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Opinion Roundup: It's about politics: legislature's wrap; virus; monuments; law nforcement, and more

Posted June 26, 2020 10:52 a.m. EDT

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Friday, June 26, 2020 -- A round up of opinion, commentary and analysis on: Legislature's wrap; virus politics; monumental politics; law enforcement politics; education politics; environment politics; and more.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY 2020
No handkerchief drop (The Insider reports) -- Despite Senate leader Phil Berger’s stated desire for a sine die adjournment this week, the legislature didn’t end up dropping the ceremonial handkerchief late Thursday night or early Friday morning. Now the plan is to hold skeletal sessions until July 11 while awaiting Gov. Roy Cooper’s action on pending bills, then take a full break from then until Wednesday, Sept. 2.

Lawmakers done with most of year's work after marathon (AP reports) -- Lawmakers finished most of their work for the year early Friday, setting another Medicaid overhaul date, funding a monument to honor African Americans and trying again to reopen businesses shuttered by Gov. Roy Cooper due to COVID-19.

NC lawmakers pass another reopening bill at session's end, but drop others (WRAL-TV reports) -- Wrapping up their work for this year's regular session, state lawmakers sent two more reopening bills to the governor Thursday night as they headed for the exits. But three others fell victim to House and Senate tensions early Friday morning.

After midnight, legislature punts on NC's anti-mask law (WRAL-TV reports) -- Lawmakers plan to circle back, but for now state law will prohibit face coverings come Aug. 1.

NC lawmakers target coronavirus measure on wearing masks in public (N.C. McClatchy reports) -- The Senate has some politicians questioning if it’s going to be illegal for people to wear face masks in public, starting in a little more than a month. “We purposefully took out a provision that would have made it legal, and that just seems wrong to me in the middle of a pandemic,” Democratic Sen. Natasha Marcus of Mecklenburg County said. The early-morning vote in the Senate came on the same day that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s statewide order making mask-wearing mandatory in public was set to go into effect. Republican Senate leader Phil Berger has strongly criticized that order, which will begin at 5 p.m. Friday.

Bills gutted, sponsors switched, 'this has got to be stopped!' (The Insider reports) -- Rep. William Richardson, D-Cumberland, asked that the House adopt a new rule to stop allowing bills to be gutted and changed with new names and topics. He asked if Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure allows for lawmakers to take someone’s bill and completely change the topic. Richardson said his own bill House Bill 593, about domestic orders, but is now on various topics. “This practice has got to stop,” Richardson said. “Would the chair be disappointed that this practice is done by this body?”

NC lawmakers cut half a billion in transportation spending, increase NCDOT oversight (N.C. McClatchy reports) -- Lawmakers have agreed to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the state’s transportation budget for the coming year and overhaul the way decisions about transportation spending are made in the future. House Bill 77, now on its way to Gov. Roy Cooper, responds to the sharp drop in revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the downturn in the economy. It cuts spending for many aspects of transportation, including highway construction and support for mass transit, airports and railroads. At the same time, the bill provides new layers of oversight for spending by the N.C. Department of Transportation and reorganizes the department’s governing board. Those changes are designed to prevent financial problems like the ones that have plagued NCDOT over the past year and made it especially vulnerable to the coronavirus crisis.

NC law modified to allow carrying a handgun while wearing a mask (WRAL-TV reports) -- Under normal circumstances, it is against the law to carry a gun while wearing a mask. However, that law is being suspended until February 2021.

More options where to carry handgun approved by N.C. legislature (AP reports) -- More people in North Carolina could carry their concealed weapons while working and while attending church in a measure given final legislative approval. The House and Senate voted for the compromise bill, sending it to Gov. Roy Cooper's desk. The bill would allow people with concealed permits to carry their handgun at a religious place of worship that is also the location of a private school. A permit holder could only carry the gun outside of the school's operating hours.

Tillman, 2nd on N.C. Senate seniority list, to step down (AP reports) -- Sen. Jerry Tillman, a long-serving member in the Senate announced he'll resign next week. Tillman, a Randolph County Republican, disclosed his decision to step down during a brief speech on the Senate floor. Tillman, a retired public schoolteacher, administrator and coach, said it was time to step down. First elected to the Senate in 2002, Tillman is now in his ninth term, making him No. 2 on the seniority list among current chamber members behind Senate leader Phil Berger.

CORONAVIRUS 2020
As COVID-19 patients increase, hospitals prepare for surge (News Coalition/WRAL-TV reports) -- Leaders at health systems around the state say a combination of better medical care and larger stockpiles of protective gear mean they can handle surges in COVID-19 patients more effectively today than they could three months ago. But those same leaders warn that the additional capacity still has a limit, and they worry for the health of North Carolina residents if current trends continue. “We're in a much better place than we were when we began this,” said Dr. West Paul, chief clinical officer at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington. “That being said, if you look at our hospitalizations, they continue to go up.” A hospital's ability to accommodate growing numbers of patients is about more than how many beds it has, Paul said: It's about "staff, stuff and space."

Statewide mask requirement takes effect Friday at 5pm (WRAL-TV reports) -- At 5 p.m., masks or face coverings will be required in North Carolina in public spaces and when social distancing isn't possible.

UNC doctor: 'I've never been as concerned as I am right now' about growth of COVID-19 cases (WRAL-TV reports) -- The Centers for Disease Control reports COVID-19 cases in the United States could be as much as 10 times higher than currently reported.

Local sheriffs: ‘No’ to mask enforcement (Kinston Free Press reports) -- At least two sheriffs in Eastern North Carolina have stated they will not be enforcing Governor Cooper’s Executive Order No. 147 mandating the wearing of masks for the next three weeks. Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes stated on his personal Facebook page, “I certainly encourage people to be careful and take safety precautions, however your Sheriffs Office will not be taking enforcement actions against people or businesses for not wearing masks!” Danny Heath, Sheriff of Jones County, made a similar statement on his personal Facebook page: “NO, I will not be enforcing the wearing of face mask! Be careful and responsible and make your own decision.”

Betts: Biz can refuse customers if no mask (Elizabeth City Daily Advance reports) -- Residents who fail to comply with Gov. Roy Cooper’s latest order to wear a mask while in public places like grocery stores and other businesses should not be surprised if they are asked to leave. Battle Betts, director of Albemarle Regional Health Services, says businesses have the right to ask a customer to leave if they refuse to don a mask that covers their nose and mouth.

Wooten won't cite those who violate mask order (Elizabeth City Daily Advance reports) -- A day after Gov. Roy Cooper announced that mask wearing in public will be mandatory in North Carolina starting at 5 p.m. today, Pasquotank County’s sheriff joined a number of other sheriffs in saying he doesn’t plan to cite those who violate the governor’s order.

Alamance County sheriff won’t enforce governor’s mask mandate (Burlington Times-News reports) -- Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson’s Office announced Thursday afternoon it will not be writing citations against people who refuse to wear masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus, though it officially recommends them. The announcement came in a Sheriff’s Office news release June 25, the day before the new requirement goes into effect and the day after Gov. Roy Cooper announced it.

Masking rule stirs defiance, questions about compliance (Greenville Daily Reflector reports) -- Local reaction Gov. Roy Cooper’s decision to require widespread use of face coverings and to extend Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan ranged from engaged to enraged on Thursday. While some said the order, which goes in effect at 5 p.m. today, gives teeth to efforts they already had in place, an armed man marched around Greenville Mall Tuesday with a sign that used an expletive to tell the governor what he thought about the law. Thursday also saw Pitt County surge past the 600 threshold in confirmed COVID-19 cases to 617 total cases. That’s up 26 cases from Wednesday and an addition of 113 cases in a seven-day period. Statewide, 57,183 cases had been confirmed as of Thursday, with 891 hospitalizations.

Businesses weigh enforcement of mask mandate before it goes into effect Friday (WRAL-TV reports) -- On Friday, masks will become mandatory throughout the entire state. Some communities, including Durham and Raleigh, have had mask mandates in place before the statewide order was announced by Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday.

Taking COVID-19 restrictions seriously (Winston-Salem Journal) -- Mask up. On Wednesday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced a statewide order that requires North Carolinians to wear face masks in public. This includes indoors and outdoors where it’s not possible to maintain a social distance of 6 feet from other people. Masks will be required of both employees and customers in retail businesses and restaurants.

Panel discusses COVID-19 disparities in Black community in North Carolina (Fayetteville Observer reports) -- A tele-town hall hosted by Action N.C. on Wednesday evening brought together community activists and elected officials to discuss the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on the Black community. Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin was a guest panelist during the hourlong call and said the path to moving forward and helping minorities is realizing that inequalities exist when it comes to health care, education and housing. “We have to embrace that we have a problem and begin to have a tough conversation on race, while understanding that disparities highlight themselves in times of a health crisis,” Colvin said. He said that a plan to balance the scale is for local governments to find ways to increase minority constituents’ participation in community affairs. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reports that 22 African Americans in Cumberland County have died as a result of the coronavirus. The total number of coronavirus cases in Cumberland County stands at 1,065.

Tobacco relative could hold key to coronavirus vaccine (WRAL-TV reports) -- A weed could become a life-saver against the coronavirus.

MONUMENT(al) CHANGE
DA tosses cases involving officers in hate-filled video rant (AP reports) -- New Hanover County prosecutors have dismissed cases involving three officers who were fired after a video recording captured one of them saying a civil war was necessary to wipe Black people off the map and that he was ready. District Attorney Ben David said  his office reviewed the cases involving the Wilmington police officers. The statement didn’t say how many cases were dismissed or what charges were considered.

Three N.C. Officers Fired After Police Find Racist Comments on Video (New York Times reports) -- The officers in Wilmington, N.C., were fired for misconduct. The recording captured one saying, “We are just going to go out and start slaughtering” black people, according to a report.

Stokes County speedway owner offers 'Bubba Rope' for sale (AP reports) -- Mike Fulp, owner of a Stokes County racetrack advertised “Bubba Rope” for sale in a social media marketplace days after NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, who is Black, announced a noose had been found in his garage at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Fulp made the pitch Wednesday on Facebook Marketplace: “Buy your Bubba Rope today for only $9.99 each, they come with a lifetime warranty and work great.’’

VALERIE BAUERELEIN: Confederate Names Are Common in the U.S.—and Not Just on Statues (Wall Street Journal reports) -- Nationwide protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd spurred officials to remove dozens of Confederate statues and symbols. But the question remains of what to do with the other public places named after Confederate leaders across the U.S.

CRYSTAL R. SANDERS: Racist violence in Wilmington’s past echoes in police officer recordings today (Washington Post column) -- In Wilmington three city police officers were fired on Wednesday after being caught on camera making racist and disparaging comments about a fellow black officer, a black magistrate and a black arrestee. As the officers discussed the nationwide protests sparked in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, one remarked that he believed a civil war was on the horizon. He went on to admit that he planned to buy a new assault weapon because “we are just gonna go out and start slaughtering them f------ n------ I can’t wait. God, I can’t wait.” In his own words then, the officer threatened harm to black Americans rather than protecting them, as he was employed to do. The vile and disturbing comments from a public employee whose salary is paid for in part by the tax dollars of the very people he wants to slaughter is even more egregious when we consider that white people in Wilmington have already slaughtered African Americans once. Indeed, the only successful coup d’etat or violent overthrow of a duly elected government in United States history occurred in the port city in 1898 when the state failed to protect black Americans. Wilmington demonstrated that many white Americans had no qualms about responding to progress and interracial democracy with violence and undemocratic practices. Today, as people take to the streets in defense of black Americans’ civil rights and their very lives, it is imperative that the nation not stand idly by and allow white backlash to once again derail the fight for racial equality.

BOB ORR: How ‘Black Lives Matter’ should be interpreted (Faytteville Observer column) -- I would submit that the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is a recognition that for virtually 400 years of this country’s history — Black lives didn’t matter or if they did, they didn’t matter much.

CAMPAIGN 2020
Skewing the Vote: Voter ID laws discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities, new study reveals (UC-San Diego News Release) --New research from the University of California San Diego provides evidence that voter ID laws disproportionately reduce voter turnout in more racially diverse areas. As a result, the voices of racial minorities become more muted and the relative influence of white America grows. In a study published in the journal Politics, Groups, and Identities, researchers focused on turnout changes across the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections in states that had recently passed strict photo voter ID laws: Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia and Wisconsin and compared those changes to other states with similar racial compositions that had not passed laws. They found the turnout gap between white counties and racially diverse counties grew more within states enacting new strict photo ID laws.

Republican Lt. Gov. Forest to sue Democratic Gov. Cooper over coronavirus shutdown orders (WRAL-TV reports) -- Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican running for governor said he plans to sue incumbent Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper over alleged violations of the state Emergency Management Act during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lieutenant governor to sue over COVID-19 orders (AP reports) -- Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest informed Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper Thursday that he intends to sue over the way Cooper has imposed business restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

GOP donor, ex-lawmaker Art Pope elected to join UNC board (AP reports) -- A longtime conservative donor and former lawmaker was picked Thursday to the state public higher education system’s Board of Governors by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Madison Cawthorn Wants to Defuse the G.O.P.’s ‘Generational Time Bomb’ (New York Times reports) -- Madison Cawthorn, 24, won a congressional primary in North Carolina. We spoke with him about young voters’ aversion to the Republican Party, and about how a nearly fatal accident changed his perspective.

MOSTLY TRUE: Trump says the COVID-19 death rate is 'way down' (PolitiFact/WRAL-TV) -- With an increasing number of coronavirus cases across the country, President Donald Trump recently tweeted about a metric that reflects more favorably on his administration's pandemic response. And he's not wrong.

POLICY & POLITICS
Fired Wilmington police officers previously terminated, demoted (Wilmington Star-News reports) -- Documents show two of the three officers fired this week have previously been terminated or demoted

Two inmates escape from Catawba County prison (WRAL-TV reports) -- Two inmates escaped from the Catawba Correctional Center on Thursday night.

EDUCATION
FERREL GUILLORY: Big education issues intersect as public opinion shifts (EdNC column) -- In looking ahead to North Carolina’s great education debate over the second half of 2020, the image of a five-point intersection comes to mind. From multiple directions, potent forces, issues, and trends seem headed for a convergence — or perhaps a collision. North Carolina has yet to feel the full force of looming big decisions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the subsequent economic recession, and the racial justice movement. Cross-cutting through the intersection are the 2020 elections for president, Congress, governor, and state legislature. The elections will hinge more on voters’ decision-making in the context of the pandemic, the economy, and racial attitudes than on specific education issues. Still, the outcome of the elections will profoundly shape the political and policy landscape for schools, colleges, and universities.

Hackers disrupt online college meeting with racist language (AP reports) -- Hackers used racist language and anti-Semitic images to disrupt an online meeting of Wake Forest University employees, the school's president said.

ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
Want to go 100% renewable for electricity? New Duke Energy program lets you (WRAL-TV/TechWire reports) -- For people who want to use electricity from sustainable sources such as solar, Duke Energy is rolling out a new program for that purpose. And at the same time the utility giant will help you underwrite solar power for schools.

GREG BARNES: N.C. State study finds PFAS throughout Yadkin-Pee Dee River food chain (N.C. Health News reports) -- Researchers say the PFAS could threaten the ecosystem, human health and an imperiled fish called the robust redhorse.

... AND MORE
John Swofford's legacy intertwined with his Greensboro home (Greensboro News & Record) -- John Swofford, the longest-tenured commissioner in the ACC's history, is an advocate for the league's home city.

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