- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


April 9

The Asheville Citizen-Times on raising the age threshold for the adult criminal justice system:

North Carolina is moving to stop putting all 16- and 17-year-olds in the adult criminal justice system. Good.

While many states provide adult trials for younger defendants accused of heinous crimes, only North Carolina and New York automatically treat everyone 16 or older as an adult. There were 89 inmates in the North Carolina prison system under the age of 18 as of last July; 14 were 16 years old and 75 were 17 years old.

New York has a bill that would modify its law, though in many cases maintaining the presumption of an adult trial for felonies. North Carolina has a better idea.

The Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, as House Bill 380 is entitled, would try 16- and 17-year-olds as juveniles unless the charge is a serious felony. There is an option for adult trials for less serious felonies.

The bill takes two other steps to address juvenile crime. It sets up “school-justice partnerships with local law enforcement agencies, local boards of education, and local school administrative units with the goal of reducing in-school arrests, out-of-school suspensions, and expulsions” and mandates juvenile-justice training for law-enforcement officers.

The bill’s chances are quite solid, as 64 of the 120 representatives have signed on. Republican Chuck McGrady of Henderson County is a primary sponsor, while other sponsors include Buncombe County’s three Democrats (John Ager, Susan Fisher and Brian Turner), Republican Mike Clampitt of Swain County and Republican Kevin Corbin of Macon County.

Almost everyone understands that it makes no sense to automatically put 16-year-olds into adult court. That includes law-enforcement officers and prosecutors as well as advocates outside the system.

“Evidence shows that the juvenile system - with programs tailored to how children think and learn - is more effective at rehabilitating youth,” according to the Youth Justice Project. “Fewer then go on to commit another crime, which means lower costs to society and more children growing up to become educated, employed citizens.”

Buncombe District Attorney Todd Williams had strong words when the effort was getting organized locally. “The evidence is overwhelming that this would be a sound fiscal decision. It will maintain an open door of opportunity for many juveniles who have made a mistake at a young age and will have to carry the burden of a criminal conviction throughout their life.

“The evidence has shown that recidivism is reduced with raising the age and it will ultimately make North Carolina a safer state.”

If it is numbers you want, here are a few: Data show a 7.5 percent decrease in recidivism when teens are adjudicated in the juvenile system. Further, when youthful offenders are prosecuted in the adult system, they recidivate at a rate that is 12.6 percent higher than the overall population.

Corrections officials also recognize the problem. “The right thing is to ensure we are addressing the needs of young people in a proper way,” said W. David Guice, commissioner of the state Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice.

“While we have done some great work in a lot of ways we have been somewhat restricted from doing many good things because of the way the current statue is written,” he said. In other words, enlightened penal policies can do only so much when the law is arbitrary.

HB 380 would allow the system to treat youthful offenders as individuals. Some are accused of crimes so heinous that the decision must be made in an adult court, but most have not. They deserve the chance to put their errors behind them without a criminal record that will follow them all the days of their lives.




April 11

The News & Record of Greensboro on tax cuts:

Republicans believe tax cuts produce prosperity, but can there be too much of a good thing? North Carolina may find out soon.

The state Senate approved what Republicans call a billion-dollar middle-class tax cut last week, continuing a years-long effort to whittle income taxes to historically low rates.

The fact that this round of cuts is billed as benefiting the middle class makes it stand out from previous tax changes that primarily helped the wealthy and corporations. But this one hardly excludes them. It slices the corporate income tax rate from 3 percent to 2.75 percent and reduces the personal income tax rate from nearly 5.5 percent to 5.35 percent. This will return the most money, again, to top earners, not to the middle class.

Still, the idea that everyone will share this time is appealing. But at what cost to state and local governments?

State tax policy doesn’t happen in a vacuum. President Donald Trump also promises large tax cuts, and he’s proposed massive reductions in federal spending that could force states to fill in the gaps. Cuts in federal grants for housing, education, health care, environmental enforcement, even disaster relief will place more burdens on state governments. If the state lacks the money, it will pass more costs to local governments.

There are already needs that North Carolina has neglected since the Great Recession. It is trying to catch up with teacher pay. It has a long waiting list of children eligible for preschool programs for whom there is no room. The legislature mandated smaller class sizes in elementary grades but provided none of the hundreds of millions of dollars it will cost to do that. It wants to hold down tuition at UNC campuses, which is a worthy ambition. So where does the money come from to operate world-class universities? Where is the money for transportation, for clean-water programs, for Medicaid, public safety, the courts?

Republicans say lower taxes spur business growth that generates more revenue. That formula hasn’t worked in states like Kansas, Mississippi and Alabama, but North Carolina Republicans say it has worked in our state. They have numbers to show it.

Let’s be cautious, though. North Carolina’s job creation since the end of the recession has been steady but not spectacular. Revenue growth has been healthy. It’s happened as part of a national recovery under a federal administration that kept revenue flowing to the states, not under one that promises to cut off the money. Furthermore, North Carolina’s recovery has been uneven. The job growth and tax revenue have been generated largely in the Triangle and in Mecklenburg County, where local governments tax themselves to provide enhanced services. Meanwhile, half of North Carolina’s counties are losing population and revenue-starved, little helped by the legislature’s tax-cutting priorities. Their plight stands to get worse.

State policy makers need to look at the whole picture and figure out how to achieve broader growth rather than plunging the whole state into a downturn. Let’s look before we cut.




April 4

The Winston-Salem Journal on legislation protecting pork producers:

State legislation favoring big pork producers over property owners who can’t stand the unbearable odors the hog farms produce is dead wrong. This legislation needs to die.

As The Associated Press reported last week, “North Carolina lawmakers are taking steps to protect the world’s largest pork producer from lawsuits accusing its subsidiaries of creating unbearable animal waste odor. The 2014 lawsuits by about 500 rural neighbors of massive hog farms allege that clouds of flies and intense smells remain a problem nearly a quarter-century since industrial-scale hog farming took off. The smells can spark headaches and infuse households, they complain. Wind-driven spray has been known to coat a home’s exterior in liquefied excrement, some said. The smell clings to clothes. With the cases against U.S. subsidiaries of the Chinese pork giant heading toward a possible trial as early as this summer, legislators are now proposing to sharply limit penalties that a jury or judge could impose.”

This a load of you-know-what.

As the AP reported, it “would protect hog farms or other agricultural operations accused of creating a nuisance for neighbors by limiting the liability of an operation to the lost property value plaintiffs can prove was the result of the nuisance. The federal lawsuits primarily target Murphy-Brown LLC, the North Carolina-based hog production division of Virginia’s Smithfield Foods. Smithfield was bought in 2013 by a division of China-based WH Group, the world’s largest pork producer.”

Republican Rep. Jimmy Dixon of Warsaw, in the heart of Big Hog country in southeastern North Carolina, is a primary sponsor of the bill. Dixon, a former hog and turkey grower, told the AP that the Chinese company’s subsidiaries need protection from the lawsuits and others that might come. The big companies are tied to a network of contract farmers, he argues. He contends that malodorous swine smells are rare.

The AP reports: “The proposed law in the country’s No. 3 hog state by gross income recalls that politically powerful pork producers in the 1990s shaped laws to foster high-density hog production despite the environmental and health risks of the waste disposal systems. The predominant waste-handling method has changed little since then.

“It involves using lots of water to regularly wash out farm buildings holding hogs, animals that generate prodigious amounts of waste. It’s collected in cesspools, where bacteria break it down, and the flowing remains are sprayed through high-pressure sprayers onto acres of farm fields. The droplets can radiate smells and be carried by winds. North Carolina pork producers are only now deploying less-smelly methods like spraying closer to the ground via hoses dragged behind tractors, but the traditional method, generally, prevails.”

We support our small farmers’ struggle to survive. Many of them have to form partnerships with large agricultural concerns. But those partnerships can’t come at the expense of their neighbors. A balance must be struck, one free of legislative meddling. Our state’s courts, not the legislature, must decide the matter at hand.



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