- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


Feb. 4

The Greensboro News & Record on why Gov. Roy Cooper is “boxed in:”

Gov. Roy Cooper is boxed in. He wants to defy a new law subjecting his Cabinet chiefs to Senate confirmation but has no legal way out of it yet.

The requirement was enacted in December. The Republican-controlled legislature convened a special session for one purpose: to hamstring the incoming Democratic governor. The confirmation measure was just one piece of a larger package. The legislation was duly signed by outgoing Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, whom Cooper defeated in November - a parting shot from an embittered loser.

Previous governors had not been made to submit their top executives for legislative approval. However, the N.C. Constitution may authorize such a process. It says, “The Governor shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of a majority of the Senators appoint all officers whose appointments are not otherwise provided for.”

Why invoke this privilege now? Given the overt disdain that legislative leaders have shown for Cooper, one suspects the intent is to hinder the governor from running his own administration. Cooper sued, claiming the constitutional language only applies to constitutional offices, not executive agency heads.

That argument will be heard in court. In the meantime, Cooper has a problem. He can let his nominees go through the confirmation process that the Senate is just now setting up, or he can withhold them. He takes a risk either way, but he is safer to follow the law as it stands now.

Unless a court stays or strikes down the law, it reads just as it was enacted: A majority of senators must confirm the governor’s nominees. It won’t do so if Cooper refuses to submit them to the confirmation process, which will include public examinations by Senate committees.

The governor says the Senate should back off until the courts rule, which could be as soon as next month. He’s right. It should. But it has not done so yet.

So far, the governor has authorized his choices to speak informally with senators, but that won’t suffice. He should yield to the process, at least for now.

For its part, the Senate should make sure it’s a fair process. If the Republican majority rejects Cooper’s nominees for partisan reasons, that will be seen as obvious obstructionism. It would introduce Washington-style gridlock to North Carolina politics and would warrant repudiation by the people. Cabinet candidates should be evaluated on the basis of their experience and qualifications. That should be no problem for those named by Cooper so far.

Yet, one who could encounter trouble is Michael Regan, picked to head the Department of Environmental Quality. Regan was an official in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and worked for the Environmental Defense Fund. He’s an environmentalist, which makes him a good choice to lead an agency charged with protecting the environment. But that’s exactly why Senate Republicans might oppose him. Their deregulatory agenda runs counter to environmental protection.

If Regan’s confirmation triggers a partisan battle, it will expose an obstructionist attitude by Republicans. They should be smarter than that and act responsibly. The people elected Cooper so he can carry out his policies as governor. They expect him to appoint his own agency heads, without unreasonable interference by the opposition.

Online: https://www.greensboro.com/


Feb. 5

The Times-News of Hendersonville on mandates that may help public schools:

A few weeks ago, we called on state lawmakers to fix a well-meaning mandate to reduce class sizes in primary grades. That mandate came with an unintended consequence for local schools: potentially $3.5 million in new personnel costs and possible cuts to art, music and PE classes.

Local legislators responded by sponsoring a bill that would address the problem.

House Bill 13, co-sponsored by Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Hendersonville, would give schools flexibility on new class limits, staff writer Andrew Mundhenk reported. Public schools and their supporters statewide should encourage legislators to support this fix.

The General Assembly last year passed new limits on class sizes set to go into effect for the 2017-18 school year. The law would lower maximum average class sizes from 21 to 18 students in kindergarten, 16 in first grade and 17 in second and third grades; and lower maximum individual class sizes from 24 to 21 in kindergarten, 19 in first grade and 20 in second and third grades.

The mandate left school systems statewide looking at having to increase class sizes in grades four through 12, hire more staff, and/or cut physical education, music and other elective classes.

In Henderson County, the mandate would require schools to hire or move from higher grades 48 teachers, Chief Human Resource Officer Scott Rhodes said last month. Hiring the additional personnel would cost an estimated $2.5 million. The system would also have to buy 21 mobile units to create additional elementary classrooms at a cost of about $966,000.

The system would either have to ask the county for more money or make adjustments internally. Options include eliminating art, physical education, music and other electives in elementary grades, cutting electives in middle and high schools, and increasing class sizes in grades four through 12.

House Bill 13 would lessen the impact by upping maximum class sizes to 24 students for kindergarten, 22 for first grade and 23 for second and third grade. It would reduce the number of new K-3 teachers Henderson County would have to hire in 2017-18 from 48 to 11.

Many studies have shown benefits of lower student/teacher ratios (smaller class sizes) for younger students. Yet school systems generally have balked at reducing class sizes at the lower grade levels, which is why the General Assembly decided last year to impose the mandate, McGrady said. But the mandate came at a cost.

“Local governments, they don’t print money,” said McGrady, who serves as co-chairman on the House Appropriations Committee. “If they don’t have a huge surplus, which they don’t normally have, they’re looking to have to cut something to fill the requirements of the budget law.”

N.C. Rep. Cody Henson, R-Brevard, co-sponsored House Bill 13. N.C. Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Hendersonville, says he remains committed to reducing class sizes in primary grades, and adds “there is a high level of interest in the Senate to develop a solution.”

With school systems getting ready to prepare budgets, lawmakers statewide should follow the lead of our responsive local legislators.

Online: https://www.blueridgenow.com/


Feb. 7

The News & Observer of Raleigh on HB2:

What’s next? HB2 will be found to draw locusts?

Now comes word that the NCAA, which oversees colleges’ athletics’ championships at all levels, may pull any championships from North Carolina through 2022, absent a full repeal of HB2, the ridiculous and destructive law passed in response to a Charlotte City Council ordinance allowing transgender people to use public bathrooms of the gender with which they identify.

Action must be taken soon, as the NCAA schedules events years ahead of time and the deadline is nearing.

Republicans in the General Assembly overturned that Charlotte ordinance and for good measure, in HB2 also prohibited local governments from passing anti-discrimination laws to protect those in the LGBT community.

Concerts and conferences and NCAA championships and ACC championships in this academic year have been lost, along with the NBA All-Star Game that had been slated for Charlotte. Some candidates for jobs in the UNC system apparently have declined owing to the black eye North Carolina’s gotten over this legislative catastrophe.

Most of the lost events and sports championships happen in cities, and the urban-rural divide has been widened by the politics of HB2.

Gov. Roy Cooper wants the law repealed, and even had a role in getting Charlotte to rescind the ordinance that prompted HB2. But Republican leaders on Jones Street couldn’t get their caucus together, and now the forecast for action to do away with HB2 is not promising.

Republicans are continuing to claim HB2 is needed to protect women and children from being assaulted by people of the opposite sex coming into their bathrooms. But transgender people have been using the bathrooms of the gender they identify with for decades, with little if any trouble.

HB2 was little more than an opportunistic move from Republicans to bash Charlotte a little, to bring the big city into line. They apparently failed to anticipate the consequences, which to be fair were unforeseen by many others.

But HB2 came to symbolize, to those outside the state, a discriminatory, backward, angry action out of step with attempts by organizations and institutions to be more welcoming to and more understanding of people who represent diversity of all kinds.

North Carolina’s GOP leaders have harmed the state’s image, and repealing HB2 is only going to be the first step in rebuilding it. Good grief - some other states have declined to support travel to North Carolina by public employees, and some universities have taken that same step.

HB2 was a bad idea that has gotten worse and worse, but the NCAA’s apparent flirtation with cancelling many more events (word of this came in a letter to state legislators from the N.C. Sports Association and Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance) could likely lead to even more lost events and jobs. What will it take for Republican leaders to stop the bleeding?

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com/

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