- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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April 29:

The Asheville Citizen-Times on state voter-ID law:

A federal judge has upheld North Carolina’s draconian voter-ID law. Plaintiffs will have to hope higher courts think differently.

The law, passed in 2013 after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, requires voters to show one of eight forms of photo ID. The law also eliminated same-day voter registration and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds; cut back days of early voting by a week; and barred counting ballots cast outside voters’ home precincts.

Legislators insisted IDs were needed to stop people from impersonating voters at the polling places. There is no evidence that ever has happened, but this inconvenient fact didn’t deter the General Assembly. What also is inconvenient is the series of hoops more than 200,000 North Carolinians must jump through to get an acceptable ID.

If you never drove, never served in the military, do not hold a passport, do not have a valid ID from another state and are not a member of a recognized Native American group, your only recourse is an ID card issued by the Division of Motor Vehicles.

To establish your identity you need to show two documents among a valid ID (whatever that is), a passport (if you have one you don’t need a DMV card) or a birth certificate. Many older people do not have birth certificates and most women have a different surname than the one under which they were born.

You also have to prove your Social Security number and your North Carolina residency. Many older people never had Social Security numbers and the homeless can’t prove residency.

Consider the case of Ethelene Douglas, an 85-year-old African-American woman from Laurinburg. It took two years, four trips to the DMV, two trips to South Carolina (where Douglas was born) and $86 in government documents to obtain an ID. Many people would have simply given up but Douglas and her niece, Clara Quick, were determined.

None of this is a problem, according to Judge Thomas Schroeder. “North Carolina has provided legitimate state interests for its voter ID requirement and electoral system,” he wrote, ignoring both the lack of evidence there is a problem and the difficulty in getting a voter ID.

Schroeder also claimed that discrimination against African-American voters was a thing of the past. “(F)or the last quarter century, there is little official discrimination to consider,” he wrote. That’s about as provable as the claims of voter fraud.

Schroeder noted that turnout was high for the March primaries. That, however, can be attributed to high-profile presidential primaries and aggressive get-out-the-vote efforts. Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy NC, said the record of ID enforcement seemed to have been spotty.

Poll workers often appeared untrained or overworked, and some voters reported they weren’t allowed to cast provisional ballots, Hall said. “All the problems from this primary will be far worse in the general election,” he said in a news release.

As soon as the ruling was announced, two groups announced they would appeal. “We all know that these measures made it harder for all North Carolinians to vote and in particular African-Americans and low-income North Carolinians,” said Chris Brook, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina.

“This is just one step in a legal battle that is going to continue in the courts,” said Penda Hair, an attorney representing the NAACP.

It shouldn’t have to be that way, but those who believe all of those eligible should be able to vote have no choice as long as the General Assembly seeks to restrict the franchise.

Online:

http://www.citizen-times.com/

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May 1

The News & Record of Greensboro on House Bill 2:

The notion of turning House Bill 2 into a proposed amendment to the North Carolina Constitution is certainly novel. No other state includes in its fundamental law a directive on what public bathrooms people must use.

Some of the state senators who helped ram HB 2 through a one-day special session March 23 now think they might let the people vote on it. What part or parts of it? HB 2 is a five-page bill that contains several sweeping measures. That much language can’t be put on a single ballot question. So, if legislators are serious about letting voters decide, they’ll break it down.

Let’s note, however, that the legislature just last year refused to let the people of Greensboro vote on a new City Council election plan concocted in Raleigh, so its commitment to the referendum process is quite selective.

But in this case, a referendum on HB 2 might include questions like these:

Should cities be allowed to require employers to pay a minimum wage higher than the state level?

Should cities be allowed to enact ordinances that protect residents and visitors from all forms of discrimination?

Should North Carolina residents be allowed to file discrimination claims in state courts?

If voters affirmed, those measures would make worthy additions to the state constitution.

Legislators probably don’t have in mind putting those parts of HB 2 to a vote of the people.

The only part of the new law they might want to test in a vote is the bathroom portion: Should public agencies require people to use bathrooms that correspond to their biological sex as defined by what’s stated on their birth certificates?

Since hastily signing HB 2 the night of March 23, Gov. Pat McCrory has responded to criticism by insisting “these complex issues deserve real dialogue about common-sense solutions.”

He should have taken time for dialogue before he picked up his pen. Would he listen to other voices during a referendum campaign? To the many business leaders calling for HB 2’s repeal? To the professional and collegiate sports associations that won’t hold major events in North Carolina? To the chambers of commerce that warn of losses totaling millions of dollars?

Would he listen to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which says HB 2 harms transgender young people? Or other medical groups, including those that point out the fact that in some people birth gender is ambiguous?

These complex issues were dealt with in the crudest, most thoughtless manner possible by our legislature and governor. And now, in a transparent attempt to deflect political pressure, some of the same legislators think it’s a good idea to ask the voters to affirm their crude and thoughtless action.

If that happens, the new amendment could be placed right next to the last one added to our constitution: “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.”

Online:

http://www.greensboro.com/

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April 27

The Winston-Salem Journal on the Land and Water Conservation Fund:

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican from Winston-Salem, deserves a big nod for his role in passing legislation that will help preserve clean land and water in North Carolina and the rest of the nation.

Burr was instrumental in the U.S. Senate’s permanent re-authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Journal’s Bertrand M. Gutiérrez reported Friday. The proposal passed 85-12 as part of the Energy Policy Modernization Act, a bipartisan bill that also includes increased investments in renewable energy. Next the bill goes to the U.S. House, where we hope it’ll be passed quickly.

The conservation fund pools money derived from offshore energy royalties and puts it to use protecting the environment throughout the United States. The projects funded are designed to “safeguard natural areas, water resources and our cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans,” according to the fund’s website. Its passage was supported by more than 1,000 conservation organizations from every state.

Burr “played a crucial leadership role in securing this victory,” Reid Wilson, the executive director of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, told the Journal. While promoting the bill last November, Burr said, “I support a full re-authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has been a successful conservation program for the last 50 years, and has helped preserve the Blue Ridge Parkway, Pisgah Forest and the Great Dismal Swamp in North Carolina.”

The fund uses no taxpayer money, but is paid for by oil and gas companies that extract publicly-owned resources from the Outer Continental Shelf. About $216 million has come to North Carolina from the fund over five decades, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition, and we should receive about $2.3 million this year.

Of course, that’s not enough to cover all of our conservation needs, but combined with efforts from groups like the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, it’s a step in the right direction.

We appreciate Burr’s efforts to make permanent a program that will benefit our state and help save our resources for future generations.

Online:

http://www.journalnow.com/

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