Good Deeds Rarely Go Unpunished

In late February, H.R. 184 was introduced into the North Carolina House of Representatives. In early April, H.R. 184 made it to the North Carolina Senate where it was referred to the Committee On Rules and Operations of the Senate. There it sits. It’s a bad bill, catering to special interests, and need to die there.

So exactly what is H.R. 184? On April 4, 2019, Raynor James wrote an article describing the debate in the North Carolina House of Representatives over H.R. 184. In her article Raynor explained that H.R. 184 would tie the hands of State Treasurer Dale Folwell in dealing with the rapidly growing problems with the State Health Plan.

An article in The Daily Haymaker on March 26 explains some of what is going on:

Former state representative Dale Folwell (R) worked wonders in cleaning up the highly FUBAR-ed unemployment insurance system. You would think it would be a no-brainer to put him on fixing that money-bleeding nightmare known as the state health plan. (The plan made it to its current sorry state in no small part to the micro-managing mischief by legislators in both parties who saw it as their own personal piggy-bank and slush fund.)

So, along comes Dale Folwell trying to do exactly what the legislature empowered the state treasurer’s office to do years ago:  competently manage the state health plan.  Folwell decided taxpayers needed to understand exactly what  health care providers were billing the health plan FOR.

This did not sit well with the folks at the hospitals and clinics sending in those fat, vague, non-specific bills.  Armies of lobbyists were dispatched to spend dark money on ads smearing Folwell and his pricing transparency plan.  A lot of politician pockets were lined.  A bill got drafted (with a lot of lobbyist, um. “help”)  that tied Folwell’s hands on exactly what he could to in regard to the state health plan.

The bill, H184, got its first hearing in the House Health Committee today.  Conveniently, there was NO roll call vote on this expensive legislation — with a total cost over 3 years of $400 to 600 MILLION. 

The bill did get amended.  The time frame for the “study” on  changing the health plan was shortened. The state employees — who stand to be affected the most by this bill — got their representation on the “study committee” expanded from ONE to TWO.  (Isn’t that nice?)    And the whole package is still going to cost the taxpayers an additional $241 MILLION.

The article then explains the problem:

There was no real good reason to do this. It went against one of the alleged core principles of the majority party. The prime beneficiaries of the state health plan — the state employees — appear to be solidly behind what Folwell is doing. Taxpayers — seeking to avoid a $400-600 MILLION hit from doing NOTHING and “studying” the idea of reform — appear to be all for it.

But the deep-pocketed lobbyists who are so kind and compassionate to campaign accounts all over Jones Street were not happy and HAD to be mollified.

Some Republicans are fighting back. There was a Resolution at the North Carolina Third District Republican Convention today that backed Dale Folwell and his efforts to clean up the State Health Plan. The Resolution passed easily.

The Resolution included the following:

In 2008, expenses for the North Carolina State Health Plan were roughly $2.2 billion; today they are roughly $3.4 billion. Medical and pharmaceutical costs are increasing five to nine percent annually and current spending projections estimate that the plan will be insolvent by 2023 unless action is taken. The campaign to fix the state healthcare plan is opposed mainly by special interests–hospitals and those who profit by the inefficiency and inflated costs of medical care under the current system.

I was told that the bill would probably die in committee. I hope that happens. However, the fact that saving taxpayer money was opposed by special interest groups should not come as a shock to any of us. That fact underlines the need for citizens to stay aware of what our legislature is doing. North Carolina is in a strong position economically–it is a place where businesses relocate. If our State Health Plan is not brought under control, our taxes will increases to cover the cost of the program and we will be much less attractive to businesses looking for a place to be.

Bad Day at Black Rock

Below is a guest post by Raynor James, an eastern North Carolina resident who has followed the debate on North Carolina House Bill 184 very closely:

Tuesday, April 3rd was a sad day in the North Carolina House of Representatives.

Let me tell you about it. Dale Folwell is North Carolina’s Treasurer. He’s a very popular fellow for all the right reasons. He did a good job when he served in the North Carolina General Assembly. He got North Carolina’s unemployment insurance out of debt to the Federal Government when he served in Governor McCrory’s administration, an accomplishment that continues to save North Carolina’s employers significant sums annually. He’s known as a problem solver.

North Carolina’s State Health Plan (which pays for medical expenses of current and retired state employees) is seriously underfunded and is projected to be bankrupt by the year 2023.When Dale Folwell was elected Treasurer, many who voted for him expected him to solve the Plan’s problems as its administration was in the Treasurer’s portfolio.

Enter HB-184 which if implemented will tie the Treasurer’s hands and not allow corrective action to be taken while a committee studies the situation.

HB-184 was debated on the floor of the House April 3rd. Let’s look in on how some conservative House members tried to kill the bill.

First, Representative Michael Speciale offered two amendments to the bill. Representative Speciale’s first amendment would give the Treasurer a vote on the study committee and would make it impossible to expand the size of the committee (something that is sometimes done when the “powers that be”don’t like the direction a committee seems to be taking).

That amendment passed by a vote of 106 to 5.

Representative Speciale’s second amendment would remove Section 2 from the bill. Section 2 requires that Blue Cross-Blue Shield continue to be used during the study period.

It also prevents the Treasurer from switching the Plan to using referenced based pricing for medical services to the Plan during the study period.That amendment failed by a vote of 88 to 23.

During debate on HB-184 itself, Representative Larry Pittman cited a memo from the Plan’s Board of Trustees that projects that the plan will be out of money in 2023, and said that we can’t wait on a two year study. He talked about how hospital groups were groaning about how burdensome the Treasurer’s planed payment changes would be on them [tie pricing of medical services to 172% of the average Medicare pays for the same service], and pointed out how well funded many hospitals are. In support of his assertion, Representative Pittman mentioned that the hospital at East Carolina has given $10 million dollars to fund a stadium.

Representative Pittman asked that members not pass the bill and added that when Treasurer Folwell had requested info from the hospital groups, they had sent him the schedules he asked for with page after page blacked out. “They might as well have slapped him in the face and spit on him,” Representative Pittman said.

He continued by saying passage of the bill would hurt both members of the Plan and taxpayers who pay the freight and pointed out that members of the Plan are also taxpayers, so they get hit two ways.

He stated that Dale Folwell is “competent” and “honest” and renewed his request by saying, “Defeat this bill.” Representative Michael Speciale said, “We’re told that if we don’t pass this bill, the sky will fall; we’ll lose our rural hospitals.” He went on to say that they’d heard the same thing when he was trying to get rid of the CON [Certificate of Need] laws [which did not pass] and shortly thereafter they closed one of the hospitals in my district.”

“I hear fake news ads” [on the topic of rural hospitals closing if HB-184 doesn’t pass] when I drive in my district.”

Representative Speciale went on to say that Dale Folwell got the people together who are opposing him [mainly large hospital groups] and asked how much waste, fraud, and abuse there is in the system. The answers they give him ran from 12% to 25%, so he took a middle number and asked them to figure out how they could reduce costs by 15% and said that they needed to get together again as soon as that was done.

After that meeting, Treasurer Folwell tried to set follow up meetings, and time after time he was stonewalled.

Representative Speciale continued, “Now we’re faced with $33 to $36 billion dollars in unfunded liabilities. If we don’t allow him to cut costs, how are we going to cut costs because it’ll be on us!”

“Dale Folwell has increased what would be going into rural hospitals. He’s compromised, but they won’t budge an inch.If we do not pass this bill, then the hospital lobby will sit down and talk to him. Let the state Treasurer do what he was elected to do. Throw the politics aside and vote NO!

Representative Keith Kidwell said, “For the last 10 years, health care costs have gone up and up. We asked Treasurer Folwell to handle it. Let’s not bobble him,or we’ll be faced with taking $235 million to $509 million [dollars] from the general fund to deal with the problem AND $1.1 billion will be added to the unfunded liability.”

“HB-184 will cost us a ton of money!” “Cut through partisanship and look at the numbers! We HAVE to block this bill!’

In spite of those eloquent pleas and others, too, HB-184 passed 75 to 36, and it will now be sent to the North Carolina Senate where it is hoped that wiser voices will prevail.

If you’d like to hear the whole debate, you can go to the NC General Assembly website at which NC House sessions are archived.

Thank you, Raynor. This is a picture of what is going on in the North Carolina state legislature. President Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex. What we see here is the result of intense lobbying by the healthcare-industrial complex. We need to stop this bill.

When You Don’t Do It Right, You Have To Do It Over

A.P. Dillon at American Lens is reporting today that a bill has been proposed in the North Carolina House of Representatives to accept the findings of the Academic Standards Review Commission (ASRC) and get rid of Common Core.

I attended most of the ASRC meetings. I was at the meeting where the findings of the Mathematics and English Language Arts Committees gave their results. What I witnessed was the total perversion of the purpose of the Commission. On December 30, 2015, I posted a letter from a member of the Commission who did not agree with the final actions of the Commission. I have also posted other information and letters about the Commission. You can access those by using the search engine on this website at the top of the page and putting in “ASRC”. It became obvious in the final ASRC meeting that the Commission was set up to maintain the status quo of Common Core.

The article explains:

Representative Larry Pittman has introduced a bill to get rid of Common Core and has aptly named it, “Actually Get Rid of Common Core.” The Primary sponsors joining Pittman are Representatives SpecialeFord and Boswell.

House Bill 417 seeks to replace Common Core with the recommendations that the ASRC had originally proposed and then killed in their last meeting.

…The Academic Standards Review Commission (ASRC), which was created by a bill whose title said the ASRC was being created to REPEAL AND REPLACE COMMON CORE, was actually stacked against fulfilling that purpose. Common Core was not repealed and replaced. It was merely renamed and slightly tweaked.

This bill would correct that by requiring that the proposed math standards offered by the Math Work Group of the ASRC actually be adopted, and that the English Language Arts standards offered by Dr. Sandra Stotsky to the State, free of charge, be adopted.

…The bill passed its first reading on March 22nd and has been referred to the Committee on Education – K-12.

The idea of explaining mathematical principles to students at the elementary level (as Common Core did) is valid, but to demand cumbersome solutions to simple addition problems took all the joy out of learning mathematics for these children. It will be wonderful to see that corrected. This bill is definitely a step in the right direction.

Equal Rights Does Not Mean That You Have The Right To Deny Me My First Amendment Rights

Equal rights means equal rights. The First Amendment allows Americans the freedom to practice their religion. The implication is that Americans are allowed to live their lives according to their religious beliefs. That is their rights. As I have explained before, I do not care about gay marriage–marry anyone you want to. However, I do care about the violation of my First Amendment rights. What do I mean? If I am a Pastor who holds the Biblical view of marriage, or a baker who holds a Biblical view of marriage, or a florist who holds a Biblical view of marriage, I should not be forced to support your gay marriage. I don’t care if you get married, but I don’t have to be a part of that process. To me, that is what the law should be. Oddly enough, there are actually people who agree with me. (Not the ones who wrote the article I am about to refer to, but the ones who actually voted on the issue).

The Winston-Salem Journal reported today that the North Carolina House of Representatives has overridden Governor Pat McCrory‘s veto of a bill allowing employees who issue marriage licenses to refuse to complete paperwork for gay couples on religious grounds. In other words, the employees can exercise their First Amendment rights. The gay people can also get married–there will be someone there to do the paperwork. Everyone’s rights are respected.

The newspaper does not agree with my conclusion. The article states:

Gay rights groups and some Democrats said legal challenges were likely to come soon for the new law, the second of its kind nationwide. Utah passed one this year.

North Carolina‘s law took effect as the state House voted to override Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s earlier veto. The Senate already had voted for the override. McCrory said though he believes marriage is between a man and a woman, no state employee should be able to break his or her government oath. His position puts him at odds with social conservatives aligned with his party.

Under the law, some register of deeds workers who assemble licenses and magistrates who solemnize civil marriages can decide to stop performing all marriages — for both straight and gay couples — if they hold a “sincerely held religious objection.” Employees with a religious objection must stop performing all marriage duties for at least six months.

This is not a perfect law–employees with a religious objection are being penalized for having that objection–that is not in keeping with their First Amendment rights.

The article goes on to list the inconvenience of the law going into effect. I wonder if the newspaper would be so quick to list the inconvenience if its First Amendment rights were taken away.

 

 

Protecting North Carolina Voters

Tonight the Coastal Carolina Taxpayers Association held a public meeting in the Stanly Hall Ballroom in New Bern to discuss the voter law recently passed in North Carolina. The speakers were Susan Myric of Civitas, Meloni Wray, Director of Craven County Elections, and Gary Clemmons, Chairman of the Craven County Board of Elections.

H.B. 589, the Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA), aka the Voter Identification Bill, is the first comprehensive change to North Carolina election law in decades. H.B. 589 passed the North Carolina House of Representatives in April of 2013. In July the North Carolina Senate amended H.B. 589 and passed it. The bill then went back to the House of Representatives. The bill was ratified on July 26, and the Governor signed it on August 12. The ACLU, NAACP, and various other organizations promptly filed lawsuits against the bill, with Eric Holder later filing a suit against the State of North Carolina.

The lawsuits filed are objecting to the change in early voting–from 17 days to 10 days, the end of same day voter registration, and the end of out-of-precinct voting. There will be a hearing on September 25 in Charlotte regarding the change in the voting law.

Under the new law, voters must register to vote by October 10, 2014. This gives the Board of Elections the opportunity to verify the address of the voter. Under the new law, voters will be required to vote at their correct precinct based on their address as of 30 days prior to Election Day. In 2016, voters will be required to show an acceptable photo ID. In 2014 all voters will be asked if he or she has one of the acceptable ID’s for the purpose of voting. A list of acceptable photo ID will be provided for review at the polling location. Instructions will be given to voters without acceptable ID on how to obtain a no-fee photo ID from the NCDMV.

The request for photo ID when voting is not unreasonable. We live in a society where photo ID is required for many activities–purchasing cigarettes or liquor, to board an airplane, to cash a check, to receive government benefits, etc. It also makes sense to have voters register to vote in time for their addresses to be verified.

Hopefully, the Court will uphold this law, as it ensures that every vote counts by attempting to eliminate voter fraud.

Candidates Forum In New Bern

Last Night I attended the Candidate Forum at the Stanly Hall Ballroom in New Bern, North Carolina. The forum was sponsored by the Coastal Carolina Taxpayers Association. The candidates attending included Republicans and Democrats running for office at various levels of government including the U. S. Senate the U. S. House of Representatives, the North Carolina Senate, the North Carolina House of Representatives, and various other state and county offices. It was a very informative night, and I encourage you if you live in an area that does candidate forums, to attend one–they are worth attending. On May 6th North Carolina voters will go to the polls to vote in a primary election. Many of the candidates for office have primary challenges. Be an informed voter.

It would take forever to detail what each candidate said, so I am going to simply list general impressions of a few candidates who stood out.

Greg Brannon is impressive. His off-the-cuff knowledge of the U.S. Constitution is inspiring. He is definitely ready for prime time. His answers to questions were clear and concise, and there was nothing he had to backtrack on as the questions continued. It was also interesting to see that some of the other candidates deferred to him on Constitutional questions. There were a number of candidates who made statements during the question and answer period that they had to backtrack on. I suspect they will be working on this before the election.

I was also impressed by Norm Sanderson and Michael Speciale. Norm Sanderson is serving is freshman term in the North Carolina Senate, and Michael Speciale is serving his freshman term in the North Carolina House. Both men had clear ideas on what needs to be done in North Carolina and clear plans for instituting those ideas.

I was also impressed by George Liner, running for Craven County Board of Commissioners. When asked a question about the Craven County tall structures laws and how they would protect people and property values from a wind farm, he was already aware of the potential problems that would arise. He seemed well prepared to hold the office if he is elected.

All of the candidates had an opportunity to state their reasons for running and their positions on various subjects. It was a very informative evening. As a new resident of this area, I learned a lot at the forum. It was very helpful to me to see the candidates and hear what they considered the major issues facing the state and local communities.

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Sometimes The Solution Is Worse Than The Problem

In November of this year, North Carolina voters will be asked to vote on an amendment to the North Carolina Constitution that would allow a person to forgo their right to a Superior Court trial by jury. At first glace this sounds like a great idea–it would help loosen the log jam that is in our courts and it would keep the flow of cases in our court system moving quickly. But what would it do to the rights of North Carolina residents?

The Sun Journal posted an article about this amendment on March 23. The article pointed out that State Representative Michael Speciale, R-Craven, was the only member of the North Carolina House of Representatives to vote against putting this on the ballot.

The article lists some of Representative Speciale’s reasons for his vote:

The question on the ballot, for which voters will pick “yes” or “no,” will read: “Constitutional amendment providing that a person accused of any criminal offense for which the state is not seeking a sentence of death in Superior Court may, in writing or on the record in court and with the consent of the trial judge, waive the person’s right to a trial by jury.”

He said “The title of the bill SB399 is ‘An act to amend the constitution to provide that a person accused of any criminal offense in Superior Court for which the state is not seeking a sentence of death may waive the right to trial by jury and instead be tried by a judge.’”

…Speciale said, “The government is already taking our rights away; the last thing we need to do is give them up willingly. There is nothing good about it for the American citizen. A person could be coerced into signing by being held in nastier circumstances or being told that ‘if you don’t sign, a jury is going to convict you and send you a way for a long time.’”

He added: “This was one of the last bills passed in a flurry of bills and I’ve talked to people at a couple of organizations — Civitas and John Locke Foundation — who weren’t aware of it. They are looking at it and will get back to me. I just want to get word out that this is coming.”

What are the unintended consequences of passing this bill? Unfortunately this bill will result in a two-tiered justice system. Most of us ordinary citizens do not have an in-depth understanding of how our justice system works (I include myself in that category). Most of us do not have a high-powered lawyer that we can call if we are ever accused of a serious crime–we would have to rely on a public defender. Chances are that the public defender would ask us to waive our right to a jury trial–it would help with the overload of court cases and it would help with his workload. It is also quite possible that we might be under pressure from the court to waive the right to a jury trial. If we were in a high income bracket, we would have a different story–our high-powered lawyer would take us to trial and probably win the case. So what this bill will actually do is create a quickie justice system for the average American that may or may not be fair and a more precise justice system for the wealthier than average American. That is absolutely not what America is about.

Please keep your eyes open for more about SB399. I suspect that as we near the November election more information about this amendment will come out and people will begin to see the problems with it. Meanwhile, Michael Speciale will be making the rounds to do his part in informing the voters of North Carolina what this amendment would mean to all of us.

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What Happens When Citizens Speak Out

Last Thursday I posted an article about a public meeting of a joint legislative committee in North Carolina that is studying Common Core (rightwinggranny.com). Today Representative Larry G. Pittman of the North Carolina General Assembly House of Representatives released the following newsletter:

commoncoreletter1commoncoreletter2commoncoreletter3If your state is considering the Common Core standards, take heart. You do have a voice. If the public speaks out against this federal take-over of our education system, Common Core can be stopped.

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