NC JUSTICE NEWS: A Historic Week for the Supreme Court + Tell Lawmakers No More Tax Cuts + Time for NC to Expand Medicaid

July 1, 2015

A HISTORIC WEEK FOR THE COURTS: SCOTUS issues landmark decisions

The past week has been an absolutely historic one for the U.S. Supreme Court and the country as a whole as the court's landmark decisions will affect countless individuals, families, and voters across the country.

Starting with the fair housing ruling and affirmation of the Affordable Care Act last Thursday (more on that in the health care article below), and ending with the a decision on coal burning regulations this past Monday, few issue areas were spared the court's impact. Read on to learn more from NC Policy Watch's courts reporter Sharon McCloskey about each of the decisions.

Fair Housing. The court held that housing discrimination cases can proceed in court upon a showing that a challenged practice disproportionately affects minorities, rejecting the argument that such cases turn upon proof of discriminatory intent and handing an important win to fair housing advocates and civil rights groups. In 2008, a Texas non-profit filed the case, alleging that the state's housing agency disproportionately distributed affordable housing tax credits to minority areas while denying them in white areas of Dallas.

Affordable Care Act. The court upheld the availability of subsidies to health insurance purchasers on both state exchanges and the federal exchange, affirming the Fourth Circuit’s decision in King v. Burwell. What this means for North Carolina remains to be seen, as the state did not set up its own health care exchange. See more on this issue below.

Same-sex marriage. The court held that state bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. The court’s decision came on the anniversary of two other landmark decisions on gay rights also authored by Kennedy:  Lawrence v. Kansas, in which the court struck a Texas sodomy law, and U.S. Windsor, in which the court struck down provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act and ruled that the federal government must afford same-sex couples the same benefits it extends to heterosexual couples.

Redistricting. In a win for efforts to rein in gerrymandering, the court upheld a voter-approved independent redistricting commission created to draw congressional maps in Arizona. Efforts to create such a commission in North Carolina gained some bipartisan support this year with bills filed in the General Assembly, though none moved far enough ahead to be considered this session.

Lethal Injection. The court held that Oklahoma’s use of a three-drug cocktail containing the controversial drug midazolam did not violate the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Midazolam was to blame in recent botched executions in that state. North Carolina switched from a three-drug cocktail to a single drug protocol in late 2013, but the rulemaking process leading up to that change has been challenged in court.

Clean Air Act. In the last opinion of the term, the court rejected regulations requiring coal burning power plants to sharply reduce mercury emissions. The court held that the Environmental Protection Agency should have taken costs to power producers into account during the first stage of its rule-making process, when it was deciding whether reducing mercury emissions was worth doing from a health perspective.

BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS: Tell the House & Senate - No more tax cuts

The North Carolina House and Senate are negotiating the final budget as we speak, ironing out the differences between the two budget proposals. The final budget agreement will then head back to each chamber for a final vote before it is sent off to the Governor’s desk.

From a bird’s eye perspective, the House budget reinvests more than the Senate budget but both plans fail to replace what we have lost since the recession began or lay the foundation for a stronger future economy. How the state budget is funded and what it ultimately supports matters for all North Carolinians’ daily lives. High-quality public systems beget economic growth and prosperity. That’s why it should be of great concern that both the House and Senate budget plans include sizeable tax cuts that hamper our ability to rebuild and replace the most damaging cuts enacted in the aftermath of the recession and 2013 tax plan.

The House budget cuts taxes by approximately $652 million and the Senate budget cuts taxes by $950 million over the next two years. Even worse, the tax cuts in the Senate plan balloon to $1 billion annually once the tax cuts are fully implemented. This means that North Carolina would have to forgo investments in the foundations of a strong economy—educating our children, ensuring courts run efficiently, and building healthy and safe communities.

The House and Senate must hear loud and clear that there should be absolutely no more tax cuts and corporate giveaways while so many critical public investment areas are being starved of resources. North Carolina should not have to choose between teachers or teacher assistants, between providing quality early education opportunities to preschoolers or enriching afterschool and summer care for our 5-12 year olds while parents are working. Sign the petition NOW to tell lawmakers that North Carolina needs to invest in its future and stop irresponsible tax cuts and corporate giveaways.

ACA AFFIRMED: NC must now expand Medicaid coverage, close the gap

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in King v. Burwell sustained a key provision of the Affordable Care Act. The court's ruling means health insurance for more than 6 million Americans across 34 states is secure. In North Carolina more than 400,000 people receive much needed financial help to make health insurance more affordable and the decision today means consumers will maintain access to these tax credits.

But the story is far from over, particularly here in North Carolina. State leaders should now present a plan to extend the benefit of affordable health insurance to the 500,000 individuals and families left in the Medicaid gap. University researchers estimate that closing this coverage gap would create 43,000 jobs in North Carolina, boost tax revenues for local governments, and stabilize rural health care.

Gov. McCrory said last year that his staff was assembling options to expand coverage and that he would make an announcement about his recommendation after the Supreme Court ruled in King v. Burwell.

The ruling has arrived. It's time for North Carolina to move forward and extend coverage to hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians.

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