Thursday News: Abusing the Constitution


NC GOP TAKES WANTS TO PUT INCOME TAX CAP ON NOVEMBER BALLOT: The resurrection Wednesday of a proposal to cap the state's income tax rate also revived tensions at the General Assembly over policy and political rhetoric. The Senate last year approved putting a proposed constitutional amendment before voters to prevent the individual income tax rate from rising above 5.5 percent. The current limit in the state constitution is 10 percent. Current tax rates are 5.499 percent for individuals and 3 percent for corporations, although both are set to slide lower next year. Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, expressed concern that the cap would force the state to raise sales taxes and user fees on people to generate revenue in a future economic downturn, which he said would disproportionately affect lower-income families.

SENATE REPUBLICANS REFUSE TO EVEN STUDY MEDICAID EXPANSION: Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican, successfully pushed for an amendment Wednesday to remove the provision from the bill. Hise said the legislature's program evaluation committee should be in charge of determining what studies are needed. "We want to get through a (current Medicaid) waiver before we study changes to the waiver," he said. "I think that will come, but this interim is not really the time for it." Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid since the Affordable Care Act provided that option, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Another amendment to HB 998 on Wednesday would order a study "to propose two coordinated quality outcomes programs ... requiring that the State's transformed Medicaid delivery system be built on defined measures and goals." Sen. Joyce Krawiec, a Forsyth County Republican and sponsor of the amendment, said the study "would look at identifying waste in our Medicaid system."

OPIOID BILL GIVES LAW ENFORCEMENT AUTHORITY TO ACCESS INDIVIDUALS' MEDICAL HISTORY: Describing Senate Bill 616 as "Part 2" of the state's efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, Rep. Greg Murphy, R-Pitt, took issue with media reports that it would allow local law enforcement to access a state database of citizens' prescription drug records without a warrant. "The HOPE Act does not allow fishing expeditions," Murphy said. "That's just not true." Nonetheless, House lawmakers voted unanimously to support an amendment by Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, restricting law enforcement access to citizens' prescription records to cases involving "a bona fide active investigation with a good faith belief based on specific facts and circumstances equivalent to those normally required for a court order." Some Democrats and even some Republicans argued the amendment is insufficient to address the privacy concerns raised by giving law enforcement access to private medical records without going through the courts as required in other criminal cases.

NATIONAL IMMIGRANT RIGHTS GROUP STAGES PROTEST IN ALAMANCE COUNTY OVER 287(G) PROGRAM: There’s a crowd of around 200 standing on the front lawn of the J.B. Allen Jr. Court House in Graham with a plate of tacos for Alamance County Sherriff Terry Johnson. It isn’t a friendly offering. That was the scene of a rally held Wednesday, June 13, to protest allowing the county to rejoin the 287(g) program. It was the second stop on a national tour, called Chinga La Migra/Resist ICE, by the organization Mijente, which opposes the separation of families and increased targeting of immigrants by federal and local police. According to a news release June 12 from Siembra NC, 2,109 immigrants in Alamance County were interviewed about their immigration status under 287(g) — with deportation proceedings launched against 1,622 — in the four years the county participated in the program. “Almost 40 percent of the initial arrest charges were for traffic-related offenses, like driving with broken taillights or making illegal turns, which are considered infractions and not crimes,” the release said.

ICE IN ANTARCTICA MELTING MUCH FASTER THAN PREVIOUSLY REPORTED: The melting of Antarctica is accelerating at an alarming rate, with about 3 trillion tons of ice disappearing since 1992, an international team of ice experts said in a new study. In the last quarter century, the southern-most continent's ice sheet — a key indicator of climate change — melted into enough water to cover Texas to a depth of nearly 13 feet (4 meters), scientists calculated. All that water made global oceans rise about three-tenths of an inch (7.6 millimeters). From 1992 to 2011, Antarctica lost nearly 84 billion tons of ice a year (76 billion metric tons). From 2012 to 2017, the melt rate increased to more than 241 billion tons a year (219 billion metric tons), according to the study Wednesday in the journal Nature. Part of West Antarctica, where most of the melting occurred, "is in a state of collapse," said co-author Ian Joughin of the University of Washington.