- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

March 31

Charlotte Observer on vital Obamacare goals lie ahead:

On Monday, the Affordable Care Act passed its enrollment deadline. Sign-up numbers eclipsed the Obama administration’s ratcheted down goal of 6 million and came close, media groups say, to meeting the original 7 million target. It’s time to focus on the more important questions:

Will ACA significantly reduce the numbers who are uninsured and make health care affordable and accessible to all Americans? Will it lead to - or provide the foundation for - lower medical costs for individuals, families and businesses? Most importantly, will it lead to improved overall health outcomes and better health services?

Those questions likely won’t be answered for at least two or three years. But ACA can’t be judged a success or failure without them.

For a lot of people, though, the verdict is already in. Polls show from 46 percent to 57 percent opposing the law, depending on the survey.

The disastrous launch last fall of healthcare.gov didn’t help. Technology glitches kept millions sidelined from enrolling for health-care coverage on the federal website. Glitches continued on Monday, putting the website out of commission again. Administration officials said anyone who started the process or tried to get on the website and couldn’t by Monday’s deadline will be granted extra time to enroll.

Obamacare critics, though, should pay attention to what else the polls are saying. Survey respondents say they don’t want to repeal it. Nearly 60 percent in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll said Congress should work to improve the measure or keep it the way it currently stands.

The polls also show public approval of specific parts of the law. A recent Bloomberg poll showed nearly 75 percent approve of allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance up to age 26. More than 66 percent approve of prohibiting insurers from denying health-care coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

The enrollment numbers underscore that many Americans are eager for access to affordable health care coverage.

Much work lies ahead to fulfill ACA’s goal of making affordable, quality health services accessible to all Americans - improvements that will lead to better health outcomes. With the enrollment hoopla over, it’s time for policymakers to focus squarely on that goal.




March 30

Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer on McCrory-Cooper possible battle harming government:

It’s going to be a long and grinding campaign for governor. The election is more than two and a half years away, but the sniping started last year. It’s going to get worse.

Attorney General Roy Cooper hasn’t announced his candidacy yet, but it’s clear he’s gunning for Gov. Pat McCrory. He’s turned out a steady stream of criticism for McCrory, and the governor is returning fire. The early shots came when the governor decided to hire outside lawyers to help the state defend its constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage. Cooper was openly critical of the amendment but said he’d defend it anyway, as his constitutional duty. Given his opposition to the amendment, his defense would appear suspect.

But that’s easy-going stuff in light of the more recent dustup over the Duke Energy coal-ash spill into the Dan River and a federal grand jury investigation.

The feds are probing the relationship between Duke and regulators at the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The utility and its overseers have long been too cozy, since long before McCrory (a longtime Duke employee) took office. But it’s still unclear whether that relationship went beyond legal bounds.

Cooper’s campaign has been critical of McCrory’s handling of the Feb. 2 spill and environmental issues in general, and has urged backers to sign a petition demanding a cleanup of state waters.

McCrory’s chief lawyer says Cooper has politicized the spill and says the attorney general has refused to represent DENR in the federal probe, instead assigning the State Bureau of Investigation to help federal investigators. “By doing so, he chose to create a conflict and has thereby politicized the process,” lawyer Bob Stephens said. “His actions ultimately forced DENR to hire outside counsel, which creates additional expense to the taxpayer.”

Expect the rhetoric to escalate from there.




March 29

Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal on the drone dance:

While we may think of drones first as military weapons, the potential usefulness of the unmanned aircraft for civilian purposes is astounding. That’s why the legislature must spend a little money and get North Carolina prepared to properly regulate them.

The state’s chief information officer has released a 26-page report that foresees the use of drones for the public safety purposes widely discussed before, namely tracking criminal suspects and locating missing persons.

The report also notes many other potential uses of drones, for example, to detect crop damage from disease and insects, to assess storm damage and to inspect bridges, according to the N.C. Insider newsletter. There are also numerous commercial uses, such as assisting in video production.

Before any of these good uses can be implemented, however, the legislature must first set up a regulatory regime for drones and then lift a ban on their use in the state.

Drones must be regulated. We can’t have police or private investigators using flying cameras to spy on us without judicial guidance. We can’t have drones flying willy-nilly over large public events. Legal and safety concerns must be taken into consideration and then accounted for in a workable regulatory code.

Chris Estes, the chief information officer, told a special legislative panel that is studying drone use in the state that an Unmanned Aircraft Systems governance board should be established. It would need an executive officer and a data analyst to start, and operational funds, also. He suggested a $215,000 appropriation in the next state budget.

That sounds like a bargain if drones are able to perform the public safety tasks we envision and if they become a useful tool for other government and commercial undertakings.

Unfortunately, legislators expect little new money to be available when they rewrite the Fiscal 2015 budget in May. But eventually, more state and local government money will be needed to conduct a more comprehensive program, because drones will become a big part of our economy.

Considering the potential of drones, legislators working with a $20-million-plus budget must find $215,000 for the regulation path.



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