- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


July 18

Asheville Citizen-Times on sick leave for food-service workers:

It seems self-evident that people with contagious illnesses should not be preparing or serving food. Unfortunately, they often are forced to choose between endangering public health or going without essentials.

Food-service jobs include seven of the 10 lowest-paying jobs in the Asheville area, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And paid time off for illness is virtually unknown.

The federal Centers for Disease Control says one in five food-service workers have reported working at least once while sick with vomiting or diarrhea. Some say they can’t afford to stay home. Others don’t want to leave fellow workers short-handed.

Another CDC statistic is that 48 million people contract food-borne illnesses each year. The vast majority of these infections do not occur in restaurants, and many of those that do are caused by contaminated ingredients and not worker illness. Nevertheless, CDC says the leading cause of norovirus attacks is contamination from food-preparation workers.

“The economic ramifications and consequences of being ill for a restaurant worker are very real, which is why you have a lot of sick restaurant workers going to work,” said Alia Todd, a co-founder and spokeswoman for the Asheville Sustainable Restaurant Workforce.

Some employers offer sick leave. Katie Button, co-owner of Cúrate and Nightbell restaurants in downtown Asheville, offers paid time off to hourly employees, time which can be used for vacations or sick days. She believes her policy puts her at an advantage in a swiftly growing city with a labor pool that never quite seems to keep pace with demand.

Maybe so, but few others have followed her lead. Nationally, only 10 percent of food-service workers have sick leave and that includes areas where it is required, which means the Asheville totals would be lower.

In North Carolina, 39 percent, or 1.2 million, private-sector workers are not entitled to paid sick leave, according to proposed sick-leave legislation. Low-income workers are significantly less likely to have earned paid sick days, with 60 percent of those making less than $20,000 a year unable to take a paid sick day.

North Carolina does not require sick leave and it has forbidden local governments from doing so. The state does require that food workers be taught about health issues and Buncombe County has a sample employee health policy. But that policy says the employee may be fired for showing up ill. That’s not very helpful for someone who can’t pay the bills without working.

State Sen. Terry Van Duyn, an Asheville Democrat, wants to change that. The Healthy Families and Healthy Workplaces Act, of which she was a sponsor and which was cited above, would have mandated one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, to a cap of 32 hours a year for small businesses and 56 hours for larger ones.

In addition to the employee’s own illness, the bill provides paid leave to care for a family member or to address the effects on the employee or a family member of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

The bill went to the Senate Rules Committee, where it died. “As soon as we get back to session, if I am fortunate enough to be re-elected, I will introduce this bill again and try to get some popular support around it to maybe change hearts in the legislature,” Van Duyn said.

It is hard to grasp why any legislator would be opposed. No one should be forced to work while ill, endangering the health of co-workers. This is especially true when the worker prepares or serves food, which mean the public is at peril.




July 17

The News & Record of Greensboro on a property rights bill:

A bill enacted last week gives a tough assignment to the Department of Transportation. It’s supposed to recommend “a process that equitably balances the interest of the State in protecting proposed transportation corridors from development, the property rights of affected landowners, and the taxpayers of the State.”

This is meant to surmount a conflict between a state interest and private property rights. The balance changed in landowners’ favor with a unanimous ruling by the N.C. Supreme Court June 10, and the state is trying to recover.

The state builds roads. It knows far ahead of time where it plans to build them and what land it will need. It wants to pay as little as possible for it.

That’s all good. Roads serve an obvious public purpose, and the taxpayers should be protected from unnecessary spending.

But the people who own the property in question have rights. At the very least, they’re entitled to fair compensation.

For nearly 30 years, the state used a process outlined in a 1987 law called the Roadway Corridor Official Map Act. It identified land it planned to acquire through its power of eminent domain and put restrictions on what owners could do with their property in the meantime. This prevented those owners from realizing the development potential of their property, sometimes for decades. Some sued.

The plaintiffs in Kirby v. DOT own land within the corridor of the Northern Beltway around Winston-Salem. Property owners in or near the route of the Greensboro Urban Loop also have sought legal protection, claiming economic harm from that project.

In an opinion written by Justice Paul Newby, the court ruled that the Map Act allows a taking of property from the time restrictions are put on its use rather than from the date it’s purchased. It also asserted that protection of private property is one of the fundamental responsibilities of government. “The provisions of the Map Act that allow landowners relief from the statutory scheme are inadequate to safeguard their constitutionally protected property rights,” it said.

The law enacted last week might repeat the mistake: It limits the interest rate landowners can be paid when their property is designated for acquisition.

A landowner who goes to court to claim compensation is entitled to interest “from the date of taking to the date of judgment” at the prime lending rate set by the Federal Reserve - currently about 3.5 percent - but no more than 8 percent, the new law says. Yet, someone whose land was taken before the new law took effect would be awarded interest at the previous rate of 8 percent that applied across the board.

The provision was meant to save the state money, Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) told the News & Record’s Taft Wireback.

No doubt. But the court’s ruling last month shifted the balance of interests: It said constitutionally protected property rights are more important.

Landowners may deserve compensation plus interest higher than the prime rate. The state hasn’t gotten it right yet.




July 20

The Daily Reflector of Greenville on the state’s new law excluding police camera recordings from the public record:

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper got it right when he said last week that the state’s new law excluding police camera recordings from the public record goes too far. It’s literally out of sight.

The law takes with it the public’s right to know what and how law enforcement officers do to protect people and respect their constitutional rights in the process. In so doing, Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican majority General Assembly did more harm than good.

Talk about bad timing. At a time when communities across the nation are being rocked by incidences of police-civilian shootings - in both directions - a law that prevents or hinders full disclosure does nothing to build needed and wanted bonds of trust between people and the officers dedicated to protect and serve them.

The governor once again used his cliché description for any controversial position he takes: Common sense.

“The bill is a common sense approach and balance between respecting the rights of our police officers while also balancing the need for the public to know,” McCrory said after signing the law, which takes effect Oct. 1.

There is nothing common about the sense of this bill. The law puts North Carolina among about a half dozen states that specifically exclude body and dash cam recordings from open records laws.

Nor does it balance with the public’s need to know. Only a person shown in a video may ask to view the recording, but may not copy it. Law enforcement agencies can deny such requests, citing concerns about safety, reputation or an ongoing investigation. Then it would be up to a judge.

“It looks to me like it’s a lot more difficult with this legislation to make a video public,” Cooper said.

Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman also expressed concerns following McCrory’s action.

“What it requires the chief to do is get a court order from a superior court judge and all that stuff takes time, so in that respect I believe it severely restricts me, as a chief of police, to hit that level of trust and transparency that I need with the community and especially in a timely manner,” Holtzman says.

One positive contribution of the law stipulates that police-generated videos are not considered personnel records. That essentially would have put them permanently out of public reach.

Cooper was right when he said this is a complicated issue. Justice is every person’s right at the end of the day.

Every conversation about police body and dashboard cameras should begin with the shared assumption that the more the public can see and the sooner it can be seen, the better for all concerned. By establishing that police video is not public record, this law starts the conversation at the other extreme.



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