- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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September 4

Greensboro (North Carolina) News-Record on state compensation for people who were wrongfully imprisoned:

North Carolina law allows compensation for people who were wrongfully imprisoned and later pardoned. They can be paid $50,000 for every year they spent behind bars, to a maximum of $750,000.

Wednesday, the state agreed to pay that amount to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, who spent 30 years in prison for wrongful murder convictions.

Compensation is fair. Time spent in prison is time not spent earning money, providing for a family or saving for the future. If the state has taken that time through a miscarriage of justice, it owes repayment.

What happens, however, if the wrongfully imprisoned person dies before receiving a pardon? In that case, the law makes no provision for compensation.

That’s a second injustice, because the prisoner’s family suffered with him and was equally deprived of the financial contributions he could have made to the welfare of spouse, children or aging parents.

The N.C. Court of Appeals last month ruled against the estates of Jerry Jacobs, Anne Shepard, Connie Tindall and Joe Wright, four of the Wilmington Ten who were convicted in connection with rioting over school desegregation in the Port City in 1971.

Their convictions were overturned in 1980, in part because of prosecutorial misconduct during their trials. In 2012, then-Gov. Bev Perdue granted pardons of innocence to all 10, including four who were no longer living.

Following North Carolina law, six applied to the state’s Industrial Commission and were granted compensation. The estates of Jacobs, Shepard, Tindall and Wright were denied. The families appealed. In a unanimous ruling written by Judge Lucy Inman, the court affirmed the commission’s decision.

Inman cited the “plain and unambiguous” language of the law. It says “any person” who is convicted of a felony, imprisoned and receives a pardon of innocence may “present by petition a claim against the State for the pecuniary loss sustained by the person through his or her erroneous conviction and imprisonment.”

The court found no room in that wording to believe the legislature meant to allow survivors to petition for compensation on behalf of a deceased prisoner.

The court didn’t rule heartlessly: “We acknowledge plaintiffs’ assertion that ‘when an innocent person has had his or her liberty and a portion of his or her life wrongfully taken … that harm lives on after death - especially in the lives of affected loved ones,’ ” Inman wrote. But it’s not in the court’s power to make it right. “These policy considerations are more appropriately raised with the legislative branch,” she concluded.

They should be. The legislature should amend the law to allow survivors to petition for compensation if the wrongly imprisoned person has died.

As it’s written now, the law could lead a governor to delay granting a pardon until after an elderly prisoner dies just to avoid expending state funds.

The Wilmington Ten case illustrates the disparity the law allows. The 10 defendants suffered the same injustice but only six were compensated. The legislature should act to correct the discrepancy.

Online:

https://www.greensboro.com

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September 9

The Daily News, Jacksonville, North Carolina on state’s presidential primaries:

Sometimes change simply can’t be avoided. Sometimes change is made simply for the sake of change. Most often, change can be a pain.

But there are times when change makes sense; and a proposal by state lawmakers to move the presidential primaries to March 15 is in that category. In an even bigger outburst of common sense, lawmakers are looking at the possibility of shifting the primary date for all races in the state to March for 2016.

North Carolina voters historically go to the polls in May to cast ballots in primary elections. We’ve done it for years; but over the past couple of decades this late primary vote has eliminated North Carolina voters from having much say in the nominating primaries for president.

That led to low voter interest in our primary, and low presidential-candidate interest in North Carolina.

A few months ago members of the N.C. General Assembly batted around the idea of moving the presidential primary date up. In recent weeks, it appears the state has settled on a March 15 presidential primary vote, which should give state residents a chance to take an up-close look at the Democratic and Republican contenders as they stump through this region.

Until last week, legislation moving the presidential primary didn’t include any other races. In other words, after going through the expense of a March primary, the state would have to do it all over again in May for a huge slate of races including governor, state House and Senate, U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and several local boards. That second primary would be on May 3.

Seems like hardly an optimum situation. Even with a presidential primary attached, May polling over the past years has often seen a sparse turnout. Without it, only a small and unrepresentative sampling of registered voters would likely show up.

Last week, legislators began talking about moving the entire state and local primary to March. That would save taxpayers millions of dollars. Last year’s November election cost about $9.5 million, with most of the expense covered by taxpayers in counties across the state.

The statewide races alone should ensure that things heat up as spring arrives. Putting all those races on the March ballot would raise public interest and likely lead to a much-improved turnout at the polls. Saving the expense of two primaries would be a bonus.

There is a possible down side however: The filing period for candidates would have to be moved as it is now scheduled to open on Feb. 8, 2016.

An earlier start might produce longer campaigns. But that’s an acceptable tradeoff for higher interest, bigger turnout and reduced expense.

We hope the General Assembly makes this move, and makes it soon. Candidates need all the lead time they can get in planning their campaigns.

The change might do everyone some good.

Online:

https://www.jdnews.com

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August 30

The News & Observer of Raleigh (North Carolina) on Race to the Top grant in state:

In 2010, North Carolina won a significant $400 million federal grant to improve public education. Five years later, indications are the grant, with one exception, worked well.

The state’s high school graduation rate has increased by more than 9 points, and the gap between white and minority students earning diplomas narrowed by half, from 14 percentage points to 7. In this “Race to the Top” effort, good numbers crossed the finish line.

The state now must continue its efforts.

What happened? The money was used to expand digital connections, get better training for teachers and principals, improve low-wealth schools. The state was one of 12 that got federal grants.

Overall student performance has declined, and that’s not good. Another problem is that a plan using financial incentives to lure teachers to low-wealth schools didn’t work, perhaps not surprising in that, despite bonus offerings, it’s tough to get teachers to go to such schools knowing what they’re up against, particularly when the state legislature isn’t showing much support for teachers.

Still, this was a grant put to good use. North Carolina has shown federal officials it can succeed when given an extra opportunity.

Online:

https://www.newsobserver.com

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