Wake Dems Weekly Update: Chaos in Session

Welcome!

The Wake County Democratic Party was well represented at this year’s NC Democratic Party Convention! Attendees heard from candidates for the state’s Congressional Districts, as well as for the State’s Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. After rousing speeches from former Maryland governor and 2016 Presidential Candidate Martin O’Malley and State Senator Floyd McKissick, state Dems are “Fired up, Ready to Go” into the 2018 midterm elections! Commit to Vote today!

Legislative Session Update

The North Carolina General Assembly has been in session since May 16th. The legislators were greeted their first day back by a sea of red, as educators from across the state and their supporters descended on Raleigh for “Rally For Respect”. The gathering was used to highlight the need to make public education a top priority in NC. The response to the rally was so overwhelming that 42 school districts were closed that day. The #Red4Ed movement has adopted the slogan “Remember in November” to encourage those concerned about the condition of education in NC to register and vote in November for candidates who support public education.

This session has also seen a political move from the GOP that undermines our democratic processes. For the first time in state history, an entire budget bill was placed into a conference committee report. By doing so, the Republican’s $23.9 billion budget, Senate Bill 99, originally filed in February and related to car insurance, was considered a final work product of the Legislative Research Commission Committee 5 on Regulatory and Rate Issues in Insurance. This meant there was no ability to debate or amend the GOP-crafted state budget. With their supermajority in place, the GOP was able to pass the budget, as well as override Governor Cooper’s veto this week.

Despite the claims by the likes of Rep. Nelson Dollar, House District 36, this budget is bad news for ordinary NC citizens and a windfall for big business, for-profit education, and GOP incumbents in at-risk seats. Patrick McHugh, an economic analyst with the North Carolina Justice Center, estimates that there is almost $35 million in “pork” in this budget. The GOP also tinkered with the “Transformative Project” incentive program, which provides tax breaks to companies who move to NC, to provide more incentives to companies while lowering the bar on the benefits to NC.

The GOP is now working on its Budget Technical Corrections Bill (Senate Bill 335 and House Bill 463) to try and fix what they have broken with their secretive, hurried budget process. It is in response to the outrage of NC voters when they learned

  • a Suicide Prevention Hotline had been unfunded,

  • the planned Durham/Chapel Hill light rail had been undermined,

  • new State Troopers would have to pay for their own training via loans,

  • a vulnerable Charlotte GOP incumbent’s district had been allotted $230,000 for school supplies through the Donor’s Choose organization.

However, the new Corrections also contain some more bad news for NC citizens, especially for public education.

  • Monies earmarked for additional inpatient behavioral health beds in Fayetteville will instead go to the home district of the chair of the House Rules Committee.

  • Cities that are now allowed to fund their own charter schools under the original budget can use that money via capital expenses to lease or buy buildings.

  • The Department of Public Instruction is barred from making any cuts in the Office of Charter Schools.

This week, Wake County’s own House Minority Leader Rep. Darren Jackson successfully added a bipartisan amendment to House Bill 998 (Improving NC Rural Health) to study the cost and benefits of expanding Medicaid in NC under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However the amendment was stripped from the Bill by the GOP and replaced with an amendment to study how to make access to healthcare more difficult, not easier.

With the threat of a #BlueWave2018 upon them, the GOP in the NCGA is working overtime during this special session to pass as many Bills as possible to further their their legacy of undermining voter rights, our courts, our healthcare, and our middle class. (And it’s our guess that they’re trying to get back to their districts to campaign against the Democratic challengers we have running against them).

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Here is a quick review of some of the bills we are continuing to follow:

Early Voting Threatened: Senate Bill 325

In the middle of the night, the GOP has released another sneak attack to move forward their plan for voter suppression. They have hijacked SB325, originally titled “Billion Dollar Middle Class Tax Cut” and have used it to make major changes to early voting. The amended Bill, now misleadingly titled “The Uniform & Expanded Early Voting Act”, amends a statute that was voided by a federal court earlier. It cuts the number of voting days from 17 to 10, eliminating the final Saturday and beginning early voting on a Wednesday. It requires that polling places be open 7am to 7pm on weekdays and that the times for the one allowed weekend be the same for both days. In line with the Supreme Court’s decision this week to allow voter purges in Ohio, the bill also requires local Boards of Election to file voter list maintenance reports in September.

The bill’s language is vague and confusing, at best, but is clear in its intentions to cut a week from early voting in the State, which the GOP will argue is offset by the longer poll hours.

Voter ID Constitutional Amendment: House Bill 1092

Last Thursday, the GOP filed House Bill 1092 (Constitutional Amendment - Require Photo ID to Vote). Having been on the losing end of every related court case, and needing to fire up their base for the midterms, Republicans are now placing the question of requiring voter ID on the ballot in November. The bill itself is less than half a page and is open-ended (i.e., it does not indicate any specifics as to what IDs are acceptable, etc.), allowing the General Assembly to “fill in the blanks” if it is passed by the voters. This bill has enough GOP support to pass and does not require the Governor’s signature.

We are waiting to hear about additional Constitutional Amendments being added to this November’s ballot, including more changes to limit Governor Cooper’s power over the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement and hunting and fishing rights. The NCGA is currently debating Senate Bill 75, which is a Constitutional Amendment to cap the maximum tax rates on incomes at 5.5%, putting the future of NC at risk by limiting funding for education, senior care, and “safety net” programs and forcing increases in local and property taxes to try an make up for lost revenue.

Judicial Gerrymandering Attempts Continue: Senate Bill 757, House Bill 717, House Bill 1037

Time is winding down toward the filing deadline for judicial elections, and the GOP in the NCGA is still working to gerrymander the courts in NC to provide a rubber stamp for their unconstitutional actions. These three Bills play a central role in these attempts.

Senate Bill 757 (Various Court District Changes) would redistrict the Wake, Mecklenburg, Pender, and New Hanover county Superior and District Court districts. It has been presented to Governor Cooper.

House Bill 717 (Judicial Elections Changes) would reduce the NC judicial and superior court  divisions from eight (8) to five (5), change the rotation and assignment of Superior Court judges, and stop the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement from using the incumbent judges’ names from identifying judicial seats. It has been appointed by the Conference Committee.

House Bill 1037 (Various Judicial Districts Changes) redistricts the prosecutorial, Superior, and District Courts in eight NC counties. It has completed its third reading.

Wake County’s Darren Jackson has raised a number of concerns about how quickly these bills are moving through the General Assembly without proper time or resources to review their impacts. We will continue to monitor these Bills and update you on their progress.

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The North Carolina Democratic Party has announced endorsements this week for the NC Supreme Court and the North Carolina Court of Appeals in order to address concerns raised by the continued GOP efforts to gerrymander and stifle a free and fair judiciary. This was also done in an effort to distinguish real Democratic candidates for office from Republicans who have announced plans to switch parties and run as Democrats in various judicial contests. The NCDP is endorsing the following candidates.

NC Supreme Court: Anita Earls

NC Court of Appeals: Judge John ArrowoodAllegra CollinsToby Hampson

No Longer What It Seems: House Bill 933

When House Bill 933 (Reciprocity/School Psychologist Licensure) was filed in May, its purpose was to improve school safety in NC by granting a license to practice as a school psychologist to individuals who hold a nationally certified school psychologist credential. The Bill was based on a recommendation which enjoyed bipartisan support from the House Select Committee on School Safety. The Committee was established after a series of shootings at schools around the U.S.)That all changed last week when the Bill was unexpectedly hijacked.

The new portions of the Bill would allow for circumventing ACA rules by allowing groups such as the NC Farm Bureau to offer health plans which do not require state oversight, nor guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions.These types of plans are often called “skinny plans”. It mirrors a similar provision passed for the TN Farm Bureau, which has led to an undermining of the ACA Marketplace in that market. It also aligns with Federal efforts to deny over 4 million North Carolinians with pre-existing conditions of their healthcare. We will continue to follow this update to the Bill.

Fighting for What is Right: Senate Bill 794

June is LGBT Pride Month. Wake County’s Sen. Jay Chaudhuri is one of the primary sponsors of Senate Bill 794 (Hate Crimes Prevention Act). The Bill calls for the expansion of the scope and punishment of hate crimes in NC. Gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, and disability would be included in the definition of hate crimes in NC. Current Class 2 and Class 3 misdemeanors which are committed with malice or hate against protected groups would be tried as Class 1 misdemeanors, while current Class 1 or Class A1 misdemeanors would be tried as Class H felonies. Felonious assaults with a hate crime component would be classified as Class E felonies. The Bill also calls for the creation of a Hate Crimes Statistics Database for tracking these crimes in NC, as well as training for law enforcement in identifying hate crimes.

Without this type of law in NC, LGTBQ individuals and their families and advocates are forced to rely on the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act at the federal level for hate crimes charges. Bill 794 has passed first reading and has been referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate.

Could NC be #38? : Equal Rights Amendment

With the NCGA in session, and bills related to the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in both House and Senate committees (House Bill 1072 and Senate Bill 782), NC is in a unique position to be the linchpin state which provides the 38th vote required to the make the ERA a constitutional amendment! Both Bills have passed 1st Reading and are mired down in Committee. Please contact your legislator and request that they support a discharge petition to move these Bills out of committee and to the floor for a vote.

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Keep up with WCDP events and news!

The journey to the November midterms has begun and WCDP board and staff are making every effort to keep up with the myriad events taking place across the county from candidate fundraisers to volunteer opportunities to auxiliary meetings. Check out the calendar here, and if you have events of your own you wish to publicize, send details to WCDP 3rd Vice Chair Zainab Baloch (wcdp3vc@gmail.com).


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