NC JUSTICE NEWS: Last Chance Tickets for Defenders of Justice Awards + Support Paid Leave + Don't overcriminalize student conduct

BUY YOUR TICKET TODAY!: The 17th Annual Defenders of Justice Awards

Mark your calendars! This year's Defenders of Justice (DOJ) Awards ceremony will be held on Thursday, May 14 at the William and Ida Friday Center in Chapel Hill. The awards are given by the Justice Center each year to honor individuals or organizations that are making significant contributions in Litigation; Policy Research &  Advocacy; Legislative & Administrative Advocacy; and Grassroots Empowerment. Here are this year's honorees:

  • Legislative & Administrative Advocacy: Rep. Susan Fisher and Sen. Gladys Robinson
  • Policy Research & Advocacy: Center for Responsible Lending and Tom Vitaglione, Senior Fellow of Health and Safety at NC Child
  • Litigation: The University of North Carolina's Center for Civil Rights and Former Justice Bob Orr
  • Grassroots Empowerment: Ajamu and Rukiya Dillahunt

In each newsletter over the upcoming weeks we'll spotlight those being honored at this year's event. This week, learn more about our Litigation honorees:

The University of North Carolina’s Center for Civil Rights strives to extend America’s promise of justice, prosperity and opportunity to low-wealth, minority families and communities.

The Center for Civil Rights’ litigation has brought about systemic change in North Carolina, particularly in eastern counties, by ensuring that underrepresented communities of color have a voice in their local governments. It uses litigation, scholarly research, and grassroots activism in its aggressive fight for justice, and through its internships, externships, and fellowships, the center is training the next generation of civil rights attorneys.

The center fought for five years to prevent the resegregation of Pitt County schools. In 2013, the center secured a ruling that stopped the district from implementing a student assignment plan that would have substantially increased racial segregation. The center is currently representing residents in Duplin County who are fighting school segregation and discriminatory practices by the county’s board of education. Last year, they worked with residents of a minority community in Brunswick County to stop the county from building a landfill near their homes.

Former State Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr is dedicated to promoting fairness and upholding the state constitution—especially when it comes to guaranteeing students a high-quality education and protecting taxpayers. Justice Orr served on the North Carolina Supreme Court from 1994 to 2004. Today, he’s part of the legal team arguing the unconstitutionality of the state’s new voucher program for private schools. He is representing school boards from around the state and argues that public tax dollars must be spent only on public purposes—not on private schools that have no standards of academic quality or curriculum to live up to.

He is also working to defend the rights of college athletes to a quality education. He is representing former students in a lawsuit against the UNC System and the NCAA, alleging that those institutions put money and winning ahead of student athletes’ education and turned a blind eye to evidence of academic fraud.

Buy your ticket today! We'll see you on May 14!

PAID SICK LEAVE: Lawmakers need to support paid sick leave, caregivers

Everyone gets sick or sees a loved one fall ill. Unfortunately, North Carolina’s outdated employment laws don’t allow workers to earn paid sick days or receive legal protections when taking extended family and medical leave to care for sick family members. Providing employees with paid sick days and expanded family medical leave is good for workers, good for businesses, and good for the state’s economy.

Lawmakers have recently introduced two different legislative packages aimed at correcting these glaring anti-family policies. The Healthy Families & Workplaces/Paid Sick Days Act (HB 270 / SB 339) would allow workers to earn an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, for up to 4 days for leave for employees of small businesses and up to 7 days for employees of medium and larger businesses. This is crucially important for working families as well as good for business as paid sick leave has been long known to reduce the spread of illness, improve employee productivity, and save employers money.

The Caregiver Relief Act (HB 269 / SB 337) Act expands eligibility for federal Family and Medical Leave Act-protected unpaid family medical leave to include care of siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, step parents and parents in law. There are 1.73 million family caregivers in North Carolina providing care to an adult with limitations in daily activities at some time during the year. However, under state law, employers can deny their workers unpaid family and medical leave if those workers need time off to care for their loved ones.

We need to change these outdated and misguided policies that don’t meet the needs of North Carolina’s caregivers or those receiving care. Lawmakers need to hear stories about the importance of caregiving. If you are a caregiver, a long term care recipient or a family member of someone receiving long term care, share your stories and help us broaden the public conversation about the importance of supporting family caregivers.

STUDENT CONDUCT: Bill would saddle students with felony convictions

A new bill before an NCGA Senate committee would saddle students over 15 years old with felony convictions that can never be expunged from their records. This bill, SB 343, would eliminate the option for a misdemeanor charge for any assault on a school employee, including unintentional, non-injurious conduct. This means any contact between a student over age 15 and a school employee could automatically be deemed a felony – even if the contact were accidental and didn’t cause injury.

Teens will suffer life-long negative consequences if charges are further elevated. North Carolina is one of only two states that automatically treat teens over age 15 as adults in the criminal justice system for any crime, no matter how minor. Teens over age 15 convicted of a felony face permanent exclusion from public schools and denial of housing, employment, higher education, and military service opportunities.

The collateral consequences of felony convictions will create additional costs to the state, as branding a teenager a felon decreases their chance of continuing education and employment opportunities and increases the chance they will spend time in state custody or on government assistance.

Imagine a state where an accident, misunderstanding or youthful mistake could follow you for the rest of your life. We shouldn’t remove all discretion from judges and prosecutors like this. Please take a moment to contact NCGA Senate Judiciary Committee II (J2) to let them know you oppose overcriminalizing student conduct.

WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS?: What NC can learn from KS' tax cuts

Representatives from the Kansas Center for Economic Growth visited North Carolina last week to share what happened in their state following massive tax cuts signed into law back in 2012. Kansas has become a case study of the grave consequences resulting from a dogged pursuit of tax cuts as an economic growth strategy.

In 2012, Kansas enacted tax cuts that were considered among the largest ever enacted by any state. Tax cut proponents in other states – including North Carolina state lawmakers – held Kansas up as a model to be replicated. North Carolina's lawmakers followed Kansas’ path and passed huge income tax cuts in 2013 that largely benefited the wealthy and profitable corporations while significantly reducing revenue for public investments.

For Kansas, the reality of costly tax cuts has been nothing to write home about. Deep income tax cuts have caused large revenue losses, and the cuts delivered lopsided benefits to the wealthy while failing to boost Kansas' economy. Despite Kansas' less-than-stellar economic performance, North Carolina state lawmakers choose to take a similar path. There is no reason to believe that our experience will be any different, and yet more income tax cuts continue to be proposed.

Here are three ways to take action to stop the tax cuts and urge lawmakers to raise the bar through smarter tax policies:

Now is the time to set a new course, not double down on the previous tax changes that are hurting working families and costing us all far more than expected.

HEALTH TALK: Join our health team in Pittsboro to discuss Medicaid, ACA

As the Affordable Care Act is being implemented in our state, North Carolina lawmakers have blocked the Medicaid program from being expanded. This means that 500,000 working adults remain uninsured this year.

Join the NC Justice Center's Health Access Coalition for a conversation in Pittsboro. We'll discuss the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, how Medicaid expansion would help your community, implementation of the online marketplace, including Special Enrollment Period and open enrollment

Help us spread the word on these important issues and join us on Wednesday, May 6 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the Holmes Meeting Room at the Chatham County Library,  located at 197 Hwy 87 in Pittsboro.

Click here to reserve your spot or contact Nicole Dozier, 919-856-2146, Click here for the event flyer.

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