Saturday News: Juggling judges


WAKE AND MECKLENBURG WILL GET NEW JUDICIAL DISTRICT MAPS: Wake County District Court judges would be elected from six newly drawn districts, instead of countywide, under a plan introduced Friday at the statehouse. The county would also add two District Court judges, for a total of 21, as part of less ambitious plans to redraw judicial districts around the state than what Republican lawmakers have debated since last year. Without consensus on a statewide plan, or on proposals to appoint judges instead, legislators are pursuing less controversial changes in a number of counties. Wake County's changes are attached to Senate Bill 757, which would also redraw judicial districts in Mecklenburg County, often the prime example lawmakers give when talking up the need for change. The districts there have unbalanced populations and are likely unconstitutional, experts have said.

REPUBLICAN BUDGET MISPLACES $50 MILLION IN FEDERAL FUNDING FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION: More than 40 regional and statewide nonprofit groups that work with young children and their parents sent a letter to legislators Friday morning before the final vote on the budget in which they said voting for the budget would be "selling our children and our state short." In the federal budget passed earlier this year, Congress sent around $75 million to North Carolina for early childhood education. But the state budget approved on Friday doesn't increase early childhood funding by $75 million. It increases it by $25 million. So where did the other $50 million from the federal government go? Legislators used it to replace $50 million in state funding that the state budget removed from NC Pre-K, freeing it up for other uses.

NC AT RISK OF LOSING FEDERAL EDUCATION DOLLARS DUE TO INEQUITY IN POOR DISTRICTS: North Carolina is among only six states who have not yet won approval from the U.S. Department of Education for its plan to educate students under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The Education Department has a lot of questions before it continues to give federal education dollars to North Carolina, including how the state is dealing with inexperienced and ineffective teachers working at high-poverty schools. The report says that DPI is committed to working with districts to develop policies and practices "that reduce these inequities between affluent and poor students and majority and minority students." Matt Ellinwood, director of the Education and Law Project at the liberal N.C. Justice Center, says the state is falling short of ensuring that students have a good teacher. "The state can’t abdicate its responsibility to provide every student with a sound basic education," he said.

RALEIGH TO CHARLOTTE AMTRAK TO ADD 4TH DAILY RUN: Train travelers in North Carolina will have a fourth option to reach Raleigh or Charlotte. The N.C. Department of Transportation says beginning Monday, Piedmont Train 77 leaves Raleigh at 3 p.m. and reaches Charlotte at 6:10 p.m. Piedmont 78 leaves Charlotte at 7 p.m. and arrives in Raleigh at 10:11 p.m. In addition to the new trains, all schedules for the Piedmont and the Carolinian, which travels between Charlotte and New York, are changing as well. The trains are sponsored by NCDOT and operated by Amtrak.

JUDGE BLOCKS IOWA'S "FETAL HEARTBEAT" ABORTION BAN PENDING OUTCOME OF LAWSUIT: An Iowa judge agreed Friday to temporarily block the most restrictive abortion law in the country under an agreement between the state and abortion rights groups. Attorneys for the state and Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds told the judge they agreed to prevent the law from taking effect on July 1 after discussions with three groups challenging the law: the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, Planned Parenthood Federation of American and the Emma Goldman Clinic. The groups are suing the state, arguing that the law — which bans most abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected — is unconstitutional. An attorney representing the state said Friday that the goal now is to quickly get the case before a judge “for the sake of getting to a resolution on the merits sooner and better.” The state is being represented for free by the Thomas More Society, a conservative Chicago-based law firm that stepped in after Democratic Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller refused to defend the law. Miller said he believed the law undermines the rights and protections for women.