- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


Oct. 29

The News & Observer of Raleigh on Volkswagen settlement funds that will provide North Carolina with $92 million:

The settlement in the Volkswagen auto emissions scandal will provide North Carolina $92 million over 10 years to encourage the deployment of more zero and low-emission vehicles. This should be an opportunity for a state with a lot of high-tech resources - including several engine manufacturers - to encourage innovations in engine design and wider use of electric vehicles. But instead the opportunity is stuck in a smoggy traffic jam in the General Assembly.

The legislature’s Republican leaders, whose main aim these days is to limit or usurp the power of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, want to control the settlement money even though such payments are typically disbursed through the governor’s office. Cooper, who worked on the settlement as attorney general, says his office should determine how the mitigation funds are spent. Cooper has sued the legislative leaders saying their demand violates the state Constitution’s delegation of powers and terms of the VW settlement.

There’s no reason for lawmakers to be meddling in this matter. Cooper knows the restrictions of the settlement, and agencies under his control - either the Department of Transportation or the Department of Environmental Quality - will oversee how the money is spent. Subjecting the funds to the political horse trading of legislative appropriations ensures that the opportunity will not be fully realized and may well be squandered.

Even now the legislative grab and the ensuing court case are thwarting the process. A lead agency for the project has not been designated and university researchers and industry engineers have not been engaged even though the settlement was announced in June 2016 and became effective Oct. 2. Some other states already have plans in place or are soliciting ideas from the public.

The delay is frustrating for those eager to put the VW windfall to work.

If the court breaks the impasse, Rick Sapienza, clean transportation program director at N.C. State University’s Clean Energy Technology Center, has plenty of ideas about how the money should be spent. For starters, he suggests boosting the impact of VW funds by combining them with contributions from municipalities and companies for certain projects. The money could also be used to meet cost-share requirements to obtain federal grants.

“It’s a great opportunity. You’ll have money coming in for number of years. Try to make it go as far as you can,” he said.

One point of contention will be deciding whether to emphasize an immediate reduction in emissions now, or to encourage technologies that will reduce pollution in the future. Money could be spent on more efficient engines for train locomotives of heavy construction vehicles to cut heavy emissions now. Or the money could be spent to encourage the use of vehicles that run on natural gas and biofuels. It could also spur the conversion to electric vehicles by adding charging stations, especially in private settings such as apartment complexes.

Sapienza prefers an approach that emphasizes cleaner engineering tomorrow rather than mitigating emission from engine types that likely will not be around 30 years from now.

“I would consider this as an investment. Don’t just put the money through,” he said.

But first, the VW settlement money needs to come out. Legislative leaders should drop their claim on it and let North Carolina’s effort to encourage low-emission vehicles get rolling.

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


Nov. 1

News & Record of Greensboro on federal judges proposing the hiring of an outside expert to address illegal state House and Senate districts:

Republican legislators called it strange that federal judges last week proposed hiring an outside expert to help fix illegal state House and Senate districts.

No, strange was what they presented to the court. The prime example would be the Senate districts for Guilford County.

Guilford is strongly Democratic. In last year’s elections, Hillary Clinton won 58 percent of the vote here. Roy Cooper won 61 percent. Yet Republican legislators submitted a map to a panel of federal judges in Greensboro that likely would give Guilford County three Republican state senators to just one Democrat. To accomplish that amazing feat, they had to attach portions of Guilford County to a pair of districts anchored in Alamance and Randolph counties.

The lone Democratic district, currently represented by Sen. Gladys Robinson, is one of several identified by the court as either in violation of the Constitution or “otherwise illegally unacceptable.” Also in that category is a Senate district spanning Hoke and Cumberland counties and seven House districts - including one represented by Democrat Pricey Harrison of Greensboro.

In the case of the Robinson and Harrison districts, high concentrations of black voters were packed together. That’s a common tactic for creating adjoining districts that are predominantly white and Republican. GOP legislators contend it’s legal to do that for reasons of partisan advantage. But the correlation between race and party affiliation is so strong that partisan gerrymandering is essentially the same as illegal racial gerrymandering.

In last week’s court order, U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles stated an intent to appoint an independent “special master” to evaluate the districts and help correct them. The expert identified is Stanford University law professor Nathaniel Persily, “who has extensive and impressive practical and academic experience in the field; who has consulted about election matters on a bipartisan basis; who has no apparent conflict of interest here; and who has time available over the next few weeks to complete the work required by this appointment.” Speed is important because filing opens in February for 2018 elections.

State Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) and Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) complained that the court’s remedy “could seize a fundamental right from the people of North Carolina and hand it to a single person with no accountability to North Carolinians.” Legislative lawyers also accused Persily of making critical comments about their redistricting in the past.

These objections warrant no sympathy. The people of North Carolina, and certainly the people of Guilford County, haven’t had their rights respected by legislators who manipulate elections for partisan advantage. Legislators can’t be held accountable when they craft safe districts for themselves. Elections are meaningless when outcomes are determined in advance.

Guilford County numbers illustrate how unbalanced these districts are. There were nine legislative contests here last November. In six, only one candidate appeared on the ballot. Of the others, one was decided by 57 percentage points and a second by 20. Only Republican Sen. Trudy Wade’s 53 percent to 47 percent victory over Democrat Michael Garrett in Senate District 27 was competitive.

As for Persily, his views seem to be in line with those of the court, making him a good choice to carry out the court’s will.

This has gone on long enough. The court issued its initial finding of improper gerrymandering in 28 districts in August 2016. It allowed the legislature ample time to make corrections. Lawmakers failed to address problems in nine of those districts. The court’s patience has nearly run out and the legislature deserves no more chances. The court must finish the job itself with the help of an independent expert.

Guilford County voters should demand fair districts so they can elect representatives who answer to all the people, not just to one political party. That’s not strange, that’s democracy.

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


Oct. 30

Winston-Salem Journal on North Carolina sending victims of forced sterilization a letter about compensation:

They were forcibly sterilized by the state’s rapid timeline, which usually meant that from the time they were targeted until they were rendered barren was a year or less. They were girls and boys then, aging women and men now rightly protesting justice delayed.

Four years after North Carolina became the first state in the country to approve compensation for victims of forced sterilization, the cash-strapped, physically and mentally haunted victims who were sterilized in their youth have yet to see their third and final check from the state.

Some of those victims could die before they get that final check. They don’t understand the delay, they tell us.

Neither do we.

Earlier this month, the state finally did the simple courtesy of sending the victims an update by letter. The letter said it “could be several months” before state officials can determine when the third and final compensation payment will be sent, the Journal’s Richard Craver reported.

Behind the delay are petitions to the state Supreme Court from five people who did not qualify for compensation. Those petitioners are within their rights, as we said on this page last month, but so are the victims who qualified for compensation.

Machelle Sanders, secretary of the Administration Department, wrote in the one-page letter that “We understand your frustration with the amount of time it is taking to distribute the final payments to eligible claimants.”

Understanding is one thing. Action is another.

The Democrats who long ruled our state created the forced sterilization program and failed to pass compensation for it. The Republicans got compensation approved when they took control of the state a few years ago. Now, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican legislators should work out a plan to get the last payment to those sterilization victims who have qualified for compensation.

The legislature in 2013 created a $10 million pool to be equally shared among qualified victims. State officials would say the final payment can’t be made until the petitions are done so that the final balance can be made. But just over 200 victims have qualified for compensation. The number of pending petitions is five. If any of the appeals are successful, a state with a $23-billion budget can easily find the remaining money, as we’ve said here before.

Just do it.

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

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