- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Dec. 4

Winston-Salem Journal on the money in severance packages for four Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions executives:

Almost $4 million, the amount going in severance packages to four executives of Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions, could go a long way toward helping our state’s behavioral health-care system. The waste underscores why the state Department of Health and Human Services had to take over Cardinal - and puts the pressure on the state to reform it rapidly.

The Journal’s Richard Craver reported: “Legislators, state health officials and health-care advocates have pointed to the $3.8 million in paid severance to four executives of Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions as a worrisome sign of exorbitant spending and private-sector greed overcoming the managed-care organization’s public-health mission. But what would $3.8 million pay for in terms of additional behavioral-health services within Cardinal’s 20-county network? The network includes Alamance, Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Rockingham and Stokes counties.

“The Winston-Salem Journal asked a provider of mental-health and substance-abuse services in the Triad and statewide to offer estimates for seven main categories. Here’s what it could mean: As many as 26,000 initial evaluations at an average rate of $145, or 43,000 individual therapy sessions at an average rate of $88, or 12,649 bed days at a facility-based crisis center. The provider agreed to offer the estimates as long as it was not identified out of concern about being perceived as taking a side in the intense political and regulatory dispute. The provider also stressed the caveat that the state’s seven behavioral-health managed-care organizations, MCOs, may or may not be allowed by the state to use administrative money for recipient services.”

Understood. But by any reasonable measure, the packages going to former Executive Director Richard Topping and the others are far too much. The DHHS told the Journal that administrative funds can be used for consumer services but typically aren’t. Much of the money that went to severance packages could have gone to vulnerable patients in the Cardinal network, the state’s largest managed-care organization for behavioral health.

Thank goodness the state has temporarily taken over this organization. It may be too late to pull back the severance packages, but we look forward to the DHHS and county commissions choosing a new Cardinal board that will finally use public dollars well to serve our most vulnerable

Online: http://www.journalnow.com/

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Dec. 5

News & Record of Greensboro on court meddling demanding scrutiny:

There could be one N.C. Supreme Court seat on the 2018 ballot. Or seven. Or none.

This uncertainty only 11 months before the election is astonishing. Yet it’s indicative of the chaos state legislators are pushing into the courts.

The public must pay attention.

Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jackson is running for re-election next year. One challenger, civil rights attorney Anita Earls, has announced her bid.

It’s not too early to launch a statewide campaign. But planning ahead this time is difficult because of the court-shifting agenda already begun by Republican lawmakers. They have:

. Put partisan labels on all judicial elections.

. Ended public financing for appellate judicial candidates.

. Enacted a law to shrink the Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12.

. Eliminated primary elections in all judicial races in 2018.

. And passed through the House a measure to fragment Guilford County into five gerrymandered districts for local judges who previously have been elected countywide.

Two proposed constitutional amendments also have been introduced and could be approved when the legislature meets in January. One would abort the terms of all elected judges in December 2018, putting their seats up for election in November - for terms of only two years. The second proposes an entirely different action. It would end judicial elections, adopting an appointment system instead.

If either of these options is given a legislative go-ahead, it likely would be put on a statewide referendum in May. The wording on the ballot for such dramatic changes probably would be confusing to many people. And a May referendum could produce a low voter turnout and uncertain outcome.

The public should never be hit by so many significant changes at once - especially changes motivated by partisan politics.

Fortunately, people who seemed unaware of recent actions are starting to pay attention. A meeting sponsored by several advocacy groups last week drew 175 people to Greensboro’s Temple Emanuel. It was the second of a dozen forums planned for cities across the state.

The discussion was moderated by Elon Law professor David Levine, but only Democratic legislators attended. Republican Rep. Jon Hardister at least sent a statement, although his claim that court changes are not driven by partisan politics isn’t believable. When one of the first moves is to put party labels on court elections, it’s a partisan exercise.

At the District Court level, the introduction of gerrymandering is clearly calculated to help Republicans win judicial seats - for all that matters. Divorces, child support, traffic violations and small-dollar civil suits have nothing to do with partisan politics. But splitting the Guilford County electorate will deny voters the opportunity to choose most of the local judges they will face if they have to go to court.

The Court of Appeals was reduced in size only after Democrat Roy Cooper was elected as governor. The move prevents him from appointing replacements when judges reach the mandatory retirement age.

The worst possible change would be to cut short all judicial terms. Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Superior Court judges are granted eight-year terms so that they aren’t constantly pushed and pulled by the politics of the moment. In the federal system, judges serve lifetime terms for that reason. That’s how important the founders believed it was to insulate them from politics. Serving only two years between elections, judges would have to raise money and campaign virtually all the time. The idea is absurd.

Why might this happen? In 2016, Democrats gained a 4-3 majority on the Supreme Court. This legislative scheme would nullify that election and throw the entire court up for grabs in 2018. The public should reject political shenanigans in the judicial branch of government.

Online: http://www.greensboro.com/

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Dec. 4

The News & Observer of Raleigh on scrutiny of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline:

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will face many hurdles from gaining permits to burrowing through 600 miles of terrain from West Virginia through Virginia and North Carolina. But its biggest obstacle may be time.

The project is already more than a year behind schedule and now faces further delays as it waits for environmental permits. The project’s backers don’t like it, but the delays are a helpful test. If the project is truly needed, time should make that clearer. If it’s not - as many argue - then time will reveal that as well.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality has caused the latest regulatory delay. The department has presented the utilities developing the pipeline - Charlotte-based Duke Energy and Richmond-based Dominion Energy - with a fourth round of questions about the economic benefits and environment risks of the project. The developers plan to answer quickly but DEQ could take up to 60 days to review their response.

This is not a case of regulatory foot-dragging. DEQ is being deliberately thorough - and perhaps properly skeptical - about how much of an environmental risk the project poses and whether the benefit to the public justifies it. It’s an especially welcome thoroughness after the industry friendly attitude of former Gov. Pat McCrory’s DEQ appointees. If McCrory - a former Duke Energy employee - had won re-election, it’s fair to assume that the utilities wouldn’t be getting multiple requests to explain the risks and value of a project.

It’s a good thing that DEQ under Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is asking a lot of questions. This project certainly raises them. The most practical ones involve the pipeline’s impact on several hundred streams, creeks and other bodies of water it will cross. There is also a need for more detail on the developers bold, but not necessarily substantiated claims about economic benefits the project will bring to economically depressed areas it will pass through in eastern North Carolina. Finally, there’s an issue of where it will end. It’s supposed to end in Robeson County near the North Carolina’s southern border, but some pipeline officials have suggested it may eventually go into South Carolina.

There’s no doubt North Carolina needs reliable sources of energy, but there is doubt about whether it needs a massive new pipeline carrying natural gas from fracking operations in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Whether it does will become clearer as DEQ and the public has time to assess the environmental and economic impacts of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Online: http://www.newsobserver.com/


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