POOR PEOPLE'S CAMPAIGN SETS OUT GOALS FOR 2018: The NAACP teamed up with the Poor People’s Campaign at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church to ring in the new year Sunday night with a renewed sense of passion for long-standing issues on their agenda. Watch Night service is an African-American tradition that has been around for over 100 years, but a mix of people attended Sunday night’s service. The Poor People’s Campaign viewed the service as a fresh call to action. The goal was to highlight issues the organization has always focused on, including poverty, racism, environmental destruction and other controversial topics. The organization also called for everyone in attendance to renew their commitment to the cause. “In every age, people have to decide to stand up just like they did on the first Watch Night. They had to say ‘we’re going to stand up and take on the system of slavery.’ We have to stand up and take on the systems of oppression. We do not have the luxury of sitting down,” said Rev. William Barber.
HOSPITAL MERGER MAY END UP RAISING INSURANCE PREMIUMS FOR PATIENTS: When Carolinas HealthCare System announced a proposed combination with UNC Health Care this summer, it said the new hospital system would increase affordability for patients. But as the two systems work to finalize a deal, some question whether the new public, nonprofit corporation – expected to be one of the largest hospital systems in the U.S. – will live up to such promises. Experts say decades of hospital consolidations show they drive up prices charged to insurance companies, which in turn charge higher premiums to customers. “Bigger is not better. Bigger is more consumer-unfriendly,” said Lawton Burns, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “What they do is they put these systems together to basically have more bargaining power with the insurers,” Burns said. “They don’t improve quality of care, they don’t reduce the cost of care and they don’t necessarily increase access to care.”
HEARING THIS WEEK ON SPECIAL MASTER'S 2018 ELECTORAL MAPS: A three-judge panel has scheduled a hearing in federal court on Jan. 5 to get feedback on the district maps drawn by Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford University law professor hired by the court to review maps adopted by the Republican-led General Assembly in late August. Persily’s assignment came almost 15 months after the three federal judges – James Wynn of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Catherine Eagles and Thomas Schroeder, both of the U.S. Middle District of North Carolina – ruled that 28 of North Carolina’s 170 districts used to elect legislators from 2011 to 2016 were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders that weakened the statewide influence of black voters. The lawmakers appealed the decision, but the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld the ruling in June, leaving no question that lawmakers would have to redraw districts before the 2018 elections.
HALF OF PUERTO RICO STILL WITHOUT POWER 3 MONTHS AFTER HURRICANE: Puerto Rico authorities said Friday that nearly half of power customers in the U.S. territory still lack electricity more than three months after Hurricane Maria, sparking outrage among islanders who accuse the government of mismanaging its response to the Category 4 storm. Officials said 55 percent of the nearly 1.5 million customers have power, marking the first time the government has provided that statistic since Maria hit on Sept. 20 with winds of up to 154 mph. Officials had previously reported only power generation, which stands at nearly 70 percent of pre-storm levels. "It's just extraordinary that it is still so far away from being 100 percent recovered," said Susan Tierney, a senior adviser for Denver-based consulting company Analysis Group who testified before a U.S. Senate committee on efforts to restore power in Puerto Rico. "I'm not aware of any time in recent decades since the U.S. has electrified the entire economy that there has been an outage of this magnitude."
LGBTQ ADVOCATES APPLAUD NEW ILLINOIS LAW BANNING "GAY PANIC" DEFENSE: For decades, LGBTQ people have been brutally attacked or killed and then blamed for their own deaths in cases where attorneys attempt, sometimes successfully, to use a “gay panic” or “trans panic” defense. Starting Monday, attorneys in Illinois will be barred from using the approach after a state law passed — without a single “no” vote in either the state House or Senate — making it the second state in the country to ban the defense in the courtroom. Anthony Michael Kreis, who drafted the Illinois legislation, said the passage of the “gay panic” defense law has boosted efforts in other states to enact similar bans. Kreis has heard from advocates in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey, among others, asking for help pushing their own bills. Similar legislation has been discussed by lawmakers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Other states where the defense has been allowed include, Maryland, Texas and Washington. Kreis said because the LGBTQ community is at higher risk for violence, the law comes at an important time.