- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

May 3

News & Record, Greensboro, North Carolina on fixing immigration:

Republican Congressman Robert Pittenger from Charlotte takes a careful, conservative and reasonable position on illegal immigration. First, secure our borders, the freshman 9th District representative says. After that, however, he says it’s necessary to bring millions of illegal immigrants out of the shadows:

“Undocumented workers who desire to stay in the United States should be offered the opportunity to register with local authorities, providing fingerprints or other physical identification in exchange for some sort of work permit or legal status, but not citizenship.”

For statements like that, Pittenger has been attacked by his Republican primary opponent and targeted for defeat by an anti-immigration group that says he favors “amnesty.”

Second District Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers is in the same position as Pittenger. Her primary opponent says immigration is the biggest obstacle to economic growth and prosperity. Ellmers, too, supports “amnesty,” he says.

That’s not true for either Pittenger or Ellmers, but the word sticks in the ears of many Republican voters as a title of surrender to unauthorized, uninvited newcomers who take American jobs and use American services and maybe even cast illegal votes in American elections.

These prejudices explain why the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives won’t touch an immigration-reform bill, especially in an election year. Pittenger and Ellmers are two of the few who are brave and honest enough to really address the central issue.

It isn’t that borders should be made secure or that people caught entering the country illegally should be sent straight back where they came from. Most people support strong border enforcement, and those kinds of deportations are happening in impressive numbers.

The harder question is what to do about the 10 million or more people who already live in this country without legal status. Many have U.S.-born children, who are therefore American citizens, and many have jobs, pay taxes and lead decent lives - although often in fear.

Pittenger, Ellmers and others recognize this issue and are willing to address it. So is President Barack Obama; so was President George W. Bush.

The Senate passed a bipartisan bill last year that toughens enforcement of immigration laws but also provides a smoother path to long-term legal status for people who meet certain standards. The Republican majority in the House objects, preferring to ignore the problem of the millions living here without legal status. Many of these Republicans hope - seriously - that those millions just go away.

This position will be strengthened if Republicans like Pittenger and Ellmers lose their primaries to challengers who refuse to consider the question or who label attempts to find reasonable solutions as “amnesty.”

There are people who promote amnesty as one way to move forward. President Jimmy Carter chose that path to resolve the status of Vietnam War-era draft evaders. There were critics, but the action helped the country heal old wounds.

Leaders today have to decide what’s the best way to resolve the status of the 10 million. It seems to be a reasonable idea that some of them - if they’ve lived lawfully since entering the country and are willing to pay a penalty and follow a new set of rules - should be granted legal status.

Agree or not, it makes no sense to vilify representatives for expressing that sensible idea.




May 4

Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal on Bowman Gray Stadium:

Local officials were confident last summer that the sale of city-owned Bowman Gray Stadium to Winston-Salem State University was imminent, or at least would be completed by the end of the year.

Now, nine months later, the sale is supposedly imminent once again. We hope that’s true, but to say that the wheels of state government turn slowly is being overly generous. We’re not sure they’re turning at all. The N.C. House approved the sale of the stadium on July 25, 2013.

The holdup seems to be with the State Property Office, which has to make the city an offer for the stadium since it will become state property as part of WSSU. But before it can make an offer, it must get the approval of the Council of State, whose members include Gov. Pat McCrory, Lieutenant Gov. Dan Forest and various other state officials involved in state land transactions.

Why this has been held up this long is anyone’s guess. Officials with the State Property Office are as vague as they are slow.

“The State Property Office is working with their attorneys on developing an option agreement,” Christopher Mears, public information officer for the State Property Office, told the Journal’s Wesley Young. Mears would not say when that agreement might be completed. Winston-Salem City Manager Lee Garrity told the Journal that WSSU officials informed him that an offer from the state is going to be made “very shortly.”

The state is likely not stalling for the purposes of negotiation. The city has said it’s only looking for enough money to pay off the stadium debt, estimated about $6.5 million. According to Garrity, the stadium has an appraised value of about $9 million.

So why is the delay troubling? For one, the racing season started at Bowman Gray several days ago. Because the sale was still incomplete, the city had to contract with WSSU to handle parking, security and cleanup, among other tasks. WSSU then hired Bucky Dame, who managed the stadium, as well as Joel Coliseum, before the city sold the coliseum to Wake Forest University.

So, presumably, taxpayers are paying for WSSU to run the stadium that the city agreed to sell them almost a year ago. Also, WSSU officials are anxious to use the property around the stadium, once the deal is complete, for parking, which will eliminate their leasing costs and provide them new revenue from fees.

When the wheels of government grind slowly, we all pay for it. It’s time to get this deal done.




May 5

News and Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina, on expanding State Fair ride inspections:

Let’s hope that officials of the state Department of Labor are right, that their inspections of State Fair rides, including the now-infamous Vortex ride that malfunctioned Oct. 24, were perfectly competent.

That’s their contention anyway after the release last week of a report on an accident that injured five people, three of them seriously. People were thrown off the Vortex, which features spinning seats, when the ride suddenly started up again after safety restraints had been released after the ride had stopped.

The department has fined the operator of the ride, Family Attractions Amusement LLC of Valdosta, Georgia, owner Joshua Macaroni and two employees. Macaroni and employee Timothy Tutterow are facing charges of felony assault with a deadly weapon. The fines, $114,200, seem modest considering the injuries. One injured family has sued the ride worker, Macaroni and two midway companies seeking $150 million, mainly in punitive damages.

Obviously, the Labor Department is going to defend its actions, but to say that no changes are planned for inspections at this year’s fair seems foolish in terms of rebuilding public confidence.

It’s true that inspectors did give the Vortex a thorough going-over and that extra inspectors were on hand because the ride was making its first appearance last year. But the inspectors did not check the electrical wiring inside control cabinets and a junction box.

Therein lies the rub, because the Labor Department says that’s where tampering took place. Officials say Macaroni installed a jumper wire to bypass safety controls on the ride so it would work. He’ll presumably answer for what he did and why when the case gets to court.

But for future fairgoers, it’s not comforting that the department says it’s going to do business as usual this year. Nor is it any more reassuring when the Agriculture Department, which runs the State Fair, says it has full confidence in the Labor Department. It would be perfectly legitimate for the agriculture officials to demand more in terms of ride inspections.

One consultant who specializes in safety for fairs and carnivals made an unsettling point. Ken Martin of Richmond, Virginia, said state inspectors simply might not have the expertise on electronics to do those kinds of inspections.

“You’ve got quite a few things to look at,” Martin said. “These North Carolina inspectors don’t have the electrical background and knowledge. I don’t know if North Carolina could afford to pay somebody with that kind of expertise on their staff.”

It sounds like that might well be a worthy investment.

No one would suggest that the Labor Department doesn’t want to do its job or has a disregard for the safety of fairgoers. But this was a serious accident, and when such things occur, those charged with oversight need to consider taking extra steps.

Fairgoers getting on rides this fall deserve the comfort of knowing that the ride has been inspected for proper mechanics and electronics. Perhaps Agriculture and Labor could split the cost of an inspector with expertise in electrical and electronic matters, someone who could train others. There’s no harm in that, and there might be great benefit.



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