- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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April 5

The Greensboro News & Record on Major League Baseball‘s removal of the All-Star Game from Atlanta:

There’ll be no joy in Cobb County this summer during baseball’s storied All-Star Game.



In an uncharacteristic pitch for social consciousness, Major League Baseball has removed this year’s midseason classic from suburban Atlanta.

The move came in protest to a raft of new voting rules in Georgia that have been rightly criticized as a veiled attempt to suppress Black votes.

Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said.

Baseball’s moral retreat from Georgia also recalls the corporate response to North Carolina’s notorious “bathroom bill,” HB 2, which restricted public restroom access for transgender persons and rolled back local protections for the rights of LGBTQ persons.

The repercussions were wide-ranging. North Carolina lost new jobs, concerts, conventions and NCAA Tournament games as result of the ill-conceived and unnecessary law. Also like Georgia, it lost an all-star game - in the case of HB 2, the 2017 NBA All-Star Game that was supposed to be played in Charlotte.

In dollars and cents, the economic impact of HB 2 translated to an estimated $400 million in lost investments and jobs.

If anything, HB 2 may have advanced the case of LGBTQ rights by the attention it created. What happened here also served as a cautionary tale for other states that were considering similar legislation.

Baseball’s decision is especially significant because it is not known for its social activism. Now it may have opened the door for others to follow suit.

Not surprisingly, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp feigned righteous indignation, framing Georgia as the victim and dusting off some familiar rhetoric and GOP talking points in the process.

“Yesterday, Major League Baseball caved to fear and lies from liberal activists,” Kemp said Saturday. “In the middle of a pandemic, Major League Baseball put the wishes of Stacey Abrams and Joe Biden ahead of the economic well-being of hard-working Georgians who were counting on the All-Star Game for a paycheck.”

The Atlanta Braves huffed: “This was neither our decision, nor our recommendation, and we are saddened that fans will not be able to see this event in our city.”

It is, in fact, no coincidence that the voting restrictions in Georgia and a barrage of pending legislation in other battleground states follow the GOP’s losses in key battleground states in 2020. Here’s the circular illogic involved: Republicans alleged without credible evidence that the 2020 election was fraudulent, therefore they now feel compelled to restore citizen “trust” in the process.

Republicans claim that the law makes voting more accessible. But the 98-page law tightened identification requirements, limited drop boxes, shortened the early voting window for runoff elections and gave lawmakers the power to take over local elections. It also makes it a misdemeanor for people to offer food and water to voters waiting in line.

Many of the provisions would have the most impact on more urban areas that tend to vote Democratic. Take for instance, the drop box provision. For the 2020 election, there were 94 drop boxes in the four counties that comprise the metropolitan Atlanta areas. The new law imposes a limit of no more than 23 drop boxes.

As for Major League Baseball’s decision, it is neither unusual nor unprecedented.

There was HB 2, which was repealed in 2017.

There were impromptu refusals to play NBA, NHL and professional tennis matches last year following the death of George Floyd.

There was the NFL’s decision in 1991 to move the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix following that state’s refusal to observe the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

There was President Jimmy Carter’s boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980 over the Soviets’ refusal to withdraw from Afghanistan.

So politics and sports have been acquainted for a long while.

Even so, baseball’s decision, like those before it, has been met with mixed reviews. It will cost Atlanta businesses and workers, many of whom are the same people who will be affected by the new Georgia voting law.

Some irate fans have said they will boycott baseball … in a protest of boycotts.

But there’s always collateral damage in scenarios like this. The corporate blowback to HB 2 cost North Carolina $400 million.

The question is whether the longer term gain of fair access to the vote is worth the presumably short-term economic pain. And the answer is yes.

Play ball … somewhere else.

Online: https://greensboro.com/

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April 5

The Winston-Salem Journal on a proposed bill that would make public employee records accessible to the public:

A bill currently before the legislature, The Government Transparency Act of 2021, would allow public access to the records of public employees who are disciplined, suspended, demoted or fired from their jobs. In the case of dismissal, the bill calls on department heads to set forth “the specific acts or omissions that are the basis of the dismissal.”

The law would apply to all public employees, state, county and city, including teachers and law enforcement officers.

The bill is sponsored by Forsyth County’s Sen. Joyce Krawiec and two other Republican state senators, is necessary and overdue.

As it stands now, general information about promotions within government agencies - the date and general description - is freely available to the public. Likewise, general but non-specific information about dismissals can be obtained.

Not so, information about demotions, transfers and suspensions.

North Carolina is behind the curve when it comes to public access to public records, as is evident from our police body cam restrictions - only making such footage available to the public via court order. Our state is one of only 10 that don’t allow access to disciplinary files, even in the event that an employee has been convicted of a crime - such as a teacher who is convicted of sexually abusing a student, or a police officer convicted of using excessive force. Even after dismissal for such crimes, such people could be hired in localities where no one has knowledge of their misdeeds because their records are considered classified.

Indeed, a Henderson County teacher, convicted of abusing 17 students, was allowed to teach at six different schools before being caught.

Other records might not be as dramatic; the information in personnel files may be embarrassing rather than disqualifying.

But whatever the cause of a reprimand or dismissal, this bill would allow the public to know and, thus, hold government employees accountable for their actions - and discourage those unwilling to be held to such account from applying for government positions to start with.

This knowledge would also reduce the possibility of employees with problematic records from being passed from agency to agency.

In some cases, applicants may prefer for the specifics to be known rather than a terse and mysterious “fired for cause” notification.

Of course, news agencies would like access to personnel records. The Journal joins several other newspapers in the state and the North Carolina Press Association in supporting the bill.

Right now, information about dismissals is often hidden behind vague statements about “privacy” and “policy.”

But it’s even more important for the public to have access to this information.

Some government agencies and officials may think that hiding such information is a good way to avoid the stain of scandal in their departments. They may want to limit access to such records out of a misguided sense of loyalty, or perhaps while thinking that complete transparency would discourage good candidates.

Instead, hiding employment information creates suspicion and erodes public trust in our institutions, which are beleaguered enough these days.

As with police body cams, there are also instances in which access to employment records could clear employees from claims of improprieties.

Not everyone is on board with the bill in its current form. Democratic Rep. Deb Butler says the bill is “extremely broad” and could have unintended consequences. Notes in personnel files are someone’s subjective opinion and may or may not be accurate, she told the Wilmington Star News.

Those objections are worthy of some discussion and may merit some changes to the bill.

But ultimately, more information is always better than less.

The information belongs to the public. The public paid for it and should be allowed access to it. This bill should pass.

Online: https://journalnow.com/

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April 4

The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer on wind power:

To learn the direction of energy production in North Carolina, look to a weather vane. It’s pointing toward the wind.

Last year, Duke Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, and Dominion Energy of Virginia called off their effort to build the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The $8 billion natural gas project would have tied North Carolina to fossil fuel-based energy for a generation.

This month, a consultant’s report prepared for the North Carolina Department of Commerce said the state is “well positioned” to go in a new direction by investing in an offshore wind power industry that is expected to boom over the next few decades.

Last week, President Joe Biden proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that would provide billions of dollars to develop clean energy, including making $3 billion in federal loans available for projects related to offshore wind development.

Politico described Biden’s goal of having offshore wind turbines generate 30 gigawatts of power by 2030 as “growing the industry from almost zero today to the size of New England’s entire power sector in a decade.”

The governors of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland have joined forces to make their states leaders in wind power. In 2020 they announced a wind power partnership. It will coordinate development of the largely untapped energy source off the East Coast as well as the industries that will support it.

What at one time may have seemed like a marginal, even fanciful, source of energy – windmills at sea – has become a central part of national and state plans to move away from fossil fuels. Europe already has installed more than 5,000 offshore wind turbines across 12 countries.

Drew Ball, state director of the advocacy group Environment NC, said a study by Environment America estimated that North Carolina’s offshore wind resource could provide 465 percent of the state’s total 2019 energy use. “We could power our state more than four times over just with wind,” he said. “The wind is there. We just have to harness it.”

Building offshore wind turbines would help slow climate change and would also decrease environmental damage by reducing the dirty process of extracting and transporting fossil fuels. Just last August, a pipeline breach spilled about 1.2 million gallons of gasoline near Huntersville. Duke Energy customers will be paying for years to help clean out the utility’s coal ash pits.

Wind power has its own environmental issues, but not on the scale of fossil fuels. As Ball noted, “No one has ever heard of an offshore wind spill.”

ECONOMIC BOOST

Beyond its environmental benefits, wind power could also bring strong economic gains not only in construction and maintenance, but in manufacturing of turbines. The Department of Commerce report said North Carolina’s manufacturing sector could develop coastal factories to make wind turbine towers and blades that are so large they can only be transported by water.

“Wind energy means new jobs for North Carolinians,” said Machelle Sanders, North Carolina’s commerce secretary. “Just like biotechnology was for us many years ago, today clean energy represents an industry of the future and North Carolina always embraces the future.”

There are obstacles between the vision and the reality of North Carolina as a leader in U.S. offshore wind power. For one, Biden’s enormous infrastructure proposal will have to get past Republican resistance in Congress. Congressional Republicans may find opposing wind power has little political support. Polls show popular support for it even among Republicans.

There are also legitimate concerns about how building and operating the massive offshore turbines could affect the fishing industry, wildlife, military flights and tourism. These concerns should be addressed in consultation with stakeholders.

Though not yet a sure thing for North Carolina, wind power is much closer to becoming one. There’s no doubt about where the pursuit of more clean energy should go next. Go where the wind blows.

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com/ & https://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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