- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


May 16

The Asheville Citizen-Times on a bill to make North Carolina’s state universities more affordable:

Tom Apodaca’s ideas about making North Carolina’s state universities more affordable are worth exploring. There is, however, one big question.

Legislation filed by Apodaca, a Republican from Hendersonville who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, would allow state universities to offer a fixed-tuition plan whereby the cost would not rise for eight or 10 semesters. Such a system is in place in Illinois.

The bill also would reduce sharply tuition at five schools, including Western Carolina University. Those five could charge only $500 per semester for in-state students and $2,500 for out-of-state students.

Starting in fall 2018, student fees at all schools would be reduced by 10 percent to 25 percent and they subsequently could be raised by no more than 3 percent per year. The fees - used for athletics, student activities, healthcare, campus security, technology and new buildings - range between $1,500 and $2,400 per student per year.

Three of the five schools subject to tuition caps - Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State and Winston-Salem State - are historically African-American institutions. Apodaca also wants to create up to 100 free-ride scholarships each year for North Carolina A&T; and North Carolina Central, two other historically African-American schools.

The bill cites some sobering statistics. “The total cost of undergraduate tuition and fees for in-state students in the University of North Carolina system has increased by 72 percent in the last 10 years . the average debt of North Carolina students who graduate with debt from a public four-year institution is $23,440, up 52 percent since 2007-2008.

“While the median earnings for those in North Carolina with a bachelor’s degree is approximately $40,000, many college graduates still find they must use funds for the repayment of high-cost educational debt that ordinarily could be set aside for family and home expenses and achieving a higher quality of life.”

In a statement put out by Senate leader Phil Berger’s office, Apodaca cited these impacts. “That’s why we are committed to making college more accessible and affordable, strengthening our universities to make them more competitive and encouraging our students to complete their degrees in four years,” Apodaca said.

OK. But how can universities saddled with rising costs and lagging state revenue absorb these cuts? The university system is getting $100 million less in state funding than before the Great Recession. The bill appropriates $3.2 million for the scholarships but is otherwise silent on funding.

Change.org cites the impact of the plan on traditionally African-American schools. “While this may sound like a great idea at first glance, a university simply cannot function on a tuition this inadequate,” said a petition to Apodaca from the group.

“Instead of trying to take away from these universities that already get a lower funding, and minimum support from the state, we should be offering more, especially when one of these universities (Winston-Salem State) is extremely high ranking in health sciences.”

One curious provision in the Apodaca bill has nothing to do with college costs. It instructs the university system’s Board of Governors to review all public universities with an eye toward making some name changes. At first glance, this sounds like a solution in search of a problem.

University communities do not take kindly to changes in their tradition for no discernible reason. A proposal floated by Republican leaders in February outraged the chancellor of Fayetteville State, one of four schools that might have had to change their names. The Apodaca bill does not specify any specific schools.

The concept of the Apodaca bill is good, but we keep thinking of a famous line from the film “Jerry Maguire.”

Show me the money.




May 16

The Herald-Sun of Durham on opioid abuse:

While the nation’s attention vacillates between Donald Trump and bathroom stalls, thousands of people are dying from overdosing on drugs prescribed to them by their doctors. And North Carolina is an epicenter of the epidemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that nearly 29,000 Americans died from abusing opioids, which include prescription painkillers and heroin, in 2014. The death rate from opioid abuse tripled from 2000 to 2014. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.

North Carolina has felt the pain about as intensely as any state, with more than 1,300 dying of overdoses in 2014 alone. A report that year from the N.C. Program Evaluation Division, the legislature’s research arm, found death rates were higher in places where doctors wrote the most prescriptions for opioid drugs, and experts say growing addiction is driving the trend. A CDC study found that only about 15 percent of those most likely to overdose bought their opioids from a drug dealer.

North Carolina’s rate of fatal drug overdoses has spiked 75 percent since 2002. “This is now an unequivocal public health crisis,” Dr. Scott Kirby, chief medical officer for the N.C. Medical Board, told the Observer’s Fred Clasen-Kelly.

The U.S. House passed more than a dozen bills aimed at slowing the crisis. While they include helpful provisions, it appears they do not include the funding required to dramatically fight the problem.

In North Carolina, the Senate is expected to consider a bill to make overdose reversal drugs more easily available to the public. More naloxone hydrochloride could cut fatal overdoses in half, state health director Randall Williams said.

That’s a fine move but, as Williams said, it merely treats the symptom. In North Carolina and nationally, public campaigns need to make doctors and patients alike more aware of opioid painkillers’ danger so they are not overprescribed.

Doctors also must better use technology to ensure patients are not shopping around to stockpile painkillers. Doctors can use a database known as the Controlled Substance Reporting System to check on all narcotics that have been issued to a patient. Meanwhile, the N.C. Medical Board needs to follow through with its promise to elevate this issue as a priority, in part by more closely monitoring doctors who prescribe the most opioids and whose patients overdose.

More people die of drug overdose than in car accidents. It’s past time we lent the problem similar attention.




May 14

The Winston-Salem Journal on the firing and subsequent legal battle regarding regarding three Mocksville police officers:

Four million, one-hundred thousand dollars. That figure speaks loud and clear for three former Mocksville police officers who were silenced and fired just after Christmas 2011 for blowing the whistle on what they saw as corruption on the part of their police chief. The money, awarded Wednesday by a federal court jury, should be the start of some serious and public soul searching on the part of the state and local officials who failed to rightly act on the officers’ allegations.

The jury in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem, at the end of an eight-day trial, awarded the money in damages to Maj. Ken Hunter, Lt. Rick Donathan and Detective Jerry Medlin. The officers had brought suit against now-retired Mocksville Police Chief Robert Cook, Town Manager Christine Bralley and the town of Mocksville. The officers contended that Cook and Bralley fired them because they reported their allegations against the chief to the state attorney general’s office and the governor’s office, the latter of which referred the matter to the SBI, then under the AG’s office.

Cook and Bralley denied the allegations, and denied that the officers were fired for reporting their allegations. They maintained that they fired them for poor job performance, the Journal’s Michael Hewlett reported.

But the jury obviously believed the officers, who, with attorneys Robert and Michael Elliot, noted that their firings came two weeks after they called the state officials. The officers testified that Cook drank excessively while on duty and, along with another officer, mismanaged department money. They said he was not a certified law-enforcement officer (how he became chief is another big question) but behaved as if he was, conducting traffic stops. They told the jury that Cook ignored misconduct on the part of other officers, misconduct that included coming to work intoxicated, stealing property from the supply closet and ramming a police car into another car.

The officers had courageously and righteously called the state officials. But the SBI did little. “Chief” Cook worked on until May 2013, when he retired. Meanwhile, the officers he fired unjustly were unable to find other jobs.

They want their jobs back. Bralley should strongly consider that.

She generally does a good job as town manager. But she failed these officers, as did Attorney General Roy Cooper. Cooper, a Democrat who is running for governor, owes these officers, and the rest of the public, a full accounting of why their allegations weren’t fully investigated. Noelle Talley, the spokeswoman for Cooper, told the Journal editorial board in an email that, since the legislature moved the SBI from the Department of Justice in 2014, his office “would not have access to any SBI records about this matter … We here in the AG’s office are not familiar with this matter and do not know how the SBI handled it.”

Cooper should find out what happened, and quickly. In 2011, when these officers turned to his office for help, the SBI was still under Cooper.

Cooper and Bralley owe the public a full accounting.



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