathway to enter adulthood healthy, educated, and thriving, we all benefit,” he said. As reported by Beth Walton of ASHEVILLE CITIZEN-TIMES.
GenX Water Contamination
State regulators and Chemours are locked in ongoing discussions about GenX, a chemical produced at the chemical giant’s plant near Fayetteville that researchers have found in the Cape Fear River, N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) officials said last Friday. This week, it announced a formal investigation. A major hurdle to any action will be that GenX is an emerging contaminant, meaning, officials said, any enforceable standard would need to come from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“We can’t regulate it at a set number because no number exists. But given the concern, we will ask (Chemours) about it, talk to them about it,” said Julie Grzyb, the supervisor of DEQ’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) complex permitting staff.
Establishing a standard takes years, sometimes decades, due to the deliberate, science-grounded nature of the process. For instance, C8, the chemical DuPont and Chemours agreed to phase out before eventually replacing it with GenX, has been found to likely cause cancer, high cholesterol, and other diseases. In February, C8 was the subject of a $670.7 million class action lawsuit settlement in West Virginia. But the EPA has said a federal standard for C8 will not come until at least 2019.
One option open to state regulators could be requiring Chemours to monitor the Cape Fear River near its 2,150-acre site, about 100 miles upstream from Wilmington, as part of the company’s NPDES permit. The company would need to agree to that provision as part of the permit’s five-year review process, which is scheduled to begin within the next six months.
A Chemours spokesman would not answer specific questions last week about the ongoing discussions between the chemical company and regulators or whether the company would be willing to install a monitoring system as part of its NPDES permit renewal process. An additional question asked if the company has heard from local officials or residents and, if so, what its message has been to those people.
State officials remain optimistic Chemours will agree to share some internal information about GenX, noting they believe the chemical company has historically been open about what is being discharged at the Fayetteville plant. DEQ officials have been hurrying this week to learn as much as they can about GenX, contacting federal EPA officials, as well as Detlef Knappe, the N.C. State University researcher whose teams located the chemical in the Cape Fear River on three separate occasions.
The average concentration of GenX found by Knappe’s teams at Cape Fear Public Utility Authority’s (CFPUA) intake on the Cape Fear River in 2013-14 was 631 parts per trillion, nine times the 70 parts per trillion drinking water advisory standard — an unenforceable, scientifically based suggestion — the EPA has implemented for C8.
Local water agencies such as Brunswick County Public Utilities, CFPUA and H2GO have noted repeatedly in multiple forums this week that their water meets all federal and state standards. This is true, but GenX’s relatively new nature means it remains unregulated and does not have a federal or state standard. As reported by Adam Wagner, WILMINGTON STAR-NEWS.
Representative Ruth Samuelson Remembered
This week, lawmakers from both chambers of the General Assembly remembered my close friend, the late Rep. Ruth Samuelson, who died in January from cancer at the age of 57, with HB 765. Members of her family met with friends and colleagues before the session and were seated in the Gallery as many of her colleagues spoke with fondness and lauded her service and dedication. She was elected to serve in the House in 2006 and was there until 2015. Representative Samuelson was known for her steadfast faith and for being a true stateswoman, her former colleagues said. Representative Chuck McGrady, who considered Ruth a mentor, described her as a “legislator’s legislator” and said then-Speaker of the House Thom Tillis “counted on her more than anybody else.” Before she announced she wouldn’t seek another term in office, she was seen as the natural successor to Speaker Tillis when he left to serve in the U.S. Senate. If she’d taken the role, she would have been the first female Speaker of the House.
“One might not remember that she was a party leader. She managed to not allow things to get too personal. She sought to bridge differences,” Rep. McGrady said, noting that on many Thursday afternoons as they were going back to their respective districts he’d call her. “She’d calm me down, and talk me into being here for at least one more week.” As reported by Lauren Horsch of THE INSIDER.
Reporter Mark Binker Also Remembered
The Senate took up a resolution, SB 680, Thursday honoring the life of former Greensboro News & Record reported, WRAL TV political analyst, and Insider editor Mark Binker. Senate Bill 680 is sponsored by Senator Berger and outlines Mr. Binker’s years as a “greatly admired and respected” member of the North Carolina Capitol Press Corps. He joined the staff of the Insider in March, before dying unexpectedly in April. As reported by THE INSIDER.
Dr. Ned Sharpless Nominated to Head NCI
The director of the University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center could be headed to Washington, D.C., to lead the National Cancer Institute. President Donald Trump announced late last week that he intends to appoint Dr. Norman “Ned” Sharpless, 50, to head the federal agency in charge of cancer research. Dr. Sharpless, a Greensboro native, has been the director of the Lineberger Center since 2014 and on the faculty since 2002, according to the university. He received his medical degree from UNC in 1993.
Announcing the choice, a White House statement noted, “A practicing oncologist caring for patients with leukemia, Dr. Sharpless also leads a research group studying the cell cycle and its role in cancer and aging. He has authored more than 150 original scientific papers, reviews, and book chapters.” Dr. Sharpless, who will not need U.S. Senate confirmation for the appointment, will succeed Dr. Douglas Lowy, who has been acting director of the National Cancer Institute since March 2015. As reported by Charles Duncan, THE NEWS & OBSERVER.
Staff Reductions at GCS
The 2017-18 Guilford County Schools’ budget calls for a net loss of 139.5 staff positions, according to information obtained by the News & Record. School board leaders gave the budget plan their stamp of approval this spring, but there wasn’t a tally of cuts in the presentations at that time. The News & Record pieced together the figure from a series of interviews and emailed requests, assisted by district staff who signed off on the final number.
This is not layoff or reduction-in-force, according to Chief Financial Officer Angie Henry and Chief of Staff Nora Carr. Basically, it’s position, not personnel cuts, they said. In a large district, with many people leaving or retiring in any given year, they expect to be able to shift people around to keep them employed, despite the staffing decrease.
Right now, the state legislature is looking like it will give smaller salary increases for teachers and other school-based staff than what Gov. Cooper has proposed. The district’s calculation is based on making sure teachers and other staff that aren’t paid by the state get the same raises as those in their same employment category who are paid by the state. As reported by Jessie Pounds of GREENSBORO NEWS & RECORD.
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To all fathers, enjoy your special day.