- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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September 2

Asheville Citizen-Times on state budget

Watching North Carolina legislators agree on a budget is like watching grass grow.



Still, the grass does grow, and North Carolina eventually will have a budget.

The House of Representatives wanted to spend $22.22 billion during the next two years, while the Senate total was $21.33 billion. The negotiators have compromised at $21.74 billion. They also have agreed in several important areas, closer to the House figure on education and closer to the Senate on health and human services.

That still leaves a lot to be decided, especially regarding the Senate’s insistence on using the budget to make policy decisions. The 41-page document that came out of the House grew to 318 pages when the Senate got to work on it.

The Senate would use the budget to at least partially privatize Medicaid administration, redistribute sales-tax revenue from urban to rural counties and close public access to most police and prison records, among other things.

Last month, Senate negotiators agreed to handle Medicaid and the sales tax in separate bills, but senators are trying to resurrect the sales-tax plan by attaching it to other legislation, according to WSOC-TV in Charlotte.

“Oh, it’s alive,” said Rep. Bill Brawley, a Charlotte Republican. “The Senate has attached it to everything the N.C. House wanted and said it’s an absolute condition.”

Educators won a couple of important battles last weekend, according to The News & Observer of Raleigh, when Senate negotiators agreed to preserve teacher-assistant positions and driver’s education. The Senate had wanted to use teacher-assistant money for additional teachers in the early grades.

“If you want this money for teacher assistants, then let’s put this money toward teacher assistants,” said Sen. Harry Brown, the Senate’s top budget writer. “It’s a constant argument, and I think we’re at the point where we’re ready to . say we’re going to fund them at this level.”

There is a cost, of course. School systems no longer will be able to divert teacher-assistant money for other uses. During the 2014-15 school year, districts transferred $48 million, much of it to hire more classroom teachers.

Also, some new initiatives probably will be delayed. Those include $12 million to add broadband and wireless Internet in school buildings; $1 million to help launch new schools in rural areas; and $4.3 million for bonuses for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate teachers whose students score well on their exams.

“I think we can live without these programs for a while longer,” said Rep. Bryan Holloway, a House education appropriations co-chair.

The N.C. Association of Educators likes the deal. “NCAE clearly supports funding teacher assistants because it gives our students more opportunity for one-on-one attention,” association president Rodney Ellis said in a statement. “If this potential deal moves forward, it will alleviate some of the current fear parents have over the impact cuts would have on students and the tension of educators over the possibility of being on the unemployment line.”

With retention of the driver’s education money, the Senate presumably will drop its provision eliminating the requirement that first-time drivers younger than 18 take driver’s education before they can he licensed.

The most recent extension of the budget deadline, until Sept. 18, would make the budget 80 days late if the Assembly uses all that time. The 2015 document would be the fourth latest in recent memory. The record is 1998, when the budget was 122 days late.

We’re not anxious to set any records, but we do want the budget done right. As long as the grass is growing, we should remain patient.

Online:

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

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September 2

The Fayetteville Observer on minors sending sexually revealing photos

The law is supposed to protect our children from 21st century technology. But its unintended consequences are dangerous.

If we don’t make some changes that reflect reality, too many of our kids are going to graduate from high school with an undeserved felony record.

Despite adults’ eternal complaints about “kids these days,” the fact is, today’s kids aren’t all that different from what the rest of us were like as teenagers. That includes discovering their sex drives. What’s really different is the way they can combine that with the technology in their pockets.

Nearly 40 years ago, rock artist Bob Seger sang about the “night moves … out in the back of my ‘60 Chevy.” Anyone who heard the song knew what it was about.

And the kids who got caught exploring their sexuality, as most eventually do, got grounded, lost the keys to the Chevy or otherwise faced parental wrath.

Today, cellphones often play a role in those explorations - thus “sexting,” emailing sexually revealing photos. As we’re learning this week, sexting can lead to felony charges, even if it’s between consenting teens. Conviction can put a kid’s name on the sex-offender registry for life. Between that and the felony record, his life is over before it began, because in a moment of lust, he shared too much of himself with his girlfriend.

Jack Britt High School’s quarterback, Cormega Zyon Copening, is charged with doing just that. He is suspended from playing, pending resolution of charges filed against him in February, including second-degree and third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. His girlfriend faces fewer but similar charges. Both were 16 last winter, when they were charged. The charges are felonies that can include prison time and requirement to register as a sex offender.

If they had just had sex, instead of exchanging sexually oriented cellphone photos, they would face no charges, save, perhaps, for those imposed by their parents.

The detective who brought the charges wrote in a report that Copening “is a good student and athlete with a supportive family. The photographs were between he and a girlfriend. Recommend release to parents.”

If those photos had been widely distributed, or had been taken by an adult who had no business in a sexual relationship with a child, that’s a matter worthy of the courts. But this was “sexting” between a boyfriend and girlfriend. The penalty could ruin two lives.

The law is supposed to protect our kids, not victimize them. Rewrite it so it does.

Online:

https://www.fayobserver.com/

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August 30

The Gaston Gazette on fraud bill

Dana Bumgardner, who represents Gaston County in the state Legislature, has come up with a good idea, one worthy of lawmakers’ approval.

He wants the North Carolina Senate to join the House in correcting a mistake made two years ago when the General Assembly passed a tax reform package. An oversight, most likely, but one with tragic consequences for some North Caro-linians.

Under changes resulting from the 2013 action, anyone who loses money in a retirement account because of fraud still owes the state withdrawal penalties, interest and taxes.

In other words, if someone steals your retirement money, you pay the penalty.

Just imagine how you would feel.

First, being a responsible person and saving for your golden years, perhaps doing without things you’d like to have had or done.

Then, finding out your savings had been wiped out. Not by your own choice of a bad investment, but by someone with evil intentions.

Fortunately, the situation doesn’t arise often.

Still, says Bumgardner, it happened to a Gaston resident whose 401(k) was raided by a sticky-fingered financial advis-er.

When the local resident turned to Bumgardner for help, the lawmaker turned to the Department of Revenue, seeking answers to his questions about why they would impose the penalties when the money had been stolen.

That’s the kind of customer service citizens should expect from the people they send to Raleigh.

DOR bureaucrats told Bumgardner they had no choice but to follow the law and deal a second punch to the victim who lost his retirement savings.

That set Bumgardner to work on a fix.

Earlier this month, the House approved changes in the 2013 law so that victims of theft from retirement accounts are not responsible for paying the state as if the money had been withdrawn for their own use.

The Senate has yet to act while lawmakers struggle with finalizing a state budget.

If they truly want to be “public servants,” the senators will get to work on passing the House bill that offers relief to North Carolina residents whose retirement accounts are taken by ill-gotten means.

Are you listening, county senators?

Online:

https://www.gastongazette.com/

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