NC JUSTICE NEWS: Dems Defect for Budget Vote + Perdue's Executive Order + Protection for Homeowners

June 7, 2011

BUDGET PASSES WITH DEMS HELP: Perdue has option to veto

The ball is in Bev’s court.

On Saturday morning, the House voted 73-45 in favor of the final legislative budget. The budget now awaits Gov. Bev Perdue’s consideration – and possible veto – in light of a budget that fails to protect key investments in education, health and public safety. Instead of adopting a balanced approach, the budget:

  • Dismantles North Carolina’s nationally-recognized early childhood education programs
  • Cuts millions out of Medicaid and mental health services
  • Reduces the affordability and quality of NC's public universities and community colleges
  • Slashes funding for public safety institutions and community-based programs

Even more infuriating is the fact that five democrats – Representatives Brisson, Crawford, Hill, Owens, and Spear – supported this bad budget. If just four of these representatives side with Republicans, the NC House of Representatives would have enough votes to override a veto from Governor Perdue, the only hope to stop the backwards $19.7 billion Republican budget.

Gov. Perdue has 10 days from Saturday to make a decision – sign the bill, veto it, or do nothing and let the bill become law, which would only result in the weakening of both public structures and the prospects for North Carolina’s economic recovery. The Governor should make clear that there are better ways to ensure that we achieve a more inclusive and competitive economy for North Carolina, and veto the budget.

JUSTICE FOR UNEMPLOYED: Gov. executive order restores benefits

Nearly 50,000 North Carolinians likely slept easier over the weekend knowing that Governor of North Carolina had their best interests in mind.

Gov. Bev Perdue signed Executive Order No. 93 last Friday to restore federal unemployment benefits for 47,000 unemployed workers across the state. “For weeks, I have been trying to work with the Republican legislative leaders to get them to do the right thing,” Gov. Perdue said in a statement. “They have persistently attempted to use our unemployed workers as hostages by tying the extension of their benefits to my acceptance of budget bills that would inflict severe and unnecessary cuts to our schools and other essential programs.”

The Governor paid heed to the voices of thousands of families that were quickly running out of money and options. She pointed out that extended benefits play a critical part in not only supporting unemployed workers but also pumping money into local economies. “Enough is enough,” Perdue said. “I will not sit by idly as the legislature continues to play these games and deny the jobless the unemployment benefits they need.”

Time will tell if the GOP attempts to challenge the Executive Order. Already, they have questioned the legality of the order and publically criticized (albeit unknowingly) the Governor for her “incompetence” by not issuing the order sooner. Regardless, the Executive Order offers hope and opportunity for the thousands of families who have been held hostage by the political machinations taking place in the General Assembly over the last two months.

HOMEOWNER PROTECTION: Bill weakens safeguards for homeowners

Most North Carolinians have likely been homeowners, buyers or renters at some point in their adult lives. It’s only common-sense that we would enact laws that would protect homeowners and renters from a wide range of predatory practices and scams.

Yet House Bill 654, which passed its second reading in the House last week, would accomplish the exact opposite. Instead of offering protections, HB654 would only make consumers more vulnerable to bad deals that devastate families. The bill – a desecration of the Homeowner and Homebuyer Protection Act – would create dangerous gaps in the law by removing regulation on practices such as foreclosure rescue scams, lease “option” contracts, and contracts for deed. It would make it easier for scammers to create abusive contracts with provisions that could costs families their homes even if they’ve made all of their payments on time.

Weakening North Carolina’s defenses against foreclosure rescues and other real-estate scams is not only unethical, but also unwise during the continuing economic crisis. All citizens benefit when people purchase homes, and help stimulate the economy and build strong communities. Moreover, many former homeowners now rent due to economic troubles during the recession. These individuals need support and protection more than ever.

House Bill 654 is just one vote away from heading to the Senate floor. Lawmakers should make the right, wise decision to protect all North Carolinians by rejecting this harmful bill.

MEDICAID SPENDING: Budget cuts could have devastating effects
The latest incarnation of the House budget leaves few public structures unharmed. Yet dramatic cuts to Medicaid and the rejection of Federal matching dollars in the budget could have some of the most striking, powerfully negative effects on North Carolina’s future.

Overall, the House budget would cut state spending on Medicaid by $225.4 million, and the loss of $1.2 billion in Federal match funds for Medicaid alone could have a wide ripple effect, costing more than 19,000 North Carolina jobs. Although the governor has warned of severe negative economic impacts to North Carolina as a result of the loss of these funds, legislative leaders have not shown much concern, despite historical evidence that shows how dramatic this impact can be.

Just look at what happened the last time lawmakers cut Medicaid spending during a recession. In 2001, the nine-month recession resulted in spiked unemployment rates and increased enrollment in Medicaid, reflecting increased demand for health care from those most directly affected by the recession. Legislators responded to depressed revenue forecasts by cutting state Medicaid funding by $44 million, followed by $128 million in 2002. In total, these cuts resulted in the loss of approximately $483 million in Federal matching funds between 2001 and 2003.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of cutting Medicaid spending, lawmakers could choose to maintain the ¼ cent of the State sales tax, cutting $275.5 million in spending. Across the board, from cuts in early childhood education and the UNC system to indigent defense and family court programs, our state leaders could save vital and jobs and services if they would only look a bit closer at the alternatives. It’s not too late to promote raising revenue and protecting public investments instead of choosing a toxic, cuts-only approach to the state budget.

"SAFE STUDENT ACT": Immigrant families threatened by proposed bill

State legislators heard from numerous advocates for children, immigrants, education, justice and fairness last Tuesday – all of them opposed to House Bill 744, the outrageously named "Safe Student Act." This bill would mandate that public school principals require parents to provide students’ citizen or legal status when enrolling in school.

Plyler v. Doe, a 1982 Supreme Court decision, protects the right of an undocumented student to attend public education through high school in the United States. The new law would not technically deny a child admission from a public school. But according to the U.S. Department of Education, the mere act of requesting a child’s legal status is unconstitutional and violates federal law in regard to the confidentiality of a student's personal information. In addition, although the bill claims this information would be collected for "fiscal analysis," it's unclear what that means.

The big concern is that the "Safe Student Act" would be used to frighten or discourage parents from enrolling their students in school, and revealing a child's – and by extension, the parents' – immigration status could result in discrimination, harassment or exclusion. If the bill were to become law, school principals would have the burden of requesting the nationality and immigration status of all students and keeping record of such information, almost in the vein of an official federal officer.


HEALTH CARE EVENT: Brunch for older adults and caregivers

Join the NC Justice Center and the AARP NC in Greenville on Thursday, June 23, for a free brunch for older adults and caregivers to address the state’s key health care issues.

North Carolina has an urgent need for Better Care. The goals of the Campaign for Better Care are to make improvements in the health care system for vulnerable, older adults, and build a strong and lasting consumer voice for better health care.

Be sure your voice is heard. Come and share your experiences about what you think needs to be changed in North Carolina’s health system, and learn from representatives from AARP, the Seniors’ Health Insurance Information program (SHIIP), and other experts who will be available to respond to all of your questions and concerns.

The lunch will be held on June 23, 2011 from 10:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at the Pitt County Council on Aging/Senior Center at 4551 County Home Road in Greenville. Registration closes Tuesday, June 21, at 5:00 p.m. RSVP to Nicole Dozier to reserve your space now at nicole@ncjustice.org or (919) 856-2146.

 

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