Voting Rights

  • In a letter delivered Friday to NC Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, the US Postal Service warns that “certain deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots are incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards.” As a result, state election officials are recommending that voters cast their absentee ballots early -- and at least a week before Election Day. Voters can request absentee ballots now, which will begin mailing on September 4. Completed ballots may also be delivered in person to your county board of elections office or to an open early voting site during the early voting period.


Education Policy


Economic and Housing Policy

  • Governor Cooper informed Republican lawmakers this week that his administration has prepared an application to provide the state matching funds required by President’s Trump’s recent Executive Order extending supplements to unemployment benefits. The $400 boost to unemployment benefits requires $100 in state funds to go along with a federal payment of $300. Whether the state funds will come from the Unemployment Trust Fund as the Governor wishes or from Federal Coronavirus Relief monies has yet to be determined. Cooper also urges extending benefits for 24 weeks as opposed to the existing 12-week duration.


Criminal Justice

  • On Thursday a coalition of groups filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state law requiring people convicted of a felony to pay all fines and fees included in their sentence before their voting rights are restored. The groups, which include the North Carolina NAACP, also launched a campaign to raise public awareness of the issue of people who have served their sentences but remain disenfranchised and to pressure state lawmakers into addressing the topic.

  • On Friday the NC Supreme Court issued a decision in a case related to the repeal of the Racial Justice Act, finding that the defendant, Marcus Robinson, who had successfully appealed his death sentence under the law when it was in place, could not be resentenced to death given its repeal. The 4-3 majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, found that such reimposition of the death sentence would constitute double jeopardy. The Racial Justice Act, a state law that allowed defendants to make a showing that racial bias tainted their trials, was passed in 2009 and repealed in 2013. Another ruling related to the case, issued two months ago, found that the repeal of the RJA could not be applied retroactively to pending cases.

COVID-19


  • Arguments in a lawsuit challenging Governor Cooper’s implementation of emergency powers without concurrence from the NC Council of State were presented in North Carolina Business Court Tuesday. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest brought the suit, arguing state law requires the governor to get council of state approval before shutting down sections of the state economy, but the governor’s representative disputes this reading of the law. Senior Judge James Gale has indicated he will decide the case as quickly as possible.

  • Governor Cooper announced that North Carolina will remain in Phase 2 of the state’s COVID-19-related reopening plan for at least five more weeks. Bars and gyms will remain closed and other non-essential businesses will continue to operate at the currently reduced capacity. Cooper and DHHS chief Mandy Cohen report infection rates are beginning to stabilize but remain high, and the reopening of schools in combination with the fact that over 50% of the state’s residents are at high risk due to age and/or chronic conditions make it necessary to keep Phase 2 safety measures in place.

  • The UNC Chapel Hill administration faced criticism for failing to publicly reveal Orange County health department recommendations to hold online-only classes and severely limit on-campus housing. Dr. Mimi Chapman, chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, called the decision to not share the health department recommendations “a serious breach of trust.” She noted that returning students are not following mask and social distancing, behaviors that the university has said would lead to a revision of its reopening plan. UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz indicated the decision not to follow the county recommendations was made by the UNC System leaders, who have directed all system chancellors to follow orders but not recommendations from public health officials. Unions and groups representing UNC system personnel are urging county health directors in college communities to order universities to close for normal business during the COVID-19 pandemic “until such time as students, faculty and staff can return safely to their work.”

Voting Rights

  • A federal court decision announced Tuesday leaves certain state voting requirements unchanged but modifies others. The voter registration period will not be extended and the one-witness requirement for absentee ballots will remain in place. However, election officials will not be permitted to reject an absentee ballot for superficial errors, and the order also blocks a number of rules that would make it harder for nursing home residents to vote. Although this order solidifies some voting rules, there are at least nine additional lawsuits targeting aspects of the state’s voting laws. In his 188-page decision, U.S. District Judge William Osteen warned that North Carolina must “take its election response to the coronavirus pandemic seriously” in order to assure voters fundamental voting rights because plaintiffs “raised genuine issues of concerns” beyond those addressed by his order.

Education Policy

  • UNC-Chapel Hill will ask the US Supreme Court to review a NC Supreme Court decision ordering the University to make available to the public the names of students sanctioned for sexual misconduct. The records at issue are part of any case filed under the University’s Equal Opportunity Compliance Title IX provisions, rather than being reported to law enforcement agencies, and are kept confidential. News media had sued the University in 2016 after being denied the records as a part of a public records request. University officials fear the loss of confidentiality will discourage assault survivors and witnesses from taking advantage of the Title IX provision. Advocates for releasing the records argue that it will lead to more transparency about the extent of sexual assault on campus.

  • The State Board of Education will ask the NC General Assembly to adjust state law so that school districts will not lose funding if public school enrollment numbers fall this year. The Board is concerned that COVID-19 may lead parents to seek other options for their children. Funding for public schools is determined by enrollment numbers, and losing funding could impact efforts to implement alternatives to in-person classes during the health crisis as well as to prepare for when these classes resume. School officials expressed concern that a reduction in funding would also disproportionately impact low-wealth communities.


COVID-19

  • On Tuesday Governor Cooper issued an executive order prohibiting the sale of alcohol at restaurants after 11 PM. Bars are still closed in the state under a previous executive order, and Cooper cited the desire to “prevent restaurants from turning into bars after hours” as the primary rationale for the new order. The order does not apply to grocery stores or other stores that sell alcohol for off-premises consumption.


Voting Rights

  • On Monday a group of plaintiffs filed a lawsuit claiming that the state’s options for voting by mail discriminate against blind and visually impaired voters. The lawsuit alleges that having only a paper ballot for mail-in voting means that unless they want to risk their health to vote in person, blind voters will be forced to tell someone else their voting preferences and to trust that person to actually fill out their ballot. Plaintiffs in the suit include North Carolina voters, both Democratic and Republican; Disability Rights North Carolina; the North Carolina Council of the Blind; and the alumni association of the Governor Morehead School, a school in Raleigh for visually impaired children.

Education Policy

  • On Monday seven North Carolina parents, with the support of the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) and the National Education Association (NEA), filed a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court challenging the state’s private school voucher program. The plaintiffs argue that many private schools that benefit from the Opportunity Scholarship program discriminate on the basis of religion and sexual orientation, and that the use of public funds for these schools -- with little oversight -- violates anti-discrimination provisions in the NC Constitution. The program, which was created by the General Assembly in 2013, has long faced criticism that it draws needed resources away from underfunded public schools.

  • On Wednesday the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees voted to remove the names of three white supremacists from campus buildings. Charles B. Aycock, Julian S. Carr, and Josephus Daniels were all leaders in the implementation and promotion of white supremacist policies at the turn of the twentieth century. While no new names for the buildings have yet been announced, the removal of the names from the buildings was already underway Wednesday afternoon.


Economic and Housing Policy

  • The NC Utilities Commission extended prohibitions on cutting off electricity, gas, and water service through August and mandated that utilities provide customers a 12-month payment plan option. The order only applies to publicly traded utilities, however, exempting the many municipally owned and cooperative utilities operating in the state. Governor Cooper intends to announce a plan soon to aid those struggling to pay for basic utilities.


Criminal Justice

  • On Friday Judge Greg Horne of the Forsyth County Superior Court ordered the release of some of the video footage of the infliction of fatal injuries on John Neville by staff in Forsyth County Jail last December. In July, six jail workers were charged with causing the injuries that led to Neville’s death. Horne’s order came in response to a petition from a coalition of 11 news outlets, with the judge deciding in favor of a compelling public interest to release the footage. Neville’s family had requested after his death that the videos not be released, but they now support the release of the videos to press outlets.