It’s been a bad start to the holidays for some state employees, beginning with two dozen prison officers who are stuck with repaying overtime that they weren’t supposed to receive – through no fault of their own. Twenty-five prison correctional officers were inadvertently overpaid when their work schedules were improperly changed in the state payroll system BEACON, which state law requires that they repay. The officers had been on 28-day cycles but were changed to 40-hour weeks when they returned from leaves or their work locations changed, which allowed for more overtime to be paid. When the state Department of Public Safety discovered the mistake and corrected the payroll system, BEACON automatically deducted all the overpayment – which meant some employees wouldn’t have a paycheck for November and in other cases no paycheck for several months.
Several months ago, Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration proposed a dramatic overhaul of what he’s repeatedly called a “broken” Medicaid system — one beset annually by hundreds of millions of dollars in shortfalls. “Medicaid continues to be over budget and costs keep growing,” said Mardy Peal, an adviser to state Health and Human Services secretary Dr. Aldona Wos. “It is clear to all of us — beneficiaries, providers and taxpayers — that Medicaid is an urgent and crucial matter before us.” But after criticism of the initial plan by medical providers and legislators, Wos’ department has a scaled-back approach. Officials unveiled it to a small advisory panel meeting last week for the first time to try to build consensus on reform among lawmakers, the agency and interest groups.
Months after Gov. Pat McCrory declared the state Medicaid system as "broken," a five-member panel charged with coming up with repair ideas met for the first time Thursday. The Medicaid Reform Advisory Group, led by former Cone Health Chief Executive Dennis Barry, attracted the attention of a standing-room only crowd of health care providers and lobbyists to the Dorothea Dix campus as it tries to address problems that range from annual cost overruns to tardy payment of providers.The health care system for about 1.6 million poor and disabled people in North Carolina accounts for about $13 billion in state and federal spending, and McCrory and Republican legislative leaders have blamed out-of-control costs for not providing teachers and state workers with a raise this year.
A consultant examining options for overhauling Medicaid in North Carolina said Thursday it could be 2020 before any plan to stabilize costs and shift risk toward the private sector is implemented fully. Bob Atlas spoke at the first meeting of an advisory panel charged by the legislature with advising the Department of Health and Human Services on what path to take on changing Medicaid, which covers more than 1.7 million North Carolina residents. The General Assembly wants a proposal from DHHS by mid-March, but would have to sign off later on any plan, which would be designed to make Medicaid funding more predictable while creating better patient outcomes. Gov. Pat McCrory and department Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos unveiled a plan in the spring that envisioned three or four managed-care companies or other entities providing medical care and other services for Medicaid consumers in North Carolina. Medicaid would pay a flat amount to the provider for each patient it serves, rather than a fee for each medical service it performed as in the current system.
The Bonner Bridge is no "bridge to nowhere" but it’s likewise drenched in politics. Gov. Pat McCrory invoked politics in blaming environmentalists for its closure last week. Then Transportation Secretary Tony Tata dropped a bomb of a quote that rattled the N.C. political sphere about latte-sipping environmental lawyers enjoying air-conditioned offices (p.s. How does Tata like his coffee?). The conversation continues Monday as Rev. Mark Creech, the executive director of the Christian Action League, invokes God to talk bridge politics. In a column at the Christian Post, he writes: "The Bonner Bridge closing is a case in point as to how our worldview affects us for either good or bad. Moreover, it demonstrates that when some point of view other than a biblical worldview is granted supremacy in public-policy, it inevitably results in harm to God’s crowning and most beloved creative achievement – man.
President Barack Obama will pay tribute this week to Nelson Mandela, making the long trip from Washington to South Africa Monday to attend a national memorial service for the anti-apartheid icon. Tuesday’s memorial service will also serve as a rare reunion of nearly all the living American presidents. George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, will accompany Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Air Force One, while former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter will travel separately to South Africa. George H.W. Bush is the only living president who will not attend. His spokesman said the 89-year-old is no longer able to travel long distances. The American leaders will join dozens of other dignitaries and tens of thousands of mourners at the memorial service at a Johannesburg stadium. Mandela will be buried Dec. 15, following a state funeral in his hometown of Qunu.
It’s great that the GOP wants to be inclusive. The problem comes when it’s time to do something about it. Not only has the party rejected efforts to appeal to non-traditional voters—like Latinos—but it’s members and spokespeople continue to create the impression that the party is out-of-touch with everyone but a small (and shrinking) slice of the country. On Wednesday, for instance, Politico revealed that Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes—a senior member of the Republican caucus—has waged a lengthy crusade to convince his colleagues and the National Republican Congressional Committee brass they shouldn’t back some gay candidates. Forbes doesn’t say why he has a problem with supporting gay Republicans, but he did tell Politico that he was “concerned” about members being asked to donate to their campaigns. Forbes, it seems, just isn’t comforting with giving his funds to a gay Republican. Obviously, there are plenty of Republicans who have a problem with this attitude—otherwise, Politico wouldn’t have the story. Still, it’s this kind of thing that reinforces the view that the Republican Party is home to a remarkable amount of intolerance and insensitivity.
At least 23 federal lawmakers are traveling to South Africa to attend a memorial service for the country’s former leader Nelson Mandela, who died last week at age 95. The service will be held Tuesday in Johannesburg at a soccer stadium that can hold roughly 95,000 people. A government aircraft carrying 22 members of the House and one U.S. senator departed from Andrews Air Force Base on Monday morning, ahead of Air Force One, which is carrying President and Michelle Obama, former president George W. Bush and Laura Bush and former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, according to the White House.
Elizabeth Warren, in her first year as a U.S. senator, has captured headlines by pressuring such industry titans as Goldman Sachs Chairman Lloyd C. Blankfein for transparency, including a Dec. 4 call for Wall Street banks to disclose their contributions to policy groups that provide financial analysis to Congress. With less fanfare, she’s forging alliances with Republican Senate colleagues, expanding her political network in Massachusetts, and tapping her backers to help Democrats running for re-election in other states. It’s a strategy that sounds a lot like one adopted by another woman who entered the chamber with a national profile that made her a lightning-rod for praise and derision as she was dogged by questions about her presidential aspirations.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) "has captured headlines by pressuring such industry titans as Goldman Sachs Chairman Lloyd C. Blankfein for transparency… With less fanfare, she’s forging alliances with Republican Senate colleagues, expanding her political network in Massachusetts, and tapping her backers to help Democrats running for re-election in other states," Bloomberg reports. "It’s a strategy that sounds a lot like one adopted by another woman who entered the chamber with a national profile that made her a lightning-rod for praise and derision as she was dogged by questions about her presidential aspirations."
President Obama gave it the good old college try when he virtually implored Congress to take a hard, long look at the surging income inequality gap in America. This was a step to put a partial brake on the widening gap by increasing the minimum wage, and limit slashes on spending programs that aid the poor and lower income workers. But Obama’s plea fell on the GOP’s deaf ears. House Speaker John Boehner lashed out that whatever poverty and income inequality there is can be blamed on Obama’s programs. This was not just the standard bash Obama dig from Boehner. He spoke for the overwhelming majority of Republicans.
Activists in the fight against HIV/AIDS are hopeful that a new piece of legislation being introduced Monday will get bipartisan attention in the Senate despite the dysfunction currently slowing down Washington. The “Repeal HIV Discrimination Act,” to be introduced by Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, calls for an inter-agency wide review of state laws and policies targeting people living with HIV and AIDS, and resembles a bill introduced last May in the House by California Rep. Barbara Lee. Thirty-two states currently have laws on the books that use HIV status to criminally convict people.
The Michigan Republican Party is seeking to increase its visibility in Democratic- and minority-heavy Detroit, and last week, it brought Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to the city to open the party’s African-American Engagement Office. But if anything, the launch event put into stark relief just how much work the GOP has to do, when a largely white audience turned out to hear the senator speak.
The urgency over trying to ensure that such a slaughter “never happens again”—it fades. The calls for new legislation, reasonable restrictions which might make it just a little bit more difficult to kill as many people as fast as possible, grow stale and over time start to seem impractical and implausible. And so conventional wisdom congeals more or less where it was before the massacre. And guess what? That was the obstruction strategy all along—a smart but cynical bet on civic amnesia, pushed by lobbyists who cajoled congressmen and advised them to resist the wishes of 90 percent of the American people. Reality check: 90 percent of Americans rarely agree on anything. We’re diverse that way. But earlier this year, the respected Quinnipiac poll found that 91 percent of Americans supported universal background checks for commercial firearm purchases, including 88 percent of gun-owning families. Hell, a poll commissioned by Mayors Against Illegal Guns conducted by conservative pollster Frank Luntz found that 74 percent of NRA members supported background checks on every gun sale. But when a bipartisan bill to achieve that end came up in Congress, it couldn’t get enough votes to pass.
A Iredell County man with a long career in textiles and home furnishings announced Friday he will challenge state Rep. Robert Brawley for the GOP nomination in District 95 in next year’s primary. John Fraley, 63, of Mooresville said he is kicking off his campaign by chipping in $75,000 of his own money. “It’s time to put an end to old-style, backroom politics and instead work to solve problems,” Fraley said in a news release. He singled out the 10-term incumbent’s bill this session that proposed to allow lobbyists to give unreported gifts to legislators. Brawley was the only sponsor of the bill, and it went nowhere.
It’s probably not the primary endorsement state House Speaker Thom Tillis was looking for. Democratic super PAC Senate Majority has made a second large ad buy on behalf of incumbent U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, who’s facing what’s likely to be a tough re-election fight in 2014, and it seems to be making a bet on who her Republican challenger will be. While the PAC’s first spot for Hagan last month didn’t mention an opponent, the new one calls out Tillis by name.
Last year, tea party activists from around the country helped a Texas Republican named Ted Cruz overcome long odds to beat a better-known, better-funded primary opponent backed by the GOP establishment. Could North Carolina be the next tea party triumph? Five months before the May 6 primary, at least four GOP Senate hopefuls hope to replicate Cruz’s upset victory. They’re appealing for tea party support in their battle to take on Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan. Greg Brannon, a Cary physician, even launched a fundraising blitz Friday to mark the 240th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. North Carolina’s race is a key to Republican hopes to retake the Senate, and many consider Hagan one of its most vulnerable Democrats. Independent groups already have spent more than $4.3 million attacking or defending her.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said Saturday the crowded U.S. Senate Republican primary will likely come down to a runoff election. He made his remarks after meeting with guest at the Charles Taylor Holiday Dinner who paid $125 to attend a private reception with Republican leaders and some of the Senate candidates. The price included dinner. “They are all good friends,” said Forest, who was the master of ceremony for the event. “All good guys. All bring different strengths to this race. It will be a positive primary for sure, and it will come down to a runoff most likely. When you put this many candidates in a race it is going to come down to whoever gets the grassroots out, whoever gets people to the polls.”
The region has swung from total Democratic to almost total Republican control over the last half-century, starting with voter defections from the Democrats in the 1960s, emerging Republican congressional delegations in the 1990s and a wave of state legislative takeovers in recent years. Voting has increasingly become racially polarized. John Barrow of Georgia is the only white Democrat in the House of Representatives from one of the Deep South’s five states. If Republicans defeat Democratic incumbents in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina and hold on to the seat of Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who is retiring, they will control every Senate seat in the old Confederacy except in Florida and Virginia, which have drifted culturally and politically from the rest of the South.
That approach is unlikely to work for another Democratic presidential candidate in 2016. Republicans, for one thing, are unlikely to nominate someone as short on political gut instincts as Romney. And some voter groups are unlikely, four years from now, to be so easily motivated. Immigration reform, for instance, might remove a crucial barrier to socially conservative Latino voters moving to a Republican Party whose family, religious, and social values are like their own. Most of all, voters will still be searching for the reductions in political toxicity that Obama pledged in 2008 to produce. Democrats need to return to the mindset of their most skillful prior leaders. Those leaders, from the New Deal onward, always began by asking: What are our country’s most pressing needs? Then, what are our proposals to meet those needs? Finally, how can we mobilize majorities in the country and Congress to enact those proposals?
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie is seriously considering a run against Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). Gillespie would give Republicans a credible candidate against Warner, a popular senator, should he choose to run. The longtime strategist and head of the Republican State Leadership Conference remains an influential voice in the party and is one of his party’s top fundraisers.Warner will likely be hard to beat — according to most polls, he’s the most popular politician in the state. An August Quinnipiac poll found his approval rating at 61 percent in Virginia, with 25 percent disapproving.
Republican Senator Rand Paul said on Sunday he is giving serious thought to a run for the presidency in 2016 but might decide against it because of the burden a campaign would cause for his family.b "Well, you know, the thought has crossed my mind," the Kentucky senator said on "Fox News Sunday." "And I am seriously thinking about it. "But I’m also very serious about the family considerations."
Parties in the three federal lawsuits challenging voting law changes signed into law here in August will appear before U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder on December 12 to map out a schedule for proceedings moving forward. And while they’ve reached agreement on some preliminary litigation matters, the parties are not budging on one critical date: when the case should be tried. Those challenging the voting changes, including the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters, say in papers filed with the court yesterday that all preliminary proceedings can be completed in time for a trial in the summer of 2014. That timing would ensure that changes set to take effect in January are reviewed by the court before the 2014 midterm elections.
North Carolina residents soon will learn more about the tax cuts enacted this year by the state legislature. For many, the initial lesson will come when they pay new or higher taxes. Some people go to the movies on New Year’s Day. For the first time, the ticket will be subject to a sales tax — 6.75 percent in Guilford County. The theater will decide whether to absorb the tax or charge customers. New sales taxes will apply to tickets for college or professional sporting events, concerts, plays and museums. Taxes will increase on manufactured homes and modular homes. New taxes will be put on service contracts, newspapers and meals purchased at college dining halls. Some deductions will be eliminated. One is for money put into the state’s college savings plan.
Last year, North Carolina attained one rating it didn’t want: Teacher turnover hit a five-year high. Just over 14 percent of the state’s teachers left their positions, which was a 2 percent increase from the previous year. There is no single reason, so it wouldn’t be fair to ring the panic button and scream that teachers are leaving in droves because of money or the antics of the Republicans in the General Assembly, who made public education and public school teachers targets in the last legislative session. There now are indications, with talk by Gov. Pat McCrory and some lawmakers about raising teacher pay, that the GOP leaders are aware that in taking on teachers, they might have made a big strategic goof. But although teachers leave for a variety of reasons, there is some significance here in the fact that the number of teachers who said they were leaving because they wanted to change careers or were dissatisfied did go up considerably, from 541 in the 2008-09 school year to 887 last year. And early retirements are up, from 228 in 2008-09 to 574 last year.
A group that helped states write legislation for a record number of abortion restrictions since 2011 is expanding its toolkit with proposals to let patients and their families sue clinics to enforce those rules. Templates with the new strategy for use by lawmakers will appear in the 2014 edition of “Defending Life,” a handbook by Americans United for Life. Charmaine Yoest, president of the Washington-based group, called such laws “the missing link.”
At the beginning of 2014, one of the North Carolina GOP’s signature legislative accomplishments goes into effect–tax reform. As the News & Observer noted, the new rules come with some confusing paperwork. Some business owners and their employees are griping, but they’ll get over it and next fall, Republicans will run on it. Senator Bob Rucho, architect of the law, said, “What it means to everybody starting in January 2014 is a larger take-home paycheck.That’s what people need to focus on.” What he doesn’t want you to focus on is who will really pay less taxes. While your paycheck might be larger, they’ll get your money in other ways, through new sales taxes like those on car repairs, movie tickets and college meal plans. That’s right. It’s a new tax on food–and for people who aren’t earning much anyway and many of whom are already about to incur large debt for student loans.
Micah Beasley, Press Secretary
North Carolina Democratic Party
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