***UPDATE: The three-judge panel rejected the request to stay the decision that two districts are unconstitutional. That ruling was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.***
Officials with the State of North Carolina filed an emergency petition on Monday to stay a decision from a panel of three federal judges that ruled two of North Carolina’s congressional districts were unconstitutional.
The ruling came down late Friday and ordered lawmakers to redraw the 1st and 12th district by February 19.
State Senator Bob Rucho and Representative David Lewis, two architects of the latest districts, issued a joint statement Monday saying:
“We trust the federal trial court was not aware an election was already underway and surely did not intend to throw our state into chaos by nullifying ballots that have already been sent out and votes that have already been cast. We hope the court will realize the serious and far-reaching ramifications of its unprecedented, eleventh-hour action and immediately issue a stay.”
The State Supreme Court upheld the maps in late December.
North Carolina voting maps have been a heated topic of debate for years as lawmakers of the controlling party have been legally allowed to draw maps that favor the reelection of members of their party.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers presented a bill in 2015 that would have created an independent redistricting commission, as has been done in other states, but the bill moved nowhere.
Jane Pinsky is the director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform. She spoke with WCHL’s Blake Hodge about the decision and what it means for North Carolina voters going forward.
Pinsky says residents can sign a petition against gerrymandering or call her office at (919) 833-0092 for more information.http://chapelboro.com/featured/nc-lawmakers-ask-for-stay-in-redistricting-ruling
According to a report done by Families USA, the percentage of North Carolina workers without health insurance dropped 15 percent in 2014, which was below the national average of 19 percent.
Families USA Dee Mahan said top states saw their uninsured workers drop 36 percent.
“During the first full year of the ACA, virtually every state saw a decrease in uninsured workers,” she said. “However, the rate of that decrease was substantially higher, nearly twice as great, in states that expanded Medicaid that year.”
Under the Affordable Care Act, states can add people to their Medicaid program that make no more than 138 percent of the federal poverty rate.
The federal government will pay the entire cost of the expansion until next year, when it will start gradually dropping to 90 percent in 2020.
North Carolina was one of the 24 states that did not expand Medicaid in 2014, and remains one of the 16 states that have yet to expand.
All but two of the states that had their uninsured workers drop at a rate above the national average were expansion states.
Cara Stewart from Kentucky Equal Justice Center said expansion has gone well in her home state.
“We saw our uninsured rate plummet,” she said. “The most interesting thing I think we figured out was that the majority of people who became insured through Medicaid expansion were workers.”
Tennessee state senator Richard Briggs said his state is one of those that have not accepted the expansion.
Briggs is a cardiac surgeon and said he frequently sees patients come through the emergency room at his hospital with heart attacks because they could not afford their necessary medication.
“For a few dollars, maybe a couple of hundred dollars a month, they could’ve taken their medication,” he said. “Instead they build up a bill that somebody is going to have to pay for that could be anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 depending on how sick they are after surgery.”
Over the summer Governor Pat McCrory said he would like to expand Medicaid, but would like a plan tailored to North Carolina.
However, an expansion would have to pass the state legislature before reaching the governor’s office.
To see the full report, click here.http://chapelboro.com/news/health/nc-below-national-average-for-drop-in-uninsured-workers
The much-debated North Carolina voter ID law was back in federal court this week.
Local Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman was called to testify in the trial on Wednesday. Nieman was called to provide his experience with residents who have had their license revoked and the demographic trends of those who have had their license revoked multiple times for minor infractions.
Nieman spoke with WCHL’s Blake Hodge about his role in the trial:http://chapelboro.com/news/state-news/local-assistant-district-attorney-testifies-in-voting-rights-trial
An annual report released in December that details how states are using funds from the 1998 state tobacco tax settlement and tobacco taxes finds that many states are still not spending the recommended amount of money on smoking prevention efforts. North Carolina ranks near the bottom nationally, according to the new data.
The report says that North Carolina spent $1.2 million on tobacco-prevention programs, while the industry spent $392.2 million in marketing.
John Shachter is the director of state communications with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. He spoke with WCHL’s Blake Hodge about the report and how North Carolina stacks up.
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rightshttp://chapelboro.com/featured/north-carolina-ranks-45th-in-tobacco-prevention-program-spending
The new North Carolina logo was named the worst logo redesign of 2015.
In September of 2015, the North Carolina Department of Commerce unveiled the new logo.
Governor Pat McCrory’s administration used $1.5 million to fund a branding effort for the state, which included the new North Carolina logo. “In an increasingly competitive environment, it’s crucial for North Carolina to articulate at a glance all we have to offer,” said North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory. “The new look and messaging are reflective of the people and the assets that make this state such an inspiring place to live, work and play. North Carolina has great momentum and will be even stronger with support of a brand that pulls everything together.”
But, Brand New, which chronicles and critiques brand identity work by corporations and other entities, named the new North Carolina logo the “Worst of 2015.” On the logo, Brand New explains, “Not a single element in this logo is right, in concept or execution. It’s like they picked elements from a hat and then five different people were responsible for executing each element and then they put them all together and then issued a press release.”
Brand New adds, “the concept is weak. The execution is deplorable.”
Other logos that made the list included one from the NBA’s Washington Wizards, outdoor retailer REI, and CareerBuilder.com. Another state’s branding efforts also landed on the list. A new logo for Ohio’s tourism department was slotted at No. 7.http://chapelboro.com/news/state-news/new-north-carolina-logo-named-worst-of-2015
North Carolina now has more than 10 million residents, according to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday.
The Bureau says North Carolina is growing at a rate of 281 newcomers per day, the fifth largest population growth in the country from 2010 – 2015.
Governor Pat McCrory said in a statement, “Those of us who live in North Carolina know why this state is such a great place to live. With our growing economy, great colleges and university and quality of life, from the mountains to the coast, nothing compares to North Carolina.”
McCrory added this means it’s time for the state to look ahead and invest in the state’s infrastructure.
“Our transportation system and other infrastructure need to be upgraded as North Carolina continues to grow. That is why I have put our 25 year vision for transportation in place. Our state’s transportation infrastructure plays a critical role in attracting and retaining businesses and connecting people to jobs, healthcare, education and recreation. The time to start is now if we want to be ready for the future growth.”
North Carolina is the ninth state to cross the 10 million population benchmark. The other states are California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Georgia.http://chapelboro.com/featured/north-carolina-population-crosses-10-million
North Carolina’s highest court issued a ruling regarding much-debated district maps for the General Assembly and congressional districts.
The North Carolina Supreme Court upheld maps drawn by Republicans in 2011 that lay out districts for the North Carolina General Assembly and the United States Congressional districts.
The ruling was issued on Friday morning.
The United States Supreme Court told state judges to review the court’s December 2014 decision to uphold the current boundaries. The mandate for review came after the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority opinion in March that Alabama lawmakers had relied too much on “mechanical” numerical percentages while drawing legislative districts in which black voters comprised a majority of the population.
The current North Carolina districts have been under fire since the Republican-led legislature drew the new boundaries following the 2010 census. The GOP was newly in charge in North Carolina politics for the first time in decades and some challengers to the districts say the lawmakers drew districts with the intention of packing heavily Democratic districts to expand Republican leadership at the state and national level.
Congressman David Price represents North Carolina Fourth District, which has changed dramatically under the new boundaries. Price says it was a “very disappointing decision.”
“I don’t think anybody who looks at the North Carolina maps, federal or state, for five minutes can doubt that race was used in drawing those lines,” Price says. “So it seems to me the North Carolina Supreme Court has not done right by this.”
Price says he believes this decision will be appealed once again, but he points to that as being another issue because we are more than halfway to another census that will lead to new districts being drawn.
“This isn’t ideal, even when you have a very strong case, which I think we do,” Price says. “And I actually think it’s eventually going to be decided in our favor. But I think the decade may pretty well be expired by the time that happens.
“So it’s really not much of a remedy.”
Price says he is hopeful this discussion will lead to a new method for drawing districts in the Tar Heel state.
“I think the whole episode should make us ready – really ready – to go in this state toward a bipartisan/nonpartisan redistricting commission,” Price says, “so that this doesn’t happen again in this egregious political way.”
Other states, including California, Iowa and Ohio, have instituted independent redistricting commissions to remove the partisan nature of the district boundaries.
A bipartisan coalition of legislators presented two bills earlier this year that would have done away with North Carolina’s current way of drawing voting districts, but the bills were never acted on in the House or Senate.
Republican Senator from Mecklenburg County Bob Rucho and Republican House Representative of Harnett County David Lewis, the two main architects of the current district maps, issued a joint statement following the ruling saying:
“We are pleased with the court’s decision, which validates these maps for a fourth time and once again makes clear the General Assembly protected the rights of voters and established voting boundaries that are fair and legal. It’s time for these left-wing groups to stop wasting taxpayer money pursuing their frivolous and politically motivated appeals and finally accept the will of the voters.”http://chapelboro.com/featured/nc-supreme-court-upholds-federal-and-state-district-maps
A new website launched on Thursday that details the demographic stop and search patterns of North Carolina law enforcement agencies.
Ian Mance is a staff attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and, on Thursday, he laid out the details of a website that allows citizens to check into the patterns of area law enforcement, saying this is the culmination of two years worth of work inspired by UNC professor Frank Baumgartner.
The new website breaks down patterns of police activity by department all across the state of North Carolina regarding who officers are pulling over and the demographic rates at which law enforcement officials are searching drivers.
WCHL’s Blake Hodge spoke about the website with Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue.
North Carolina law requires police officers to record data regarding, among other things, the age, race and gender of motorist that are stopped.
That data has been compiled over the last 15 years and this website aims to show the data is a more easily digestible form.
In Chapel Hill, black drivers make up 27 percent of the stops by police, compared to 65 percent for their white counterparts in 2015. But black drivers make up 46 percent of searches by Chapel Hill Police, while white drivers make up 51 percent of searches.
All that while 2010 census data shows that the population of Chapel Hill is nearly 73 percent white and almost 10 percent black.
Mance says that North Carolina is ahead of the national curve simply for having this data on hand, as most other states do not require this information of their law enforcement.
The website has subsets to look at the percent of stops broken down by race and ethnicity, search rates, contraband hit rates after a search has been conducted and use of force rates, among other areas.
Users can look at the data from the North Carolina Highway Patrol, County Sheriff’s Offices and local Police Departments. You can also look up patterns of individual law enforcement officers based off of their confidential ID number, which allows for the officer’s privacy to be protected.
Fayetteville Police Chief Harold Medlock has involved his department in the Presidential Task Force that was created by the White House after the shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police.
He says this can be used as a means by which police can improve activity. He says, while there are some areas where more figures can tell a fuller picture, you can’t argue with the raw data.
“I have to tell you that I’m scared and vulnerable every day,” he says, “no matter what the topic.
“We are who we are, and we’re doing what we need to do…we’re using, in the Fayetteville Police Department, every vehicle or every opportunity available to us to learn more about how and why we’re doing business the way we are and how to improve it.”
Medlock says he has used this data to change how his officers patrol, now telling them to focus on moving violations rather than regulatory stops over out-of-date registration or broken tail lights, saying that has reduced motorist fatalities in Fayetteville.
Medlock says this new method includes asking officers to have probable cause to search a vehicle rather than arbitrarily asking for consent.
“A lot of times you’ll ask a street cop, and I was one, ‘why do you ask for consent,’” he says. “And the answer is, ‘because I can.’
“It’s not against the law to ask for consent, and a person certainly does not have to give it. But, if you look at it from the perspective of me not wearing this uniform, I can also understand why someone would be afraid not to give consent.”
Medlock says this is leading to a new era for law enforcement.
“The days of policing occurring in secret are over.”http://chapelboro.com/featured/new-website-details-racial-disparities-among-police-searches
Gas prices in North Carolina have fallen below the two dollar mark for the first time since March 2008.
According to AAA, the state average for a gallon of gas is $1.98. The national average is $2.01.
Gas prices have been falling in the last couple of months, partially due to production in the United States.
“Domestically we do have a ton of supply,” said Tiffany Wright of AAA Carolinas. “We are in the winter driving months so there’s less focus on the road.”
During peak holiday travel next week, some drivers might see slightly higher prices, according to Wright.
“You might see from pump to pump prices vary, where you will see some prices over $2 or $2.05, just depending on where you go in the Carolinas and that’s just because gas stations are trying to get competitive,” said Wright.
AAA estimates over 2 million North Carolinians will be on the road this holiday season. But expected some savings compared to your holiday trip last year.
“What we’re talking about is saving, varying from pump to pump, 75 cents to a dollar less than what we were paying a year ago,” said Wright.
Those kinds of savings can really have a positive impact on consumer’s wallets, especially around the holiday season.
“You know it’s a good time to be filling up in your area and the entire
Carolinas to be honest,” said Wright.
A lawsuit has been filed challenging one of the most controversial pieces of legislation from this year’s long session in the General Assembly.
A group of plaintiffs has filed a lawsuit in the Asheville Division for the Western District of North Carolina District Court challenging the constitutionality of Senate Bill 2.
The law allows magistrates and employees of county register of deeds offices to opt out of performing same-sex marriages; the state employees would also not be able to perform traditional marriages, if they chose to opt out.
Former Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt is an attorney with the law firm Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, which is bringing the suit. Kleinschmidt is not one of the attorneys involved directly in the legal challenge.
Kleinschmidt says the lawsuit is based on the 14th amendment of the United State Constitution.
“That requires that all citizens of North Carolina, or any state, are to be treated equally,” Kleinschmidt says, “and that you can’t allow a religious belief to trump that obligation of a judicial official.”
Senate Bill 2 was passed by the General Assembly earlier this year before being vetoed by Governor Pat McCrory, who was being urged to do so by local leaders. McCrory said in a statement in May that “no public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the Constitution and to discharge all duties of their office should be exempt from upholding that oath.”
The North Carolina Senate then quickly voted to override that veto. In the North Carolina House, the override vote was held on the calendar for more than a week before being quickly called and voted on when lawmakers had enough votes to overturn the veto.
Kleinschmidt says Senate Bill 2 is not only in violation of the 14th amendment but also conflicts with the first amendment.
“Because it endorses the religious belief of any of these officials over the rights of the citizens of our community and our state,” Kleinschmidt says. “That alone is itself a first amendment violation. And then these individuals themselves who are being denied access, or who would be denied access, of these government functions are being denied equal treatment under the law.”
Kleinschmidt says the plaintiffs consist of two same-sex couples and one heterosexual couple who experienced similar discrimination.
“Carol Ann and Thomas Person are an interracial couple,” Kleinschmidt says, “Back in the 1970s, they went to get married at the local office of the magistrate, and they were denied the service.
“And the magistrate’s response to their request was that he had a religious belief that wouldn’t allow him to preside over the marriage of an interracial couple.”
Kleinschmidt adds that case was ultimately determined in the plaintiffs’ favor on the same grounds that are being challenged with the current lawsuit.
North Carolina Department of Justice spokesperson Noelle Talley issued a statement to WCHL Wednesday evening saying, “Although Attorney General Cooper personally opposes this legislation, our office will do its duty under the law to defend the state just as it has in more than a dozen other recent cases challenging laws passed by the General Assembly.”http://chapelboro.com/featured/lawsuit-filed-to-challenge-senate-bill-2