ORANGE COUNTY – Orange County Commissioners will discuss how actions by the General Assembly will impact voters when the board meets Tuesday.
The recently passed House Bill 589 contains a host of revisions to state election laws. Orange County Elections Director Tracy Reams will update the board on how the bill will change the way elections are held this year and in years to come.
The new bill ends preregistration for 16 year-olds, but starting October 1, the board of elections will assemble bi-partisan teams to help with absentee ballots in hospitals and nursing homes.
The county board of elections will also begin sharing information about how to get a photo ID for use when voting in future elections. Photo ID will be mandatory by 2016.
County commissioners will also review the progress of the Rogers Road Task Force and review the operation agreement for the Rogers Road Community Center.
The board meets at 7:00 p.m. in the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road.
CHAPEL HILL – Senator Ellie Kinnaird announced Monday that she will resign from her spot on the State Senate representing Orange and Chatham County. Democratic State Representative Verla Insko worked with Kinnaird for several years and said she thinks Kinnaird will spend her time helping other candidates for the Democratic Party.
“I think that she really wants to spend her time helping other candidates and helping put the senate caucus on strong footing” Insko said.
Kinnaird said one of the reasons she chose to resign was because she felt there was nothing she could do to help the situation. The state legislature has already ended the long session, which is when most bills are filed, and in the upcoming short-session there is a limit to the bills that be filed. Insko said she understands how it can be frustrating in the General Assembly at the time.
“It’s frustrating but it’s also partly because it is hard to actually make a difference,” Insko commented.
Insko worked with Kinnaird on several bills over the years and says she was known for many great things.
“I think her contribution was really to be always there ready to speak out on the issues ready to take a stand for social justice, a very clear record of support for social justice and equality” Insko said.
With Kinnaird resigning, an open spot will need to be filled in the North Carolina Senate. Insko says she thinks that there are several candidates from the area that will be good for the position.
“Well there are many, many people in Orange County who could step in and do that job very well,” Insko stated. “We are blessed here with many very bright, competent leaders in the public and private sector too.”
Senator Kinnaird has a long history of supporting the citizens in the area and helping people as both a mayor of Carrboro and a State Senator.
To listen to our interview with Verla Insko click here.http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/verla-insko-sees-the-challenges-kinnaird-faced/
NEW YORK – Your state’s national attention continues to grow as Comedy Central’s famed pseudo-pundit Stephen Colbert, took time on his Monday night broadcast to talk about the state’s General Assembly, ‘praising’ bills passed like one that removes the requirement that charter school teachers have a college degree.
“Great move,” Colbert says. “Who better to teach fifth grade than a sixth grader? It’s still fresh in his mind!”
And Colbert, a native of South Carolina, made sure to point out his long history of not caring for our home state.
“Who makes barbecue sauce with vinegar?” Colbert says. “That’s what you use to clean a toilet, and when I say toilet, I mean Charlotte.”
Colbert also gave special attention to a bill that would make it a felony to expose one’s nipple for the purposes of arousal.
“So, North Carolina strippers: be sure to wear a sign on your chest that reads, ‘For Educational Purposes Only,’” he says.
However, all of these bills are not what won Colbert’s full support.
“All those bills were just foreplay, which I believe is also illegal in North Carolina,” Colbert says.
What earned the General Assembly Colbert’s “tip of the hat” is the recently passed bill allowing those with concealed firearms to bring their weapons into bars and onto playgrounds.
“Guns will make the whole playground experience much more fun,” Colbert says. “Instead of ‘duck, duck, goose,’ you can just play ‘duck, duck, duck!’”
For the full video, you can view it here.http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/stephen-colbert-jokes-about-nc-assembly/
CHAPEL HILL – Democratic State Senator Ellie Kinnaird of Chapel Hill and Carrboro was one of just 12 North Carolina Senators who cast a ‘no’ vote Wednesday on House Bill 695, which would severely restrict abortion in the state of North Carolina.
***Listen to the Interview***
The bill has sparked intense controversy across the state–not only because of its content, but also for the way it was passed: HB 695 began as a ban on the enforcement of Sharia law, but state senators amended it at the last minute (and largely out of the public eye) to include significant restrictions on abortion.
“They rammed this bill through the judiciary committee,” Sen. Kinnaird said after HB 695 passed the Senate on Wednesday. “They had not told the general public and they had not told any (abortion rights) advocates, so this was really a breach in public trust.” (Sen. Kinnaird says even she was not informed about the changes to the bill until 7:00 on Tuesday evening; the final vote was cast on Wednesday morning.)
Despite the short time frame, hundreds of North Carolinians turned out at the General Assembly Wednesday morning to demonstrate, both against the bill itself and against the way it was passed.
“I stirred them up a little bit,” says Kinnaird (who’d spoken passionately against the bill on Tuesday night). “When I first walked in and saw them, I clapped to them–and of course they just burst out in clapping.” Lt. Governor Dan Forest repeatedly silenced the crowd–one protestor was even removed from the building–but Kinnaird says “even their silent presence was very powerful.”
As amended, HB 695 includes a variety of provisions. Perhaps most notably, it would require abortion providers to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgery centers, a move abortion-rights advocates say is designed to shut down providers. Only one clinic in the entire state currently meets those standards; all others would effectively have to close–and Kinnaird says the standards governing ambulatory centers are irrelevant when it comes to clinics that provide abortions.
“(The standards govern) the linoleum on the floor and the paint on the walls,” she says, “as well as equipment–(requiring) things that would be there in an ambulatory (center) that just aren’t necessary in an abortion clinic.”
Moreover, Kinnaird says, those ‘abortion clinics’ don’t only provide abortions. “Women, low-income women, use this as their primary health care,” she says. “They get family planning materials there, they also get cancer screening–if we close these down, these folks without insurance, low-income people, are going to really suffer (in terms of) general health care.”
Another provision of the bill would prevent city and county health plans from covering abortions as well, unless it is to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest.
As always with abortion debates, Kinnaird says the discussion of HB 695 got very heated: “At the end,” she says, “one of the backers of the bill told one of our Democrats that she was going to hell and he was praying for her.” But in this case, passions flared not only because of the content of the bill, but because of the process by which it was pushed through–an issue with a long history of its own.
“At one point (in the debate), the Rules chair stood up and said, ‘Well, you Democrats did it (like this) a long time,’” Kinnaird says. Republican Governor Pat McCrory made a similar comment in a statement denouncing the procedure: “It was not right then,” he said Wednesday, “and it is not right now.” (Kinnaird too doesn’t deny that Democrats could have been more transparent when they were the majority party–but adds, “Just because somebody (else) did it doesn’t make it right.”)
House Bill 695 passed the Senate by a vote of 29-12. The amended bill still needs to be approved by the State House, but its passage seems all but certain: Governor McCrory pledged during last year’s campaign not to sign any bill that imposes further restrictions on abortion, but Republicans have a veto-proof majority in both houses even if McCrory follows through on that pledge. Indeed, notwithstanding the procedural controversy, Kinnaird concedes that the bill would likely have passed the Senate in its current form even if GOP leaders had allowed ample time for public debate.
Even if it passes the legislature, though, Kinnaird says the story will be far from over. “The Attorney General said this bill is likely to generate a lot of Constitutional issues in the courts,” she says, “so even if it passes, it’ll be in the courts for a long time.”
And while Democrats have little power to shape the discourse in Raleigh now, Kinnaird says she’s confident that this debate will contribute to an anti-GOP backlash in 2014.
“People are finally beginning to realize (that) this is an extreme group, and we know that the people of North Carolina do not want extremism,” she says. “They don’t want to be on the Jon Stewart show (or) Rachel Maddow as laughingstocks of the country…
“We used to be a beacon of light (and) a beacon of enlightenment in the South, and we are no longer that–and I know that the people of North Carolina believe that we should be that beacon of light, that beacon of enlightenment. And they’re going to, I think, really react at the polls.”http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/kinnaird-on-abortion-bill-breach-in-public-trust/
These are the cookies Steere delivered. Photo (and caption) via Golden Age Bakery’s Facebook page.
CHAPEL HILL – The NAACP’s “Moral Monday” demonstration drew hundreds to Raleigh again this week to speak out against the bills being passed by the state’s General Assembly–but many other North Carolinians are getting active in other ways, including one small business owner in Chapel Hill who chose a unique way to get her message across.
Sylvia Steere (a friend of the author) is the owner of Golden Age Bakery, a gluten-free bakery she operates out of her Chapel Hill home. Ordinarily she’s trying to sell her cookies, but on Monday she gave them away — 170 of them, in fact — hand-delivering one each to every single legislative office in the State House and Senate.
Her mission? To urge the General Assembly not to pass House Bill 998, the House’s tax-reform plan that will expand the scope of sales taxes while cutting the tax rate on large corporations.
“It will reduce corporate taxes, over the next few years, to completely eliminate them by 2017 — and that’s going to put a lot of the burden on the people that actually consume,” Steere says. “That would be approximately 95 percent of North Carolin(ians) spending more in sales taxes.
“It’s a tax cut for the rich and a tax increase for the poor, and ultimately I don’t consider that good for business, from a small-business standpoint.”
Supporters of the bill say it’s designed to ease the tax burden on businesses — including small businesses — by basing taxes more on consumption. But Steere says a consumption-based tax system wouldn’t be good for her business either.
“If I were a large corporation, I might consider it beneficial,” she says, “but I’m a consumer, and my customers are consumers. And I’d like to not raise prices on ourselves to lower corporate taxes. I feel like it’s the large corporations that could probably afford to spend a little bit more.”
House Bill 998 is not the only tax plan out there: the State Senate is debating several different tax reform proposals, and Governor Pat McCrory has offered his own as well. Each of those plans also include reductions in the corporate tax, though not all of them expand the sales tax as the House bill does.
The General Assembly and Governor McCrory’s office are expected to reach agreement on a final tax plan by the end of the month. While the final plan may not please Steere, she says she’s glad to have spoken out — and she’s hopeful her novel approach might have gotten legislators’ attention.
“It felt very good, actually — just to get out there, see some faces, smile, (and) hand them off,” she says. “They were — in my opinion — very beautifully packaged little thank-you cards, with my note saying why I don’t think they should pass this bill, and a little cookie showing who I am and what my business is doing.”
Steere sells her products online and in local stores, including Southern Season and Foster’s Market.http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/local-baker-brings-cookies-and-a-message-to-raleigh/
RALEIGH- As plans to reform state taxes go through the General Assembly and Governor’s Office, members of the state’s AARP are speaking out, encouraging legislators to consider the impact any bill would have on the elderly.
North Carolina AARP Associate State Director Helen Savage is specifically pointing to proposed taxes on social security that the House and Senate have already approved.
“This, up until now, has not been a feature of our state tax structure. North Carolina, along with 35 other states, has specifically not taxed social security,” says Savage. “So for the state to now start saying that they’re going to tax social security income is a huge change in policy.”
A tax on social security is one part of one particular piece of legislation, known formally as Senate Bill 489, that’s about to go to the desk of Governor Pat McCrory for approval. The AARP is publically denouncing the bill, claiming its hikes to rates and fees on consumer finance loans would hurt the state’s elderly community members.
Savage said the average social security benefit in North Carolina is $13,000 a year, only around half of which will be exempt from taxation.
“For about a third of our state’s 65-plus population, social security is their only source of income or it’s 90 percent of their income,” Savage says.
Representatives from the state AARP held a press conference on June 12 to voice these concerns. They also discussed the shrinking funding for programs that serve the elderly—for example, Savage says a waiting list is now in place for the Meals on Wheels program, which is designed to battle hunger among needy groups, including seniors.
“If local communities are getting less from the state and they have to make up the revenue in some other way, their way of raising it is through increasing property taxes,” says Savage. “And those are things that really hit our population very hard.”
To meet these increasing demands for services in the face of cuts at the state level, Savage says tax increases might happen at the local level.
“We’re worried that there is not only currently insufficient funding for these programs, but that under a tax reform proposal that there would be even bigger cuts in the programs,” says Savage.
AARP officials have noted that in the past, other North Carolina governors have vetoed similar pieces of legislation; for instance, in 2003, Governor Mike Easley vetoed House Bill 917, which also would have increased the costs of loans.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/state-aarp-denounces-proposed-taxes-on-social-security/
CHAPEL HILL – On Monday, the police chiefs from each of UNC’s 17 campuses co-signed a joint statement opposing NC House Bill 937, which would allow individuals with concealed-carry permits to bring guns onto campus.
UNC-Chapel Hill Police Chief Jeff McCracken was among the signees.
Passed by the State House last month, the bill would allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry their guns on college and university campuses. Private colleges and universities would retain the right to prohibit guns on their campus, but public institutions (like UNC) would have to allow them.
UNC system president Tom Ross has already spoken out against the bill—sparking criticism in response from gun-rights advocates. Now, campus law enforcement officials are following Ross in opposition.
The joint statement reads in part: “We believe passage of this bill would increase the risk to the safety of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors…The potential risk to those on campus far outweighs the convenience to concealed-carry permit holders.”
House Bill 937 passed the State House last month by a 76-38 vote along party lines. It’s currently awaiting passage by the State Senate.
The full statement is below.
Opinion Statement – House Bill 937
Chief Gunther Doerr, Appalachian State University Police
Acting Chief Jason Sugg, East Carolina University Police
Interim Chief John Manley, Elizabeth City State University Police
Chief Robert Hassell, Fayetteville State University Police
Chief Glenn Newell, North Carolina A&T State University Police
Chief Tim Bellamy, North Carolina Central University Police
Chief Jack Moorman, North Carolina State University Police
Chief Eric Boyce, University of North Carolina at Asheville Police
Chief Jeff McCracken, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Police
Chief Jeff Baker, University of North Carolina at Charlotte Police
Chief Jamie Herring, University of North Carolina at Greensboro Police
Chief McDuffie Cummings, University of North Carolina at Pembroke Police
Chief David Donaldson, University of North Carolina at Wilmington Police
Chief Deb Cheesebro, University of North Carolina School of the Arts Police
Chief Earnest Hudson, Western Carolina University Police
Chief Pat Norris, Winston-Salem State University Police
Security Director Rick Hess, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics
Chief Emily West, North Carolina Arboretum Police
Associate Vice President for Campus Safety and Emergency Operations Brent Herron, UNC General Administration
The police chiefs of the 17 UNC campuses oppose the provision of House Bill 937 that would allow handguns on our campuses. We believe passage of this bill would increase the risk to the safety of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors.
Studies show that university campuses are consistently safer and experience significantly less crime than surrounding communities.
Some of our universities have middle schools and high schools on their campuses, and many of our universities host summer youth camps. This bill would allow concealed-weapon permit holders to bring their handguns onto these venues.
According to HB 937, private colleges and universities would have the authority to decide whether or not they allowed handguns on their campuses. This bill would have a disparate impact on public colleges and universities, as we would not have the same discretion and authority that private colleges do. Currently 45 states either ban guns on campuses or allow universities the discretion to choose whether or not to ban guns.
In the event of a campus emergency, it is possible that concealed-carry permit holders may feel empowered to retrieve their handguns, thereby complicating and potentially hindering law enforcement response on a crowded campus.
The potential risk to those on campus far outweighs the convenience to concealed-carry permit holders. We encourage the General Assembly to remove the provision from HB 937 that would allow guns on university campuses.http://chapelboro.com/news/unc/unc-police-chiefs-oppose-concealed-carry-bill/
RALEIGH – A protest of Republican policies at the North Carolina General Assembly has ended with the arrests of 17 people.
General Assembly police arrested members of the state chapter of the NAACP and other activists Monday outside the Senate chambers. The demonstrators called attention through prayer and song to what they called a regressive agenda.
Police Chief Jeff Weaver said the protestors will be charged.
The protest was directed at Republican action on health care, unemployment benefits, education and voting rights. The House passed a bill last week requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, which the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People views as a poll tax.
Chapter president the Rev. William Barber said more protests at the General Assembly are likely.http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/naacp-protest-at-nc-legislature-ends-in-arrests/
HILLSBOROUGH- School leaders say next year’s budget crunch is made worse by what they call “bad ideas” coming out of the General Assembly.
Officials from both the Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro school districts told county commissioners on Tuesday that they are deeply worried about the impact state bills will have on local school budgets and the quality of instruction.
Orange County Schools Superintendent Patrick Rhodes said he’s dismayed by much of the legislation working its way through the legislature.
“I have never seen this level of legislative activity associated with public schools,” said Rhodes. “Much of it is hurtful, much of it opposed by the North Carolina School Boards Association, much of it opposed by the principals association and the teachers association, because it truly is bad ideas.”
Those ideas include a wide variety of proposals, from expanding the reach of charter schools to introducing school voucher programs.
Rhodes said a push to open a virtual charter school could attract many local students who are currently home-schooled.
“If a virtual charter is established, we would be required to pay the charter school. It would be a for-profit charter and one of them is on the table to start up this fall,” said Rhodes. “Assume that half of those 667 students sign up for the virtual charter, that would be, across the two systems, a drop of a million in funding.”
While Governor Pat McCrory has stressed that his proposed budget will add teachers, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese said that comes at a cost, specifically the loss of teaching assistants.
“The governor’s proposed budget for our district equates to a $1.1 million dollar reduction for teacher assistants, that’s probably 35 or 36 positions,” LoFrese told commissioners.
Both school districts face rising enrollment coupled with state and federal budget cuts. Orange County School officials are asking the county for an additional $158 per pupil next year, while Chapel Hill-Carrboro school leaders are requesting nearly a $400 per-pupil increase.
Orange County Schools will dip into its reserves to the tune of just under $1 million, while Chapel Hill-Carrboro will allocate slightly more than $3 million to help cover the shortfall.
LoFrese said relying on the district’s fund balance is not sustainable.
“This budget is balanced based on the board continuing to assign fund balance at an increased level of $3.2 million dollars,” said LoFrese. “We believe this is probably the last year the board is going to be able to do this.”
Though they have yet to solve next year’s funding puzzle for either school system, commissioners including Mark Dorosin vowed to fight against any proposal that spends public money on private education.
“I am angry and I feel like we have to collectively raise our voices about what is going on here and pull the covers back on this,” said Dorosin. His words met with applause from the audience.
In other school board news, county commissioners on Thursday took a closer look at what it would take to build a new $5 million dollar science wing at Culbreth Middle School.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro school officials say adding the wing would increase student capacity enough to delay the construction of a fifth middle school for several years, but commissioners are still struggling to find a way to fund it that doesn’t put the county over its debt limit in the near future.
The board of commissioners will continue the conversation on the Culbreth science wing at a budget work session on May 9.
A public hearing on next year’s budget will be held May 23.http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/school-officials-decry-general-assemblys-bad-ideas/
ORANGE COUNTY – Newly elected State Representative Valerie Foushee will take her oath of office on Tuesday, January 8, at 4:00 p.m. in the Orange County Courthouse in Hillsborough. The ceremony is open to the public; District Court Judge Beverly Scarlett will perform the swearing-in.
Foushee was elected in November to represent District 50, replacing outgoing State Rep. Bill Faison.
Chapel Hill town crews have begun picking up Christmas trees and wreaths for mulching on the regular yard-waste collection schedule. If your trash gets picked up on Mondays, your yard waste will be collected on Thursdays; if your trash gets picked up on Tuesdays, your yard waste will be collected on Fridays.
If you leave trees or wreaths by the curb, make sure to remove all decorations first.http://chapelboro.com/sports/news-around-town-foushee-old-tree/