By Clayton Henkel
In this issue:
1. State budget has plenty of surprises, including lots of earmarks and lower raises than state employees wanted
Developing a state spending plan in secret, North Carolina Republicans used most of the state’s water and sewer improvement money for earmarked projects, lifted financial limits for families who want private school vouchers, and helped subsidize hog industry biogas plans.
Republicans released their $27.9 billion budget late Tuesday afternoon and plan to have it pass both House and Senate by the end of the week.
Legislators had more money to spend than they thought they would. Economists with the legislature’s Fiscal Research Division and the Office of State Budget and Management said in a May financial forecast that the state will take in more than 10% over two years, or $6.2 billion more, than was estimated in June 2021.
In a joint statement, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger said, “This is a responsible budget that responds to our current needs and plans for an uncertain future.” [Read more…]
2. Wildlife Resources hastily rescued a species of rare fish. Now we know whether the beloved brookies survived
On a crisp summer morning in the mountains, TJ Johnson, a conservation biologist with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, hoists a metal box the size of a mini-fridge onto his back. Clad in rubber waders and rubber gloves, he dips two electrodes the shape of snowshoes into the stream. The box beeps, a red light flashes, and Johnson jolts the water with 400 volts of electricity.
Nearby, Matt Bodenhamer, the wildlife commission’s assistant fish hatcheries manager, also in waders and gloves, wields a net.
“Got one!” Bodenhamer says
Scoop, plop, into the bucket.
“There’s another one,” Johnson exclaims.
Scoop. Plop. Bucket.
Brookies – a nickname for the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout – are gold, gray and green, stippled with red dots, and offset by orange fins and a white belly. Because their scales are small, their skin feels smooth and soft.
[Read more…]3. American freedom will be on the line this November
Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that Americans no longer have a constitutional right to control their own reproduction is a disaster of monumental proportions. Never before in U.S. history has the nation’s high court taken away such a well-established and long exercised fundamental right.
By returning the physical and emotional health and well-being of millions of Americans to the frequently ill-informed whims and prejudices of politicians – most of them old, well-off white men who will be unaffected directly by the ruling – the Court has grievously harmed the cause of human rights and ushered in a new and dark era of repression.
Across the globe, autocrats and religious fundamentalists are smiling at the notion that the world’s greatest democracy has retreated from its longstanding embrace of equality and individual freedom.
As UNC law professor and constitutional scholar Gene Nichol observed in a powerful essay: [Read more…]
4. More lawsuits over state abortion laws are coming, a Duke law professor says.
As court fights over abortion intensify in the states, a Duke law professor predicts more legal battles challenging vague laws.
Abortion is legal in North Carolina. House Speaker Tim Moore said in a statement last week that the Republican-led legislature will not take up new abortion laws this session.
Republicans hold majorities in the state House and Senate, but don’t have enough votes on their own to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes.
State limits are still on the horizon.[Read more…]
- Silence from UNC as public and private universities weigh in on Supreme Court abortion ruling
- After Roe overturned, NC congressman Greg Murphy posts offensive tweet
5. “Alarmed, but not panicked”: NC experts look to what could be next for LGBTQ rights after the Dobbs ruling
When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last week, eliminating a constitutional right to abortion after nearly 50 years, the justices also fueled speculation that other established rights could be next on the chopping block.
“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion in the Roe decision.
Thomas was aiming at three precedents that hinge on the concept of a constitutional right to privacy, as well as the due process and equal protection provisions in the 14th Amendment.
The 1965 ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut established a married couple’s right to use contraception. Lawrence v. Texas made state laws against sodomy, used to target LGBTQ people, unconstitutional in 2003. Obergefell v. Hodges made same-sex marriage a constitutional right in 2015, as a wave of states legalizing it led to a backlash of states banning it through amendments to state constitutions.[Read more…]
6. COVID cautions land NC family with truancy charge
Stanly County mom defends decision to temporarily homeschool son during spikes in the pandemic
In January, when the COVID positivity rate climbed to nearly 40% in Stanly County, northeast of Charlotte, Morgan Perez made the tough call to keep her son Jaxon home from school.
Perez, a former Stanly County Schools teacher, worried about her family’s health, particularly that of her dad who lives next door. He was being treated for lung cancer, and the family took extra care to keep him safe in a county where more than half of the residents were unvaccinated.
Stanly County Schools was one of several districts that briefly transitioned to remote learning in January after experiencing what school officials said was a “significant number of positive COVID-19 cases.”
The Perez family’s big fear was that Jaxon, a second-grade student at Endy Elementary School in Albemarle, would contract the virus at school and pass it on to his grandpa.
“That is the major reason why we took COVID so seriously,” Perez explained. “It would be devastating if my dad got COVID.” [Read more…]
7. U.S. Supreme Court curbs federal power to regulate greenhouse gases, in blow to Biden
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday the Environmental Protection Agency does not have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants, siding with a group of Republican attorneys general and coal companies in a major blow to the executive branch’s power to curb climate change.
The opinion was a victory for the Republican-led states that undertook the challenge, West Virginia and 18 others — including Alaska, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska and Ohio – and limits President Joe Biden’s ability to pursue his climate goals.
In the 6-3 decision, the court’s conservatives ruled that Congress only empowered the EPA to narrowly regulate the emissions of individual power plants, not establish sweeping industry-wide caps on emissions from coal and gas power.
A 2015 Obama administration rule — which is no longer in effect — exceeded the agency’s authority, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. [Read more…]
8. U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear NC GOP challenge to state court oversight of redistricting, elections
The U.S. Supreme Court announced today that it will hear a North Carolina redistricting case that one prominent constitutional scholar described to the New York Times as “an 800-pound gorilla brooding in the background of election law cases working their way up from state courts.”
In Moore v. Harper, North Carolina Republicans argue that it was and is unconstitutional for state courts to review redistricting maps produced by the General Assembly — even if those maps violate other constitutional protections.
The basis of the Republican lawmakers’ argument is something called the “independent state legislature doctrine,” which is based on a literal reading of the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause, which reads: “The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.” [Read more…]
9. Budget would expand sheriffs’ ability to challenge jail investigations — and delay fixing alleged violations
County sheriffs and jailers could challenge violations uncovered during jail inspections conducted by the NC Department of Health and Human Services, according to a provision in the proposed state budget.
Bill opponents say the measure undermines the state’s ability to regulate county jails and to enforce safety standards by allowing local authorities to immediately appeal the results of investigations. That could delay remedies for the violations while the appeal wends through the court system.
Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel of the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, however, said those concerns are overblown.
“My guess is that will be used in less than 1% of the inspection reports, maybe less than that. Very rarely, but if a sheriff vehemently disagrees with the inspector about whether or not there’s a violation, they should have some right of appeal,” Caldwell said. “The sky is not falling.”
Lawmakers tried to pass a similar bill last year. That measure would have allowed local governments to request a contested case hearing before a judge to discuss the findings. It can take months for contested case hearings to be scheduled and held.[Read more…]
10. “It is meant to break your spirit”: Groups call for end to solitary confinement in NC prisons
Kerwin Pittman spent a total of 1,000 days alone, living in a drab prison cell the size of a small bathroom. He slept on a slab. His sink was connected to the toilet and lacked hot water.
When Pittman was allowed to leave his cell to go outside – an hour per day – he went inside a cage under full wrist and ankle restraints. He compared the experience to being in a dog kennel for the guards to observe.
“Solitary confinement is not meant, by no means, to rehabilitate you,” Pittman said at a recent event, held in Raleigh on U.N. International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, June 26.
Pittman had been convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. He served 11 and half years in North Carolina prisons, roughly a third of which were spent in solitary confinement, including a solid year at Scotland Correctional Institution in Laurinburg. He was released from prison about five years ago. [Read more…]
11. Weekly Radio Interviews and Daily Radio Commentaries:
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