NC JUSTICE NEWS: Defenders of Justice Awards on May 9 + School Vouchers + "Reclaim NC" Act

April 30, 2013

DEFENDERS OF JUSTICE: Tickets going fast with less than 2 weeks to go!

Join the NC Justice Center on Thursday, May 9 for the 15th Annual Defenders of Justice Awards. Each year, the Justice Center presents its DOJ Awards to honor individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions in the fight against poverty in four areas that reflect the scope of the Justice Center’s work.

The 2013 honorees are:

  • Legislative & Administrative Advocacy: Wayne Goodwin, NC Commissioner of Insurance
  • Litigation: Phil Lehman, NC Office of the Attorney General
    Mortgage Foreclosure Unit, Legal Aid of NC
  • Grassroots Empowerment: A. Philip Randolph Institute
  • Policy Research and Advocacy: Equality NC

The event will be held at the Carolina Club at UNC Chapel Hill's George Watts Hill Alumni Center. CLICK HERE to purchase tickets or become a sponsor. For information contact Melissa Wiggins at (919) 861-2209 or

SCHOOL VOUCHERS: Student achievement would suffer under proposals

New voucher proposals being advanced by the NC General Assembly would fail to improve educational options for low-income families, according to a new report from the NC Justice Center's Education & Law Project., and undermine the educational experience of all North Carolina students.

A growing body of research shows that public schools do a better job of educating students, especially those with special needs or learning disabilities, or who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Such students are often unable to meaningfully participate in voucher and neovoucher programs because of the way they are structured.

Despite the evidence, voucher and neovoucher proposals have been a recurring theme in the NC state legislature. During the current legislative session, state policymakers have introduced legislation that would create a new tax credit program for homeschooled students (House Bill 144), a voucher-like scholarship grant program for students with disabilities (House Bill 269) that would replace an existing tax credit program, and a voucher-like private school scholarship for families who fall below 300% of the federal poverty level (House Bill 944).

Proposals like these undermine student achievement and weaken our public schools — without providing quality schooling options for families. North Carolina should create a high-performing educational system by renewing its commitment to public schools rather than by encouraging families to opt out of them.

"RECLAIM NC" ACT: Arizona-style immigration bill would affect all NC residents

Last week, a North Carolina House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on the "RECLAIM NC" Act, an Arizona-style immigration bill that, among other things, would require undocumented immigrants to register for driving privileges and increase penalties for those who don’t qualify for them. If enacted, the bill would affect all North Carolinians, regardless of immigration status.

House Bill 786 would require undocumented immigrants to get a driving permit or state ID card, but won't make them available to all, as the legislation establishes criteria to qualify for a permit that will be difficult for many immigrants to meet. Besides passing a driving test and having insurance, one must also admit to being in the country without permission, submit fingerprints and pass a criminal background check, and prove residency in North Carolina as of April 1, 2013 and in the state for at least one year. These arbitrary residency requirements mean that migrant farmworkers and other immigrants who live here to work in tourism, seafood processing, or other seasonal industries would not qualify for the permit or ID if they can’t prove they have lived in North Carolina for a year.

The public safety benefits of providing driving privileges to all who qualify will be greatly diminished without willing participation of qualified immigrants and if otherwise qualified people don’t meet the proof of residency tests. HB 786 ramps up criminal penalties — and not only for undocumented immigrants. It proposes jailing people for up to 24 hours to check an individual's immigrant status, a situation that could happen to anyone who can't show a government-issued ID.

This is just scratching the surface of HB 786's stipulations. Though lawmakers behind the bill, including Rep. Harry Warren, claim this is a balanced bill about targeting serious criminals, it is filled with punitive provisions aimed at immigrants and could end ultimately end up harming the state as a whole.

DEBATING TAX REFORM: Jared Bernstein, Elizabeth Malm to debate tax issues

On Tuesday, May 7, NC State University's Institute for Emerging Issue, in partnership with the Civitas Institute and the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center, will host a debate on the issue of tax reform in North Carolina.

During "Financing the Future: Debating State Tax Reform for North Carolina," Jared Bernstein from the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities and Elizabeth Malm from The Tax Foundation will discuss the state's complex tax system. Tax reform is an often contentious issue, and North Carolina has once again begun weighing the prospect of reforming the State’s tax system. Central to the debate is the future ability of North Carolina to retain talent, recruit industry, and finance needed infrastructure. This debate will dig deeply in to these issues with the goal of helping attendees understand how North Carolina’s tax reform initiative fits into the broader National discussion on economic growth and sustainability.

The event will be held from 11:45 a.m.-1:00 p.m. at the Emerging Issues Commons in the James B. Hunt, Jr. Library on Centennial Campus at NC State University. There is a $10 registration fee for entry and a boxed lunch. Click here to register for the event.

NC COMPETITIVENESS: Job growth lags to overreliance on faltering industry

Job growth continues to lag in North Carolina. Not because our overall economy is unsound, or the state's business climate is uncompetitive, a new Budget & Tax Center report finds, but rather due to an overreliance on less competitive industries over the last several years, particularly in comparison to other states.

Far from lagging behind, North Carolina's economy is on par with or out-performing surrounding states in nearly every major measure of economic health — except the unemployment rate. The state is experiencing some of the fastest economic growth in the region but has struggled to create enough jobs to remain competitive in order to bring down high unemployment. However, unlike nearby states such as Georgia and Tennessee, North Carolina had a much greater reliance on declining durable and non-durable goods manufacturing industries before the recessions of 2001 and 2007. North Carolina lost almost 42 percent of its manufacturing employment between 2000 and 2011, greater than the loss experienced by any other neighboring state.

If North Carolina’s share of total employment in manufacturing had resembled that of the nation as a whole, the Tarheel State would have 108,000 more jobs today, and the state’s unemployment rate would likely be similar to neighboring states. It's clear that the state needs to support new, high-growth industries through job training and infrastructure to address manufacturing decline and improving job creation.

WAGE THEFT: Support House Bill 826 - Wage Theft/Misclassification/Remedies

Wage theft occurs when an employer does not pay a worker for the work they have performed. In North Carolina, dishonest employers cost workers an estimated $33 million between 2007 and 2011. The North Carolina Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Bureau cited 1,651 employers for wage and hour violations in 2011 alone. Because that number only includes those claims brought to NCDOL’s attention, the actual number of violations is likely many times higher.

House Bill 826: Wage Theft/Misclassification/Remedies will aim to:

  • Provide workers basic information about their employers, by requiring employers to notify them of the employer’s name, address, and tax ID number, and the employer’s characterization of the worker’s employment status (independent contractor or employee).
  • Reduce the incentive for dishonest employers to cheat workers out of their wages, by adding penalties and increasing the amount of time workers have to bring claims.
  • Let workers who are owed wages put a temporary hold on their employer’s property while going through the legal process to recover the wages.

Take Action! Ask Rep. Murry, the House Commerce and Jobs Development Committee Chair, to let HB 826 be heard.

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